III. Book Donations - Human Rights Educational Initiative


Although book donations began to find their way into Eastern Europe prior to the revolutions of 1989, particularly to the Visegrad countries, the sundering of the Eastern bloc gave a strong impetus for broader donation programs in the region. Numerous donation projects, ranging from a single box to several ship containers, have been organized.

However, during the period from 1989 to the present, both the volume of deliveries and needs of the region have changed. On the one hand, a certain amount of donor fatigue, and in some cases donor-disillusionment, has set in, limiting and posing threats to programs, especially in the book donation field. On the other hand, many organizations have altered their activities out of recognition that needs in many countries have fundamentally changed, in part because of the success of past donation projects.

3.1 Types of Donation Programs

The number of individuals and organizations which have been involved in book and journal donations to Eastern Europe over the last several years is too great to count. Major donation programs can be roughly divided into four categories: Mass Regular, Mass Irregular, Financial and Integrative. Each of these broad categories can be sub-categorized according to different modes of selection and delivery.

Mass Regular donation programs provide periodic shipments numbering in the thousands of books to several countries in the region. The leading organizations which oversee such programs are the Sabre Foundation and International Book Bank (IBB).

Both Sabre and IBB primarily send new books which are donated from publishers' stocks. Both organizations also send occasional shipments of special collections, such as libraries of retired or deceased academics, which are normally sent as complete sets to one institution.

Sabre and IBB distribute books through in-region, not-for-profit partner organizations. The partners distribute books to libraries and other organizations according to a system by which lists of donated books are circulated to prospective recipients, who then place requests for books. IBB provides partner organizations with short descriptions of their books as well as a classification system which, among other things, indicates the subject, size and format of books as well as intended audience. Although this is unquestionably more helpful than titles alone, several recipients indicate that descriptions alone are not sufficient; they would prefer to select their own books or, minimally, to see the actual books prior to making selections.

The partners then arbitrate among competing requests. They are also responsible for overseeing the books' distribution, which, depending upon the country, involves mailing donations or making arrangements for recipients to retrieve the donated books. Books which are under-subscribed by libraries are normally distributed to individuals and businesses.

According to information provided by partner organizations in Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland, the normal distribution of book shipments is as follows:

Donations to individuals are likely to be significantly larger than the information provided by partners would suggest. If statistics were kept for end-recipients, the figures would have to be altered, perhaps significantly. As will be demonstrated below, many of the donations initially sent to higher educational libraries have been subsequently re-donated to, or reacquired by, local libraries and individual faculty members and students (see section 3.2). Actual donations to individuals are likely to be significantly higher at the expense of higher educational and institute libraries.

The overall volume of Sabre and IBB's donations has remained relatively steady over the last few years (see table one). Both organizations, however, may be forced to cut back operations in the region in the near future because of decreases in USIA's Donated Book Assistance Fund, which forms part of the SEED grants to Eastern Europe. The awards, which were cut from $150,000 in 1991-1992 and 1992-1993 to $120,000 in 1993-1994, are likely to be reduced further or cut totally. In addition, Sabre and IBB both face problems because of the growing financial difficulties of their partner organizations, which are the linchpins of their distribution process.

IBB and other donors have also indicated that they are experiencing growing difficulties acquiring donations from publishers, be it for cyclical economic reasons or because of tighter controls on print runs.[2] Sabre has not experienced the same difficulties, and has managed recently to expand its base of donors by placing increasing emphasis on previously untapped university presses. Sabre's growing emphasis on university presses has helped it to increase the quality of its donations and allowed it to provide some of the more advanced academic books which many librarians and teachers are requesting.

Table One:

Volume of Mass Regular Book Shipments: 1991-1994[3]

                  1991             1992                  1993                   1994*                  
             SABRE      IBB      SABRE      IBB      SABRE      IBB     SABRE       IBB     
Czech.        25,000    54,000    19,000    21,000    21,000    39,000  34,000    40,000    
Slovak        14,000        **    44,000        **    22,000        **  32,000    25,000    
Hungary       37,000    30,000    15,000    20,000    20,000    20,000  48,000    25,000    
Poland        30,000    30,000    29,000    27,000    20,000    23,000  35,000          --  
Albania           --        --     1,000        --        --    40,000  --          40,000  
Bulgaria      29,000    29,000    34,000    41,000    39,000    61,000  29,000      20,000  
Estonia           --        --     6,000        --     9,000        --  15,000          --  
Latvia            --        --    11,000        --    10,000        --  10,000          --  
Lithuania     26,000        --     5,000        --    14,000        --  10,000          --  
Romania        5,000        --        --        --        --    20,000  --              --  
Ukraine      100,000        --    34,000        --    55,000        --  39,000    --        

Figures have been rounded off to the nearest thousand.

