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Richard Arkaifie


Several factors constrain libraries in Africa to depend on book donations largely from outside the continent. These donations support the initial efforts of the libraries to provide the necessary informational needs of their clientele who may range from the school children to the research workers.

This paper will be looking at the various factors underlying the need for this dependency and also the implication of solicited and unsolicited donations for the library and suggest ideal ways of tackling the donation programme so as to attain satisfactory results for both the donor and the recipient.

Economic and other compelling reasons

For a period of fifteen years, beginning from 1970 to about the middle of the 1980s, lots of African countries, especially those south of the Sahara, experienced economic difficulties which compelled them to seek foreign financial assistance.

By 1987, a good number of countries adopted Structural Adjustment Programmes recommended by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Countries which had to adopt this included Ghana, Nigeria, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Zaire and Senegal.

The fortunes of the national economies affected subventions to the libraries, especially those in the tertiary education sector.

Phenomenal increase in student population.

While the budget in these countries almost stagnated, there was an exponential rise in student numbers for tertiary education in sub-Saharan Africa and the numbers tripled. For a period of fourteen years starting in 1980, enrollment in primary and secondary schools grew by 46% and 104% respectively.1

Expenditure per student declined from US$6,300 in 1970 to an average US$1,500 in 1988 and budgetary allocation to the library also declined.

In the Ghanaian context, one observes that apart from the fact that what the government spends is grossly inadequate, the Universities themselves exacerbated the financial plight of the libraries by not abiding by the norms enunciated by the University Rationalization Committee. Statistics for the period 1982-1986 indicate that an average of 2% of the recurrent budget was allocated to the libraries instead of the 10% recommended by the committee.

The University of Development Studies which was established in 1993 fared a little better than its sister Universities because of the realization that it was starting from scratch and it had to be better resourced. From the onset, between 4.5% and 5.22% of the University's recurrent budget was given to the library.

The situation in Nigeria was not different. In the 1980s, the oil glut adversely affected the economic fortunes of Nigeria resulting in decreased subvention to the Universities. The libraries had no money to import books and subscribe to periodicals. By 1985 the Federal Government was compelled to seek financial assistance to put breaks on the downward trend of the economy. The government was given $120 million credit for the structural adjustment of the Federal Universities.

In Kenya, funding from government to Universities decreased in 1991 and the Universities received one-line budgets and this was a pointer to the government's gradual disengagement of its responsibility for the tertiary sector.

The strong economy of Botswana was the only one that made a difference in this gloomy picture. The University has 89% of its income from government subvention and the remainder from other sources. About 8% of the subvention for the University is allocated to the library. This was a sharp contrast to the situation in West Africa where the average percentage given to libraries was three. Fourah Bay College, which used to give 6% of its budget to its library stopped the practice.

In Botswana donor-aid for journals is not encouraged as it is feared that the University might not be able to sustain the subscription when donor funding stops. This fear has been shown to be well grounded in Ghana where World Bank aid for journal subscription stopped, and since 1998 journal subscription has largely not been forthcoming in the five state sponsored universities.

Other factors

So much for the economic malaise. Unfortunate incidents like natural disasters involving floods, earthquakes, storms and man-induced disasters including wartime destruction, vandalism and arson badly affected library stocks and they are sufficient grounds for asking for donations from benevolent organisations and well-wishers.

We recall here the loss of almost half of the library stock of University of Nigeria at Enugu and Nsukka afber the civil war, the 1988 rainstorm which destroyed books in the Nigeria Forestry Research Library and destruction of documents in the National Library of Nigeria in 1990. There is also the fire outbreak at the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation in 1989, which destroyed the Film Archives and Library.2

Dearth of published materials

There is apparent inadequacy of published materials in African countries. UNESCO Statistics published in 1990 show that in 1988, developed countries published 613,00 titles, whilst 200,000 emanated from Asia. In contrast, Africa put out a paltry 12,000 titles.

If millions of books published in the developed countries are compared with those of developing countries, it is crystal clear that the developing countries have much to gain from the developed world.

To illustrate this, as much as forty million new books were destroyed in the United States alone in 1993. Since the books are new some libraries in the developing countries could have benefited from those destroyed.

Publishing effort initiative

The government of Ghana took the initiative to remedy this publishing inadequacy by establishing the Ghana Publishing Corporation in 1965.

Soon afterwards, the government entered into a licensing agreement with five British publishers, namely Macmillan, Longman, Evans Brothers and Gorge Allen & Unwin. The publishers in turn pemitted Ghana Publishing Corporation to print and distribute in Ghana selected textbooks from overseas publishers lists. This was intended to reduce the large number of imported books and consequently reduce the heavy foreign exchange expenditure incurred in book importation.

In 1974, the Ministry of education assumed the role of a publisher as it had the objective of producing books at a cheaper rate. Core textbooks were produced through the Curriculum Research and Development Division. This made it possible for the government to introduce free textbooks for primary and second cycle schools. Unfortunately it had the unintended consequence of compelling 70% of the booksellers to close their businesses.

It has been argued by Allen and Katris that the ability to have large print- runs of basic textbooks for the undergraduates could imply low unit cost of publications which could be affordable to interested parties, whether individuals or libraries.3 It should however be pointed out that when such books are meant to be given out free, the cost to the government may be so prohibitive that not everyone can have access to the books as it was originally intended.

