Dialogue of East European Partners (DEEP)


Book Donation Project in the Czech Republic

Lucie Bednárová, Center for Democracy and Free Enterprise

It gives me great pleasure to be here to say a few words about the Book Distribution Program in the Czech Republic. CDFE is one of only a few Czech foundations which provide high schools, universities, as well as needy individuals in corporations, institutions and banks, with the very best literature in English and recent textbooks on various topics. The books can and are immediately used for teaching purpose or as material for seminars and conferences.

CDFE, a private, non-partisan, not-for-profit Czech foundation, conducts educational consulting, training and research in democratic institutions and market economics. The CDFE was formally opened on January 1, 1991, to contribute to public policy exchanges. In the initial one and a half years of its operation, CDFE served as the Czechoslovak representative office of the Central Europe Institute, Washington, D.C. On June 1, 1992, CDFE became a private, non-partisan, not-for-profit Czechoslovak foundation. It has kept its original name and introduced a more diversified program of international assistance to Czech and Slovak citizens and their national governments.

The CDFE is currently developing several projects. One of its main programs is the Book Distribution Program. Together with the Ford Foundation, the Legal Resource Center of the CDFE is developing a law student/professor exchange program with North American law universities. The LRC itself is a comprehensive free public legal information center. The purpose of the center is to monitor and provide legal information to the public and legal communities. The Careers program enables secondary and university students to study or conduct research in English abroad. The Parliamentary Internship Initiative will give Czech university students first-hand experience in working with policy-makers while providing Parliamentarians with needed research and clerical support. The Free Enterprise Internship Program enables university-level business and law students to study and help resolve a variety of issues confronting market reform in the Czech Republic. The European House will establish a clearinghouse of EU information in Prague.

The Book Distribution Program began in 1991, and in that year distributed 15,000 books, then over 30,000 in 1992, 20,000 in 1993, and 30,000 in 1994. Over 10,000 of the 1994 volumes were Elsevier science books. The English-language books and textbooks are being distributed to over 3,500 students, educators and to the general public. Part of each shipment is given to Charles University, University of Economics and Technical University, all situated in Prague, as well as Masaryk University in Brno, Palackeho University in Olomouc, Czechoslovak Management Center, Czech Ministries, and Parliament.

The BDP operates with a database of about 3,500 addresses. Most of them are provided to us by the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health, the Academy of Science, and the National Library. The database is updated annually.

Until the end of 1994, the distribution was mainly arranged by the biggest publisher and distributor of printed matter in the Czech Republic. This task was made possible with the help and understanding of its general director. This company is experienced and was the biggest company operating in this field in Czechoslovakia before 1989. Since May, 1995, CDFE has managed the book distribution in the warehouse at the Charles University Faculty of Physical Education and Sport.

Each container of books is transferred to the rented warehouse where each book is stamped with a "Not for Sale" mark and given an identification number. The books are sorted by subject and then by author. This procedure usually takes two weeks. I coordinate and manage a team of three or four people who are hired for this period by the Center; we have had no volunteers. Meanwhile, each recipient is previously informed and asked to select books in the warehouse by letter with an enclosed list of shipped books. This list contains information about the books and identification numbers and can be provided on diskette if requested. In the past, many recipients welcomed the option of sending an advance order according to the list and having the books mailed to them. Because we no longer cooperate with the mailing company, however, this service was terminated.

Although the largest recipients are still informed by letter, the general public is only informed through the press. The warehouse is open for about two months and then the books are divided in scientific, economic and social literature and moved to universities where they are distributed. We try to follow a simple rule: most of the books are first given to schools, scientific and specialized libraries and then to other recipients so that the books are given to those who will use them most.

Even though CDFE has distributed over 95,000 books since 1991, there is still a general lack of English-language books and textbooks. Some titles are already available in the Czech Republic but are so expensive that most of our recipients cannot afford them. These donated books are extremely helpful in helping to bridge the gap of information which was caused by the previous regime. I believe that sharing information is a necessary part of building a democratic society. The experience gained during distribution shows that books are still the most important teaching aid, even in our computerized world. Since English is a leading language in most fields, these books not only provide and facilitate this important free flow of recent information but also aid those who wish to learn English.

In conclusion, I would like to say that the distribution of books requires highly professional people not only in the country where the books are sent but especially where they are collected - at the Sabre Foundation. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all sponsors, publishers, and volunteers who have worked on the previous shipments. I can only express a fraction of the appreciation felt by our recipients who are so grateful for recent information about developments in a wide variety of fields. We will continue to appreciate each new shipment in the future.

Thank you for your attention.

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