* Many figures from 1994 are estimates.

**The figures for the Slovak Republic are combined with those of the Czech Republic for IBB's deliveries from 1991-1993.

Mass Irregular donation programs involve single or occasional shipments numbering in the hundreds to thousands of publications. Mass irregular shipments frequently entail the donation of used books, although some organizations are more exacting than others in the donations which they will accept. The donations are normally sent in bulk form and recipients do not play a role in selecting books. In some cases, however, partner organizations play a role in selecting suitable recipients.

Irregular bulk shipments are promoted by several organizations in the region. Brother's Brother Foundation, which specializes in donations of elementary and secondary school books and medical books, donated a total of approximately 150,000 books to Hungary and Poland in 1991 and another 160,000 to the Slovak Republic, Hungary and Poland in 1992. However, in 1993 it was only able to provide 29,000 books, all to Poland. It will unlikely provide more in 1994.

Similarly, the American Czech-and-Slovak Education Fund sent tens of thousands of used books in a variety of fields to university libraries in the Czech and Slovak republics in the early 1990s, with donations from late 1991 through the end of 1993 totalling over 40,000 volumes. However, financial restraints are limiting 1994 supplies and are likely to result in dramatic decreases in the future. The organization is hoping to change its profile from an emphasis on bulk donations to the provision of supplies to meet the more narrow needs of scholars and specialty libraries, and broader work in library development.

The American Library Association organized donations of approximately 250,000 books and journals to Romania in 1991, but was discouraged by difficulties of distributing the books and by poor standards of librarianship, and has thus ceased organizing major donation projects to focus on training.

There are many other donors and suppliers of mass irregular shipments throughout the region. The different Soros Foundation offices in the different countries of Eastern Europe have organized donations of thousands of books. The foundation in Albania alone organized shipments of over 100,000 textbooks to universities and libraries in recent years. WorldVision donated thousands of medical and children's books, journals and bibles to Romania from 1990 to 1993. Subsequent supplies have diminished, although some shipments were made in 1993 to Albania. Book Aid International has sent a total of 30,000 books throughout Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union since 1990. The World Bank Volunteer Corps has donated 20,000 books to Romania and Albania in recent years. The Center for Democracy donated 28 collections of 40 books and 2 collections of 150 books to libraries in Bulgaria in 1991. An additional donation was made to a library in Budapest, although donations have since ceased.

Other such donors of books in the region include the American Czechoslovak Society, the American Latvian Association, the American-Hungarian Educational Association, the International Book Project, the Jan Hus Foundation, Michigan Solidarnosc, the National Endowment for Democracy, the Polish American Congress Charitable Foundation and Spolichnost USA.

In addition, many government organizations have organized donations. Embassies in the different countries of Eastern Europe are constant sources of donations. The United States Army has donated the materials from several of its libraries to school and public libraries in the region. Such donations increased with the closing of several military bases in the region, but have since levelled off. The United States Information Agency, through its representatives in each country, also provides funding for the purchase of book collections, although funding is now threatened.

The overall volume of mass irregular donations has unquestionably declined in recent years. Many organizations have decreased or totally ceased their involvement in the donation process in the last two years. The elimination of such shipments will, in some cases, be a significant loss. Brother's Brother received strong praise for its donation of medical books (although there was some criticism in other subject areas) and the Center for Democracy's 'Library of Democracy' is clearly of high quality. In general, however, the elimination of mass irregular shipments is less harmful than the elimination of other forms of donations. Donors frequently were insufficiently selective, offering useless books of little value. Though mass irregular donations have the potential to bring many useful books to the region, their effectiveness would seem to require greater vigilance on the part of distributors.