The paradox of donations

Book donations vary from large will-structured programmes to small ad hoc, one off donations. And they emanate from various sources including governmental and non-governmental organisations, institutions and some individuals who are friends of the library.

Donations could in the main be divided into two, namely solicited and unsolicited donations. It is usually the latter, which creates problems as some donations do not take account of the needs of the recipients.

Solicited donations

I will group under solicited donations, gift of books received as a result of the initiative taken by the recipient library. Under this category are also those who give books after consultation with the recipients. Some benevolent organizations like Book Aid International and Sabre Foundation donate books after prior consultations with recipients. Book Aid International sends an elaborate questionaire to the recipient libraries and institutions eliciting from them a lot of information concerning the profile of individual professors and that of the library and institutions. They also find out about the curriculum of the institution. This makes it possible for them to supply books, which will be relevant to the courses studied in the institution.

Sabre Foundation, through Ghana Book Trust also makes it possible for recipients to know which books are available for selection. It will be helpful if they could also make direct contact with recipient institutions and libraries whilst still making Ghana Book Trust co-ordinate donation activities as it happens in the case of Book Aid International.

As indicated earlier on, many institutions in developing countries have had to admit increasingly large numbers of students because of the expanding demand for higher eduction. The necessary consultation would make it possible for a prospective donor to know where it can offer multiple copies of a title to satisfy a particular need.

Unsolicited donations

There are benevolent organizations and individuals who are friends of the library and occasionally donate books without consultation with the recipients. One needs to point out here that it is not all unsolicaited donations, which may not satisfy the needs of the recipient.

There is a case in point where the University of Cape Coast Library received unsolicited donation from the United States Information Service in Accra in 1996 worth $35,00 and it was noted that most of the books were essential and one only wished that some of the core texts could have been in multiple copies.

But before this donation was received a container of books were received in 1994 by the University of Cape Coast from a well-wisher in England.

A careful scrutiny indicated that most of the books were not relevant to the needs of the University. A large proportion of the books were meant for the first and second cycle institutions. Even for these levels, the books were very old and their relevance to the modem day syllabus was very doubtful.4

It is apt here to refer to the criticism of Allen and Katris that "parcels of books are often sent to Africa as unsolicited charitable gifts; the recipients are too polite to do more than express their gratitude. Books so received are frequently old and damaged, of an inappropriate educational level, out of date, fall outside the fields of interest of recipients or simply duplicate existing stock".5 This is clearly dumping and such books do more harm than good.

Another pertinent remark by Tainie Mudondo of Zimbabwe is "Give us what we need, NOT what you don't need".6

The foregoing two scenarios depicting the donation of the USIS and the individual donation from England show that unless the donor takes some pains in his selection the possibility of meeting the needs of the recipient could be remote. In other words, in an unsolicited book donation, there is the likelihood of a high percentage of the requirements of the beneficiary being taken for granted, instead of ascertaining his real requirements.


Ideally, the best donation programme is predicated on finding out, through either questionnaire or correspondence, the exact needs of the recipient. Machinery should therefore be put in place to find out which courses are being pursued by institutions or in the case of public libraries, the preferences of their clientele. In an institutional environment the number of students enrolled for various courses should be taken into account There should also be an opportunity to choose titles either from an annotated list or from the warehouse of the donor if a staff of the beneficiary library happens to be around on a visit.

There is no doubt that the help given by book donors from outside Africa has been tremendous. Apart from those already mentioned, there has been help from Brother's Brother Foundation, World Vision International and others. Within the past four years Book Aid International has despatched to Nigerian Libraries over half a million books.7


The harsh economic situation in Africa coupled with occasional disasters, and the increasing need to satisfy informational requirements of a growing reading clientele, compel many libraries in the continent to look for book donations. There is "donor fatigue" in the developed world and a good number of donations are tied to projects. But the problems are still with us and we are grateful to those who still care. However it is important that in order to attain the optimum satisfaction on the part of both the donor and the recipients, there should be adequate consultations prior to the book donations so that the strenuous efforts put in by both sides might achieve the desired results. We need high quality books in good condition and not those which are being discarded by others.


  1. GARBERS, C. F & Others (1998) in Chemistry in Africa's Least Developed Countries; an overview of Capacity Building and Research Support, Report.
  2. AKOSSAH, Harry and Fosu, V. K. (2001) Disaster Management in Academic Libraries in Ghana. African Journal of Library, Archives and Information Science Vol. II No. 1 2001 p. 1-16.
  3. ALLEN, G. G. & KATRIS, P (1992) Report on the Project to Assess the Acquisition Needs of University Libraries in Developing Countries. Pertn, Curtin p. 28.
  4. ARKAIFIE, Richard (1998) Donation of books to libraries: Bane or Blessing - the University of Cape Coast experience In Education Libraries Journal vol. 41 No. 3 p. 14.
  5. ALLEN G. G. & KATRIS P (1992) opt cit. p. 30.
  6. DONATED BOOKS PROGRAMS: a dialogue of Partners handbook 1993 p. 36.
  7. ADEOTI-ADEKEYE, W. B. (1999) Library Development in Developing Countries: The Role of Book Aid International in Nigeria. In International Information & Library Review 31, 49-55.


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