Book Donations - Introduction and Tips

This handbook outlines the essential components of successful book donation projects and offers some suggestions for both recipient and donor. The directory lists organizations which can help in the various phases of book donation projects. Libraries worldwide are no longer just collections of books. Projects focusing on providing African libraries with electronic information technology and arrays of electronic resources for information and research are making great headway in giving African students and researchers access to the same information base enjoyed by the rest of the world. Books, however, will remain a major component of libraries� collections and services. African libraries are eager to rebuild and enlarge their conventional book and journal collections, even as they are building the infrastructure for electronic information technology. The Book Donations Committee of the Africana Librarians Council of the African Studies Association has updated this handbook/directory to help with the planning, funding, and implementation of projects to assist the development of libraries in Africa. Winners of the ASA Book Donation Awards are listed from 1999 - 2003. The success of any book donation project depends on the active participation of both partners: the recipients and the donors. Together their efforts result in the selection and collection of books which are beneficial to the recipient, the shipping of those books to the final destination, and the processing and utilization of those books by the students and faculty served by the recipient library.

Recipient Books

What do you need? A library or school requesting books should be as clear and detailed as possible. If a specific title, edition or version is needed, give all the details. However, don't be overly specific if a broader range of books on the subject would be acceptable. Non-print materials - sound recordings, films, videos, CD-ROMS, computer data bases, etc. - may be available. Indicate if you have the capacity to use these, and if you prefer electronic or print resources.


Subject matter age, grade or academic level preferred or required language other constraints, for instance: math books in metric only; British legal system texts, etc. number of copies of each work needed, e.g. for classroom use or library collection date or edition acceptable.

Remember that a potential donor may be hesitant to send a slightly outdated edition of a work, such as an encyclopedia or an annual reference work. Indicate if this will be acceptable. Be frank if it is not.


How will the books get to you? The hardest part of any book project is arranging transportation. Explore ways you can help with these arrangements. Be prepared to deal with customs and other matters when the books arrive.

Finding and Working with a Donor

Communication is an essential component of a book project. The idea may begin with discussions with a visiting scholar or researcher, or with one of your own faculty or students on research leave or exchange status in the U.S. The project may start with an appeal to universities and scholars abroad. Whatever the impetus, the communication which is so vital to the project may take considerable effort.

Bear in mind

Often correspondence is slow or goes completely astray. Follow up letters sent and keep copies. Don't assume loss of interest because you have not received a reply to your last letter. Provide a full return address on your letter (not just on the envelope), including the name and/or title of the person who should receive responses. Be as specific as possible in addressing your own letters, even if your initial letter is sent before you know the name or title of the person who is most likely to respond. An envelope addressed simply to "University of X" may never reach anyone at all, much less the appropriate person. If no one is known at the institution, the library director can usually be depended upon to refer the request to someone likely to reply. Some donors and organizations cannot respond to individual requests. A clearinghouse that will publicize your request may produce better results. Africana Libraries Newsletter, ASA News, H-Africa, and the Africana Librarians List are good resources, as are the newsletters, bulletins and electronic discussion lists for the various academic and scholarly organizations and societies.

Donor Books: Matching What�s Available with What�s Needed

Book donations may be as simple as a doctoral student sending a copy of his dissertation to the library of the African university where he did part of his research, or sharing copies of subsequent books and articles. American students and faculty may donate subscriptions of journals to colleagues in African universities. Many potential donors are individuals with personal collections of books which, for many reasons, are no longer wanted. Donors may also be individuals or groups who solicit donations of books from the community on behalf of recipient libraries. Books thus collected may come from personal collections, academic or public libraries; duplicates or discards, school systems; superseded editions or publishers overstocks and in-kind donations.

When Soliciting Books, describe the needs of the recipient libraries clearly, but avoid stereotypes and derogatory images.

