I’ve been catching up on my magazine reading and an ad from the AMS Book & Journal Donation Program in the December issue of the Notices of the AMS caught my eye. The program is designed to improve access to mathematical materials in developing countries via donations. The AMS already has discounted membership fees for those in developing countries, and in general the mathematics community seems more sensitive to these kinds of disparities.
I looked around a bit to see if the IEEE had any sort of book donation program, but it doesn’t seem to be an institutionally supported thing. The scalable computing people have a page on donations, but I didn’t see one for the main IEEE page. There are no discounts listed on the subscription price list. It seems like more could and should be done. Just putting more things online isn’t going to fix everything. There is a value in having actual books in a library too.
So what can be done? In terms of textbooks, there are already cheaper editions available from most of the major publishers, so that doesn’t seem to be the bottleneck. Setting up a clearinghouse (as the AMS has done) for more research-oriented titles seems like a relatively simple thing to do. Providing a tiered-pricing scheme for journals would be a next good step. If the impetus for this comes at a high level in the IEEE, it might get chapters (and undergrads!) engaged in helping gather materials, solicit requests for donations, and so on.