Financial grants are monetary grants made to libraries which can select their own purchases, although sometimes from a limited number of publishers. The Volkswagen Foundation in Germany has been the leader in the provision of financial grants to libraries in the region. Grants approved in 1990 and 1991, which were disbursed through 1993, provided 95 libraries in the Czech Republic, the Slovak Republic, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania with a total of 6.6 million DM of support. The program permitted libraries to purchase books and journals, primarily with a focus on the natural and engineering sciences and medicine. The selection of publications was made by the librarians themselves from the catalogs of a limited number of German publishers. In addition, libraries were allowed to purchase materials to promote the distribution of texts, including photocopy machines and photographic facilities for microfiche. The program was frequently cited as the most popular in the region. However, at present, the Volkswagen Foundation has no plans to offer further support for book and journal donation projects.

Many of the local Soros Foundations, in addition to supporting bulk shipments, have made financial grants to libraries for the purchase of books as well as journals. Some also serve as partner organizations, assisting with the identification of recipients and the distribution of donations. In addition, they work closely with the Soros funded Open Society Institute in Budapest, which has recently undertaken a variety of programs related to library development. The activity of the Soros network in the book donation field should continue and will likely grow in the near future.

Integrative donations are those which are formally linked to broader assistance projects. Such donations are most prominent in the context of Western-sponsored teaching programs. Organizations which specialize in teaching in Eastern Europe, including the Civic Education Project, the Peace Corps, Fulbright and the British Council, all provide their lecturers with books or financing for the purchase of books and other teaching materials. In many instances, lecturers also attract financing for the acquisition of further donations. Although the exact policies vary from organization to organization, most materials provided by the organizations are donated or loaned to libraries at the host institutions.

Other integrative book donations form parts of broader grants for the support of information, research and study centers, and special libraries connected to them. Sponsors of such donations include the World Bank[4], the European Community's Tempus program, the Open Society Institute's Higher Education Support Program, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Krieble Foundation and ISAR (which specialises in environmental issues) to name a few. Grants for purchases of books and journals generally form a small part of such donations, and are relatively rare.

Integrative donations are, however, extremely important, because they place donated materials in environments in which they are likely to be used. Materials donated to institutions with lecturers who teach in English, be it literature or the social sciences, are more likely to be integrated into courses and find audiences who are capable of reading advanced texts in English. Donations which help to create or promote research and study centers have a greater chance of finding researchers who will actually use them. This is especially the case for institutions such as American and British studies centers, where the reading audience is likely to possess the language skills necessary to use the donations effectively.

3.2 Efficacy of Donations

It is difficult to assess the efficacy of book donation projects in the region in part because donors, suppliers, partner organizations and recipients have failed to create mechanisms through which to measure their impact. Measurements of the volume of books sent to the region, which are often cited by donors, suppliers and distributors as proof of success, are inadequate. They fail to address three key issues: the quality of donations, the degree to which they are accessible to the reading public and the frequency with which they are actually used, issues which must be addressed if one is to gain an accurate view of the efficacy of donation programs.

3.21 Quality of Books

The quality of book and journal donations is more important than the sheer volume. The donation of a few good books is less expensive and can have a greater impact than the provision of numerous books which will never be read. Book and journal quality is of paramount concern for recipients, who continually cite quality as their greatest problem in the sphere of book donations.

Recipients have generally been forced to become more selective in the books and journals which they accept. What might have been tolerated six or four years ago, in the desperate early stages of the region's opening, is perceived as unacceptable today. Surveys of libraries in the ten countries of the study indicate that over 75 percent of recipients have become more selective in their willingness to accept donations. Information provided by partner organizations points to instances where institutions have decreased their orders of books substantially, which the recipients themselves indicate is due to growing concerns over quality, coupled with real space pressures in the aging buildings which house many libraries.

Many donors and suppliers, particularly of bulk donations that do not permit selection, have sent books which would not do justice to any library. Many organizations, large and small, retain the naive belief that absolutely anything would benefit people in Eastern Europe. Many libraries cited horror stories of donations which ranged from The Airline Stewardess to Be a Good Housewife. Collections of 'throw-away' books usually have little impact, cost a significant amount of money, time and effort and are insulting to recipients. Sponsors of such programs, although often well meaning, would be better off expending their resources elsewhere, or working directly with the recipients or distributors to identify needs more closely.

