Friends United Meeting regularly receives donations of theological, Quaker and Biblical books for the library at Friends Theological College, a fully-accredited Quaker study center in Kaimosi, Kenya, serving all Friends in east and central Africa. Whenever any of the FUM staff are traveling to Kenya, we carry books in our suitcases. But over the last couple of years, we have received more donated books than we could ever transport that way, and we realized that it’s time to put together a shipping container.
We’re often asked why it is of essential importance that we ship books to Kenya, when most graduate students these days can find all the resources they need on the internet. The reality is that FTC, in a rural location in western Kenya, does not have reliable internet access. A few years ago, the college installed solar power to the whole campus, thus providing a source of electricity that could support computers. FUM then supplied 20 donated laptop computers for the library. But without internet, students cannot use them for online research.
In order to maintain our status as an accredited college, we must demonstrate a certain number of book acquisitions per year. Until the infrastructure reaches Kaimosi that would allow for use of electronic books, the shipping of Quaker and other religious books is essential to the success of the college. Last week, we were able to begin shipment of 11,108 books to FTC.
360 12x12x16 boxes were loaded out of the Richmond FUM offices on their way to Atlanta. From there, they will travel by sea to Kenya, and, we hope, will arrive in Kaimosi at about the same time as friends gather for the 2020 FUM/QMI/USFWI Triennial. One service option for the Triennial, both before and after, is to help shelve these books.
The books in this shipment come from a variety of sources, including the entire personal libraries of a few retired pastors, a large number of books selected by the owner of Vintage Quaker Books as being especially relevant to Quaker theological education in Africa, and the remnants of Rufus Jones’s personal collection. In cataloging and packing the boxes, we discovered some real gems of Quaker literature – for example a 1736 edition of Barclay’s Apology and several complete sets of the 14 volume collection entitled The Friends Library, first published in 1837. Friends in some countries may be thoroughly accustomed to seeing antiquarian books like these in their meetinghouses, but for African Friends, who are hungry for early Quaker literature, these will be a precious treasure in the collection of Friends Theological College. During her recent visit to FTC, Haverford’s Curator of Quaker Collections, Mary Craudereuff, began training the library staff in how to care for antique volumes such as these, and there is enormous excitement on campus for the arrival of these special books.
Of course, not every book in the container is a one-of-a-kind. For instance, there are at least 27 copies of Barclay’s Apology, in various editions. But these duplicates also serve a very important purpose. As FTC has expanded in recent years, and now has six satellite campuses, each of which needs to equip a full library for its students, the demand for multiple copies of fundamental texts is very high. In addition, in a context in which students do not buy their own books, any book that is being used as a classroom textbook must be available in enough copies for each student to read their assignments on time. All of these copies of Barclay will be well used!
In cases in which none of the FTC libraries need a particular book, these items will be sold for a nominal price at the FTC bookstore. The proceeds from these sales will be used to purchase theological books by African authors, which don't typically come in donated containers, but which are essential for the contextual education of FTC students, and are required by the accrediting agency.
No book is ever wasted in Africa. Books are hard to come by, and the FTC community is eagerly anticipating the arrival of this precious shipment.