Executive Summary
 

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The Civic Education Project (CEP) has conducted a study of the effectiveness of book and journal donations to Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Over 700 detailed surveys of librarians, faculty members and university officials were completed during the first few months of 1994, supplemented by an extensive series of interviews with donors, suppliers, partner organizations, university officials, faculty members and students. This broad focus on the entire process, from donor to end user, has provided unique insights into the changing needs of the region several years after many large-scale projects began and over four years since the revolutions of 1989-1990.

Summary of Major Findings

Needs

The surveys and interviews conducted by CEP indicate that Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union are still in need of Western book and journal donations. Nearly one-third of the librarians surveyed reported that 75 percent or more of the Western books they have acquired in the past two years were donations. More than 70 percent of faculty members surveyed claimed that they did not have 'reasonable' access to 'essential' foreign journals.

Needs for book and journal donations vary throughout the region. Libraries in the Czech Republic and Hungary, and to a lesser extent in the Slovak Republic, Romania and Estonia, have increased their purchases of Western books over the last three years, while those in Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine have reported declines in purchasing power, in some cases substantial declines. More libraries have reduced substantially their purchases of Western journals. Librarians, academics and researchers throughout the region indicate that they are in great need of support for the acquisition of books and journals. Specialists in the natural and technical sciences in particular require journal donations.

Book and Journal Donation Projects

Book and journal donations are reaching readers in Eastern Europe. More than 90 percent of surveyed faculty members have read a donated book or journal. Donation programs, however, often fail to make effective use of their resources.

Donor organizations too frequently focus their attention on the volume of donations rather than on the end-use of the donated materials. Most donor organizations, and their local partner organizations, make little effort to find out whether donated books and journals are used as intended, whether potential users are informed of their existence and whether they are accessible to the reading public, or, as is too often the case, reserved for use by a privileged few. Searches conducted by CEP for donated books and journals have uncovered disappointing results -- in the majority of cases, less than 30 percent of the donated books are broadly accessible to the reading public. Diversion, poor cataloguing, 'warehousing' of donations by libraries and severely restrictive conditions for access to donated materials are disturbingly widespread.

The quality of book and journal donations does not always correspond with their quantity. There tends to be a glut of certain types of book donations (introductory economic textbooks and 'basic' works on democratic theory and American government, for example) and a serious lack of other badly needed materials, particularly upper-level texts and advanced research materials. Donated journals are often obscure and thus under-utilized. Donor organizations often provide too many subscriptions to 'second-tier' journals and not enough to 'core' journals.

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 International Book Bank -- 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.

The ineffectiveness of many donation projects stems from a failure to approach the donation process, from selection of materials to end use, as an integral whole. Those projects rarely link their ultimate objectives -- to assist language study, non-language academic instruction, academic research or the attainment of practical knowledge -- to an integrated plan for identifying the types of resources needed and for locating recipients who can effectively use the donated materials.

Donation projects, particularly in the Visegrad countries, are more likely to achieve their ultimate objectives if they integrate donations into academic courses and research centers. Promotion of academic instruction requires improved distribution, particularly a focus on donations which can be incorporated into regular courses. Support for research requires donors to identify institutions with research potential and academics who can use the donated material effectively. It also requires greater input from researchers and librarians in the selection of donated materials.

Recommendations

Book and journal donations often fail to address the real needs of the recipient institutions and to take into account the capacity of the institutions to use donated materials effectively. In many cases, book and journal donations do not even reach students, professors and researchers in the region, who are the intended end-users. The effectiveness of book and journal donations could be improved in the following ways:

  • Donors and partner organizations should institute regular checks of recipient libraries to insure that they are complying with the spirit in which the donations are made. Recipients who do not make their books available should be cut off from future donations.
  • Recipients should be required to account for all of the donated books and journals which they receive. If recipients fail to account for donated books and journals, they should not receive any more donations.
  • Partner organizations should demand that recipient libraries promptly publicize the arrival of all donated books and journals. They should provide recipients with lists of donations and require the recipients to post a separate cataloging list of donated materials for use by library patrons.
  • Attempts should be made to integrate book donations into academic courses taught by local or visiting Western lecturers, preferably those taught in the language of the donated materials.
  • Donors and suppliers should acquire materials suited to more advanced academic levels, particularly where the materials can be incorporated into upper-level courses.
  • Partners and donors should donate materials to research and study centers which have large numbers of active users who read the appropriate foreign languages.
  • Faculty members should be consulted about materials, particularly textbooks, which could be incorporated into their courses, and materials suitable for their research interests.
  • Journal donation projects should attempt to incorporate more materials from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union into their offerings.
  • Donors, particularly those focusing on donations of scientific and medical journals, should consider offering donations of, or discounts on, information available through alternative technologies, especially CD-ROM.

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