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Books for Development

March 14th, 2013

In June I will give a paper at a conference called Books For Development, discussing how books are acquired, distributed, used, and preserved at some of the libraries and schools around the world I have visited. My paper will be on Haiti and what I learned from visiting a secondary school and a law school there. However, I have also visited libraries in Doha, Qatar, in Nairobi, Kenya and in New Delhi, India. Qatar has plenty of money for books and a higher education mandate to match; individuals can also afford to buy books. India has quite of money to devote to this since higher education is also national priority, but it is difficult for individuals to afford enough books. Kenya and Haiti struggle more, both because of their distance from international publishing centers, and because of their economies. Their libraries need more help and support; individuals are unlikely to be able to afford books except at the very top strata of society.

Today there is a piece in the New York Times by novelist Yu Hua about how and why books are “pirated” in some regions where sharing copies isn’t considered stealing, but instead a necessary form of getting materials to readers who can’t afford them. It’s a complex article, and I urge you to read it with the sense that the story on the ground is always more complex than it seems from afar. At least that has been my experience in Haiti, India, and Kenya.


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