Although problems with book quality are most often associated with bulk programs, programs which work on the list system are not immune from quality control difficulties. Partner organizations normally estimate that between 5 percent and 10 percent of the books which they receive are of little value, with estimates ranging as high as 20 percent. Moreover, the figures are low, because they do not take into account the frequent dissatisfaction of recipients when they receive their donations. For example, one library in Lithuania sent in a list of over 30 books which it considers to be useless; this occurred in spite of the fact that the library was able to make its selections from lists of titles. It should still be kept in mind, however, that even with a relatively high rate of useless books, the mass regular programs bring many useful books into the region. The difficulties do suggest, however, the need for greater vigilance on the part of distributors.

The most common complaints about quality focus on the age of the relevant donations, particularly, although not exclusively, those concerned with modern technologies. Old computer books in particular were cited as a common donation which is of little use; most of the individuals and institutions with access to technology in the region use up-to-date equipment and computer programs.

A second common complaint centers on the provision of incomplete sets of collections of books and especially journals. For example, a donation of volumes three and five of an eight volume collection on Roman history are of limited utility.

Another area of difficulty relates to donations of non-foreign language instruction books to primary and secondary schools. Foreign language books dealing with basic subjects, like algebra, are of little utility in the region, where the teaching of the subjects is adequate, if not superior to the West, and where the relative language ability of the target audience is inadequate.

A final area of common criticism concerns the academic level of the donated books. On the one hand, many partner organizations indicate that they believe that many of the books which they receive are too specific for their recipients. A book on the rice economy in China was cited by one as an example of such a book. On the other hand, faculty members complain that donated books are overly general for research, but donated in insufficient numbers to serve as textbooks. For example, one lecturer in the Czech Republic pointed out that there are too many donations of introductory level books concerning subjects like American history and macro-economics, and not enough focusing on advanced questions in the same fields. Another, in Poland, asserted that his library contains several different titles offering an introduction to American history, but that there are not a sufficient number of any one to allow it to serve as a text for a course.

While these criticisms might appear contradictory, they point to the need to clarify goals and to adjust the selection and distribution processes accordingly. While the goal of promoting research is legitimate, many advanced books which promote this goal are unlikely to find interested parties while faculty members remain outside of the selection process. More than 50 percent of the faculty respondents to the survey had never been consulted about the selection of any donated book or journal. The result held true across the geographic spectrum of the survey.

Similarly, donated books could promote learning more effectively if they were incorporated into courses. The distribution process, however, tends to diffuse many of the same type of books among several institutions. One institution, for example, might have two copies of ten different titles, all of which cover introductory material on economics, rather than twenty copies of the same textbook, which could be integrated into a course. Surveys of students indicate that there is a small, but significant number of lecturers, Western and 'local', who regularly assign readings from Western books and journals. The overall impact of donations would grow substantially if these lecturers were consulted and, indeed, provided with texts which could be integrated into their courses.

3.22 Access

Measurements of access address the fundamental issue of whether donated books can actually be read by the reading public. Unfortunately, in many cases the books are not accessible.

Where information on donations was provided, usually by partner organizations, searches were conducted of recipient libraries for ten books selected at random. The searches revealed disappointing results. Most recipient libraries fell into four categories: those where nearly all of the donated books were found; libraries where around one-third were found, libraries where none were found and libraries which were inaccessible to students, and, in some cases, faculty members.

Table Two:

Accessibility of Donated Books[5]

Books Located             Libraries                     
71-100%                   25%                           
31-70%                    20%                           
1-30%                     25%                           
0%                        20%                           
Inaccessible*             10%                           

* Defined as inaccessible to students and/or faculty members.

As table two shows, nearly all of the donated materials (defined as more than 70 percent) were located at only 25% of the libraries consulted. At a full 30 percent of libraries, no donated books were found, or all of the donated books were found to be inaccessible. At another 25 percent of libraries, 30 percent or less of the donated books were located.

Although in a few instances there might be reasonable explanations for the absence of the books, such as secondary donations to faculty or public libraries, or poor cataloguing, such explanations were taken into consideration and cannot justify the scope of missing donations.

