Book donations – Boosting the capacities of academic libraries

A number of book donation organisations around the world are helping to address the shortage in African university libraries of books, needed to give African students a chance at optimal learning.

One of them is United Kingdom-based charity Book Aid International (BAI), which supports a range of higher education institutions – universities, teacher training colleges, nursing colleges, vocational training institutions and polytechnics – through the provision of up-to-date and relevant tertiary education books donated by educational publishers.

Alison Tweed, chief executive at BAI, UK, told University World News that the organisation last year sent 55,695 higher education books and 154,229 medical books, mostly to Africa. Their beneficiaries included 338 higher education institutions, 19 medical teaching institutions and 13 universities such as the University of Juba in South Sudan, the University of Liberia and the State University of Zanzibar.

“BAI believes that both students and professionals have a key role to play in building better futures in Africa, which can only be achieved by having access to up-to-date and high-quality books needed to complete degrees and qualifications,” Tweed said.

Prohibitive costs

According to the BAI website, there is “huge demand for university core texts and higher-level academic books, the cost of which can be prohibitive for many institutions and individuals, especially as most are published abroad and can incur high import duty. Additionally, many universities lack the funds or infrastructure to fund subscriptions to online resources.”

For example, the Kitwe campus of the University of Zambia in Copperbelt Province had 1,800 students but in 2015 had funds to buy only 30 books, BAI indicated.

According to the Directory of Open Access Repositories, only 24 out of 54 countries in Africa have repositories, with a total of 211 repositories, while Asia, Europe and America have 830, 1,923 and 1,151 repositories respectively.

According to Tonson Sango, director of operations at Books2Africa, book donation programmes such as Books2Africa are vital in reducing the problem of poor quality education in Africa.

Beating poverty

“There is already an abundance of schools and academic institutions in Africa, so the focus must now turn to ensuring that students who attend such schools are actually learning the vital skills they need to succeed and beat poverty,” Sango told University World News.

“Although book donation programmes do not address the infrastructural problems facing many institutions in Africa, they deliver hard copy books to millions who are hungry to learn – and learning is ultimately what is most important,” Sango said.

United States-based International Book Project ships donated books to various organisations around the world, including universities in Africa.

According to its executive director, Lisa Fiedler Fryman, since 2015 the organisation has shipped university books in sea containers as well as smaller shipments to universities in South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia and Ethiopia. “We currently have a pending request from another university in Nigeria,” she said.

Books For Africa is the largest shipper of donated text and library books to the African continent, sending over 41 million books to all 54 countries on the African continent since its founding in 1988.

Agatha Wagoner, database and development officer at Books For Africa in the United States, told University World News that university libraries will often share large book shipments with other schools in their region, increasing the number of students who have access to these books. “Large shipments of books also help students to have more time to study, as they may no longer have to share books with many other students,” said Wagoner.

New courses

“One of our special projects is our Law & Democracy Initiative, which aims to provide law and human rights books for universities across the African continent. These books are scarce in most African universities and are valuable resources for students pursuing a law degree,” she said. “For one university in Tanzania, this enabled them to start offering new courses that weren’t possible before due to a lack of law books.”

John Akama, vice-chancellor of Kisii University in Kenya, told University World News that Books For Africa is “one of the most innovative ways of enhancing academic training, teaching and research in African universities that in most cases are resource scarce”.

“The books that have over the years been donated to my university have gone a long way in enhancing our library, which did not have even a single textbook in some of the academic programmes,” he said.

“Our students, academics and management are extremely grateful for this gesture.”

Samuel Gudu, vice-chancellor of Rongo University, also in Kenya, said: “I fully agree that book donation has had a positive impact in our universities’ libraries, where adequate resources are needed, as it has improved quality of learning and enhanced readership.”

Gudu said the libraries still needed more resources to buy journals that are not open source.

The right kind of books

Providing the right kind of books for the receiving institution is seen as critical by the organisations interviewed.

Tweed of BAI said it was important not to create an environment of dependency for book donations. “We [at Book Aid International] overcome this by working in partnership with our beneficiaries, making sure that our donations are used towards building resilience and capacity,” she said.

Wagoner said Books For Africa conducts regular surveys among book recipients to ensure they receive the books and materials they need.

