Libraries, as George Dawson commented on opening the Birmingham Free Library in the late 1800s, contain the diary of the human race. Thus, a library where one is free to read widely, to seek, and to learn is not a luxury, but one of life’s true necessities.
Under the Soviet Union, however, libraries were institutions that restricted access, withheld information, and engaged in a multifaceted form of censorship, banning nearly all current Western literature, especially in the social sciences, and routinely denying readers access to coverage of contemporary events and matters of historical record. Consequently, in 1989, with the fall of Communism in Central Europe, and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union, it seemed clear that the rebuilding of the region’s libraries would be of critical importance to the political changes then underway.
It was as a response to this situation that Arien Mack, Marrow Professor of Psychology and Editor of Social Research at the New School’s for Social Research, launched the Journal Donation Project (JDP). The moment of the Project’s birth came in the winter of 1990, when Professor Mack asked a colleague visiting from Budapest what scholars and intellectuals there most needed. The quick and unambiguous reply was: current research journals.
The mission of the Project, which has been focused on the development of archives, is to assist in rebuilding major research and teaching libraries in countries that have fallen victim to political or economic deprivation, and often both, through the provision of current subscriptions and back volume sets of English‑language scholarly, professional and current events journals.
One of our principle aims has been to create the best possible scholarly resources at the libraries receiving our support. Our other primary objective has been to identify libraries dedicated to change and opening up of archives. Thus, all of the national, university, academy of science, and research institutions within our network are carefully selected as sites where users have the greatest possible access to the journals we provide. The librarians with whom we work are committed partners, working to best serve their user communities. JDP staff members are in weekly contact with libraries and local partners in order to track journal receipt and usage and to broaden awareness of available materials. It is this frequent contact with libraries, as well as with participating publishers that lies at the heart of our work.
Since it began, the JDP has assisted libraries in the following countries: Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Estonia, Ghana, Hungary, Indonesia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nigeria, Palestine, Poland, Republic of Georgia, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Former Yugoslavia.
Since its inception, the JDP has been envisioned as a transitional form of assistance for the libraries in its network, as they struggle within precarious economies on their road to independence. Consequently, in 1996, recognizing that donations could not continue indefinitely, and with the knowledge that a small number of libraries could begin to pay something towards the purchase of subscriptions, we initiated a reduced‑cost subscription program. This was greeted enthusiastically by most of our participating publishers who generously agreed to offer discounts between 30‑80% in addition to the gratis subscriptions which many continue to provide even today. They then were joined by many publishers that had not previously participated in the Project. This next phase was made possible not only by the improved financial circumstances of some network libraries, but also more importantly, by foundation support granted to the JDP, which subsidized the purchase of many discounted subscriptions for libraries still lacking their own resources. Our reduced‑cost subscription scheme, responsive to changing circumstances and aware of economic realities, also has helped to sustain the involvement of the many publishers, societies and independent journals participating in the Project and at the same time is assisting libraries to become autonomous.
In recent years the JDP has grown from a small project based entirely on the donation of subscriptions, into a major library assistance program, providing nearly 6,000 gratis and reduced-cost subscriptions per year to approximately 300 libraries. Each year, the Project works to expand the list of available journals to include important new titles that have been requested by the institutions we serve. In addition, we are continuously seeking grant support to increase our geographical coverage and the number of libraries we can assist, since the need far outdistances our capacity to help.