This leaves the basic question: where are the books? In one instance, books donated long before were sitting in another room, still in boxes. During another survey, a recipient librarian indicated that books were given to students, although discussions with numerous students suggests that this is an exceedingly rare practice. Judging from anecdotal evidence, it would appear that most books can be found in the possession of lecturers or university administrators (thus the tendency for fewer books to go missing from state libraries). As one visiting Western lecturer in Romania commented, "Deans, department heads and professors seem to always have some brand new donated books proudly displayed in their homes, even if their knowledge is limited."

The inability of some end-recipients even to read the donated materials underscores the importance of placing books in libraries. All too often, books become trophies rather than sources of learning.

Placing books in faculty libraries might guarantee faculty members greater access to donations. However, faculty libraries have significant drawbacks, the most important being their restricted access to student users. A faculty library in the Slovak Republic, for example, contained seven copies of an introductory economics textbook (which from appearances were hardly ever used). Certainly, the institution as a whole could have benefitted if most of the copies were in the student reading room down the hall where no copies were located. Donated books promote education in the region most effectively when they are accessible to students, particularly if they are textbooks.

Suppliers and partner organizations have failed to conduct systematic checks of institutions to insure that donations are used as intended. One partner organization asserted that librarians would be insulted if it checked up on them, and other partner organizations indicated that voluntary efforts to identify usage met with little compliance from recipients. Some suppliers, including the Sabre Foundation, have taken the responsibility upon themselves, though checks by suppliers, because of their distance from the region, tend to be haphazard at best. Only when egregious malfeasance is reported to partners is any action taken to suspend donations to institutions whose actions contravened the spirit in which the donations were made. The absence of institutional mechanisms for checking donations means that, for the most part, institutions which are misusing donations are continuing to receive them.

The lack of oversight of recipients points to broader problems in the use of resources by suppliers and partner organizations, particularly in their use of databases. In many cases, databases are incomplete. Moreover, no effort is made to track donations once they are given to recipients, so that if there are secondary donations to public libraries or departmental libraries, or to students, partners have no institutionalized means of knowing. There is no indication that databases, even in so far as they are accurate, are used effectively. A database is important as a means to an end, not as an end in itself. If the material gathered in the database is not used to any particular end, then there is no need to create the database. As we will discuss in greater detail below, the successful use of databases could significantly increase the overall efficacy of donation projects.

3.23 Usage

The broader question of whether accessible donations are used is more difficult to assess, because most institutions do not keep such records. The results of surveys of institutions which did keep records were mixed results; some donated books were used tens of times and others not at all. Impressionistic evidence derived from observations of libraries and interviews with students and faculty members suggests that books are most likely to be used when:

One key problem is that students, and in some cases faculty members, are not aware of the scope of donated books. Not all institutions advertise their new acquisitions with displays and announcements, and even when such steps are taken, their long-term impact can still be limited, especially if the acquisitions are stored on closed stacks. For example, one set of political science books donated to a Ukrainian institution, where most of the students speak English, remained unused a year after the donations arrived. Most students seemed unaware of their presence and a quick survey of the books revealed that almost none had been read.

Many of the donated books, although useful, are not mainstream in the sense that one might not look for them in standard author/title cataloguing. There are numerous useful books in the field of political science and economics, for example, which Western specialists, and more importantly East European students and faculty members, might not necessarily look for in a card catalogue or computer.

One means of improving awareness of donated books would be to require recipient libraries to make lists of donations easily accessible to users. Accurate databases would allow partner organizations to provide such lists and update them with each additional donation. Ideally, the databases could be broken down by author and subject area. Such a step would allow those interested in foreign language publications and capable of reading them to locate needed books more easily. It would also place pressure on recipient libraries to keep books accessible, because they would be forced to acknowledge the receipt of donations. Accurate and accessible databases would make oversight of recipients far easier, because information about donated books would be more readily available to interested parties.

3.3 Needs

Interviews and surveys with librarians, faculty members and students have demonstrated that in spite of assistance provided by book donation programs, there is still great demand in the region for Western assistance, particularly in the former Soviet Union.

Changes in the economies in the region and relative levels of state support have had important implications concerning the ability of libraries to acquire Western books.

For the Visegrad countries, libraries in the Czech Republic, the Slovak Republic and Hungary have clearly benefitted from economic changes in the region and have been able, in many cases, to increase purchases of Western books. Polish libraries, on the other hand, have witnessed substantial declines in book purchasing power, due in large part to state budgeting priorities.