Emphasize the need for high quality books in good condition. Throwing books away seems a terrible waste, particularly when there are libraries with empty shelves, and the idea of giving them to needy libraries is appealing. However, sometimes books are in bad shape, are outdated, or are inappropriate for the intended recipient in important ways. Dealing with donations of books which turn out to be of no use is a drain on the already limited resources of the recipient library. It is a gift that may cause more harm than good. Before going any further with a book donation project, a donor should look objectively at the books. All books sent should be in good physical condition, clean, recent, useable. Older "classics" in any field may be useful, but intrinsic merit does not justify sending dirty, torn, or marked-up copies. When sending books in a general subject area (as opposed to specific titles requested), consider appropriateness. For example, many American mathematics books are of little use to students in countries where the metric system is used.

Check on federal and state deductions for donations. Direct overseas donations may not be deductible. If you wish a tax deduction, you may wish to find an organization which sends books to Africa, and make the donation to them. The donor, not the recipient, is responsible for appraisal of the donation�s value for tax purposes. Whenever possible, a list of the books can be a big help to both recipient and donor. The recipient knows what to expect, and can indicate what is not needed. The donor has a document of what was given for his records at tax time.

Logistics: Packing, Shipping, etc.

The impulse to donate books is easy. The work involved in making that donation can be daunting. Whatever the size or organization of a project, the needs are basically the same: space to review the books, space and materials for packing, a means of shipping, a means of assuring end delivery to the intended recipient, and library money to cover all the costs involved.

The list on this site provides information on book donation projects that may accept books from individuals. Ship them to appropriate recipients. The donor has little work to do, but may have little or no say in designating a recipient. At the other end of the spectrum of donation projects, a donor may do it all.

Select books according to recipient guidelines, pack them and ship them directly.

Those donors may want to consider some strategies for getting aid locally: Involve student organizations, civic or religious organizations, returned Peace Corps or other PVO volunteers, etc. in the project. Contact local businesses for donations or grants for shipping and handling, or for donations-in-kind of packing materials, warehouse space, etc. Multinationals in particular may be on the lookout for good will projects. Shipping is the hardest part of the project to arrange. The fastest, surest, and most expensive method is airmail or a courier services such as DHL. The method which is cheapest per book is shipping a container-load of books surface mail. ($8,000 or more for the container, which usually holds about 20,000 books). In between those two extremes is book-rate parcel post and, for those countries with the service, U.S. Postal Service mailbags, which have a rate much lower than book-rate parcel post. Consult the U.S. Postal Service Web site (, and your local post office for information on mailbags and other postal rates. Check van lines, shipping agents, and international firms for free or low-cost shipping on a space available basis. (Remember that this method takes the book from seaport to seaport. If both you and the recipient live in landlocked states, there are additional problems and expenses.) Check the Shipping Digest ( for possible shipping opportunities. Contact the embassy or consulate of the recipient country in the U.S. - sometimes they can help with shipping. The U.S. embassy in the recipient country may have some suggestions. Certain U.S. academic grants may include provisions for shipping books, as may certain linkage grants between academic institutions in the U.S. and the recipient country. Discuss shipping strategies with the recipient. Don�t assume they have a merely passive role. Packing depends on the mode of shipment. For mail bags, books should be wrapped or boxed in moderately sized parcels before packing in the mail bag. Observe weight and size restrictions very carefully. For container shipping, books may have to be packed on pallets. In all cases, waterproof or water resistant packaging is advised. Getting the books on their way from the U.S. is not the end of the project. Problems still may arise when the books arrive at their destination. Work with the recipient to minimize those problems. The shipment may take a long time to get there. Surface rate post or container shipment may take months -- up to a year or more!

Stay in contact with the recipient. Be aware of any staff changes. Let the recipient know if you yourself will be on leave or are moving. Let them know who is taking over the project, or what your new address is. Don�t assume that donated books are automatically duty-free. Be sure the recipient has all the necessary paperwork to receive the books and have them released from customs. Regulations may change without notice. Be prepared for anything.