As Sango put it: “It is important for book donation programmes to provide books that are useful for local populations, but because such books often come from Western countries, there is sometimes a worry that students may not be learning enough about local history and local authors.

“However, making books by local authors more available and accessible is not entirely the responsibility of book donation programmes, and in a globalised world, books originating from all cultures are equally relevant,” he said.

“As with the case of Books2Africa, people in Africa should be given the option to choose what books they want themselves,” he told University World News.

According to a 2015 study titled “Book Donation Programmes for Africa: Time for a Reappraisal? Two Perspectives” and published in African Research and Documentation, well-conceived, recipient request led book donation programmes that fill a genuine need can be highly beneficial to their intended recipients, but each programme should include a component designed to support indigenous publishing and the local “book chain”.

“Ending the book famine in Africa should not be the responsibility of book donation organisations. That responsibility lies fairly and squarely on the shoulders of African governments, who for the most part have shockingly, and inexplicably, neglected their libraries for three decades or more,” the study said.

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Coronavirus (Covid-19) updates

A quick update about what Books2Africa is doing in response to these uncertain times caused by the outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19). Our top priority is the health and wellbeing of our staff, volunteers and supporters. Key to this is following government recommendations closely. Thankfully no suspected cases of COVID-19 have been reported amongst our staff and volunteers. Our Processing Centre in Canterbury is still operational and well stocked with the enough books and resources to ship to Africa.

Please read our updates below on steps taken to minimise the risk to staff, volunteers and supporters.

  • Public Book Collections Suspended: Effective today, we are suspending our collection service for book donations by members of the public in the UK. Although this will affect our book donation numbers, it would reduce the workload on our paid staff who continue to work during this difficult period to ensure the charity remains operational. This will be reviewed at the end of Easter on 14th April 2020.

  • Warehouse Volunteering Suspended: Effective today, we are suspending all volunteering work at the Processing Centre in Canterbury. This means all our UK and International Volunteers are no longer allowed to come into the Canterbury site. Although this will affect our processing and sorting capacity, it makes it easier for us to enforce government advise on social distancing and minimise the risk to paid staff who continue to work normal hours, ensuring our charity shop remains operational and shipments to Africa are dispatched. This will be reviewed at the end of Easter on 14th April 2020.

  • Online Volunteering: During this suspension of warehouse volunteering, we will be assigning all our volunteers to our Education Team to work on a variety of fundraising tasks online. To this end, all our International Volunteers are required to attend an online Skype meeting with our Director of Education on Wednesday 25th March at 9:30 am. UK volunteers who would like to join in can also email [email protected] to indicate their interest in order to receive further instructions on joining the meeting.


Finally a word of encouragement – Do not be afraid, stay safe and continue to have faith that this will soon pass. 
  • The strictest hygiene standards are being followed at our Processing Centre, with hand sanitisers, disinfectant sprays, plastic gloves and posters reminding staff, volunteers and supporters to wash their hands regularly and wipe their work surfaces.


  • No contact deliveries: Couriers delivering boxes to the Processing Centre will no longer require you to sign by hand on delivery. Rather, they are advised to enter your initials.


  • Drop-offs and tours suspended: From next week, drop-off appointments by members of the public will be suspended until further notice. Until then, staff and volunteers are advised to receive deliveries without contact and avoid giving members of the public tours of the Processing Centre.


We appreciate your understanding as the situation evolves and reassure you that we will take necessary steps to ensure your safety whilst trying to also fulfil our charitable objectives. If you need any support or advice, you can send us an email [email protected]

Thank you for your continued support and do subscribe to our coronavirus updates if you want to be remain updated.
Books2Africa UK Team

Shipping and delivering 1 million books every year
involves the following:

  • 20,000 books fit in 1 x 20ft container
  • 1,000,000 books fit in 50 x 20ft containers
  • 4 x 20ft containers shipped monthly
  • £5,000 to process, ship and clear each container of 20,000 books
  • £20,000 delivers 4 containers monthly
Fundraising Target
  • 2,000 individuals giving £10 or more monthly, or 50 corporate partners sponsoring 1 container per year. Thank you.


Processing in the UK


Freight from the UK


Clearing and haulage in Africa

Books2Africa is a UK registered charity number 1152599