Outside of the Visegrad countries, two trends become clear. First, libraries in the former Soviet Union, particularly in Ukraine, Latvia and Lithuania, report substantial decreases in book purchases over the last three years. The libraries in these countries which suffered most were state libraries, particularly those specializing in the natural and engineering sciences.

Second, libraries in the region still rely heavily on donations to acquire Western books. The extent of reliance on donations varies greatly, but for libraries in the region as a whole, a full 30% of respondents indicate that 75 percent or more of the Western books which they have acquired in the last two years were donated. Even in the Visegrad region, 18 percent of libraries report a similar acquisition pattern, while nearly 40 percent indicate that at least 50 percent of their Western book acquisitions over the same period have been donated (see appendix one).

This survey data supports the conviction expressed by many librarians that Western donations are still of great importance to the region and that libraries depend upon donors for acquisitions of Western books. A librarian of a major Polish university library, which has received considerable support for automation, explained that while library automation is important, the library needs books as well.

The most common requests are for general reference books, particularly dictionaries and encyclopedias. Of the latter, there are requests in numerous fields ranging from philosophy to art history. Such donations would be helpful, because they serve both the student and the researcher. Similarly, there are requests for greater access to anthologies of literature and a variety of subjects within the humanities, because they could compactly provide a wide range of information and access to primary sources which are much in demand in the region.

Other demands fit in closely with the profile of individual recipients and the goals outlined above. Institutions specialising in language instruction, or which serve the general public, tend to express the desire for more ESL materials and English language books, such as novels.[6] Professionals request books providing practical knowledge, particularly in the medical field, but also in areas of politics, environmental protection and business.

Those in higher education frequently cite the need for greater quantities of textbooks. Partners are placed in a difficult situation, because they are often forced to decide between providing one or two books of the same title to several institutions or, for example, 20 of the same title to one institution. The former choice is more common. That is unfortunate because, as was discussed above, donations which can be integrated into an academic course offered year after year would have a much greater impact than single copies of books dispersed among different libraries.

The use of books for instruction also concerns foreign lecturers teaching in the region, many of whom are sponsored by Western organizations including the Civic Education Project, Fulbright, the Peace Corps and the British Council.[7] Particularly the former three, who teach non-ESL academic courses, have indicated that their courses could benefit greatly from advanced materials other than the basic texts which all of the organizations provide. Donations of additional materials to schools and universities hosting foreign teachers would have a significant impact, because those teachers work with large numbers of students who possess language skills to read foreign language texts and because they can integrate advanced texts into a broad teaching format.

There are several other areas where recipients indicate that their needs are not being met: recent computer books; advanced and specialized books, particularly in economics; and books on Eastern Europe. Those who have taught in the region can testify to the relatively weak and distorted knowledge which students in the region have of their own and their neighbours' history and contemporary political situation. Although the Sabre Foundation has supplied some such books, as well as some books in Ukrainian and Russian, the need for them remains significant.

3.4 Conclusions and Recommendations

A large number of books have been donated to libraries in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union since the revolutions of 1989. However, volume should not be equated with efficacy. The quality of donations, particularly of bulk donations, is often incommensurate with the quantity; donated books are frequently unsuitable for any library and are rarely appropriate for higher-level academic courses and research needs. Distribution systems, even when operated through local partner organizations, are not designed to maximize the effective use of resources; donations should be integrated into academic courses and into centers of quality research where researchers have the capacity to use them. Finally, the failure of donor organizations and partners to verify that book donations are accessible to the reading public has resulted in numerous donations failing to reach those for whom they are intended.

If the goals of donor organizations and their financial supporters are to promote learning in higher education and the advancement of academic research, then the above problems suggest that donation projects must be changed. Even the mass book donation projects, like those sponsored by the Sabre Foundation and IBB, which bring many useful books into the region at a relatively low cost, must make significant changes if they are to warrant continued support; the volume of books sent is not as impressive when other factors are taken into consideration, such as the number of useless and inaccessible books, and the large volume of donated books which are not even intended for university or national libraries.

Donation programs would promote education and research in the region more effectively if the following practices were adopted:


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