4.5 Obtaining materials

4.5.1 How to obtain materials

You can obtain materials for the resource centre in several ways. The main ways are:

  • gifts and exchanges
  • purchasing
  • document delivery services

Gifts and exchanges
Many organisations provide materials free or in exchange for other materials. Accept only those that will be useful. Do not accept any materials that are on a subject of no interest to resource centre users, or that are old or in poor condition.

To obtain free materials, write a brief letter outlining your request. You can either type a new letter for each request, or you could photocopy a standard letter which has spaces for you to write in the details. This is often quicker (see example in Section 4.8). Keep a copy of your letter in the ‘Free requests’ section of the ‘Orders file’ (see Section 4.5.2).

The procedure for purchasing materials needs to follow your organisation’s financial and accounting regulations. Procedures for purchasing standard items, such as stationery or fuel, may not be suitable for purchasing materials for the resource centre. You may need to develop a procedure for ordering materials, in consultation with the resource centre advisory committee, managers and finance staff.

  • Books and manuals can be ordered directly from publishers or distributors such as bookshops, specialised booksellers and library suppliers (which supply to libraries but not the public). A sample of key publishers and distributors of health and development materials are listed in Section 4.9. You can place an order by post, telephone, fax, e-mail or personal visit, depending where the supplier is and what facilities are available.
  • Audiovisuals can be ordered in the same way as books. Remember that there are several different video systems, such as NTSC, PAL and SECAM. Unless you have a multi-system video player, you will need to know which system your video player uses, and check that the video you want is available in that system. When you order, remember to state which video system you require.
  • Periodicals (newsletters, magazines and journals) are normally ordered direct from the publishers, or through subscription agents. You can ask for a sample copy before taking out a subscription. This will help you to decide whether the periodical will be useful. A letter requesting a sample copy is given in Section 4.8.

Document delivery services
Document delivery services enable you to obtain photocopies of articles or borrow materials. They are useful for obtaining key journal articles without taking out a subscription, or consulting a publication or chapter of a book to assess whether it would be useful to include in your collection. They are especially useful for materials that are expensive or not essential to the collection, for example, for users carrying out specialist research.

Document delivery services are usually provided by libraries and documentation centres via an inter-library loan (ILL) scheme. Some organisations will lend whole materials, such as books and videos. Others will only provide photocopies of part of a publication. Remember to check what service is on offer. There is usually a charge, unless you are part of a network of cooperating information services.

You can obtain details of document delivery services from national library services, local library networks, other resource centres working in the same subject area, current awareness services or e-mail discussion groups.


It is not always easy to obtain foreign currency to purchase materials from abroad. Therefore in some countries, UNESCO coupons can be purchased in local currency to pay for resource materials in foreign currency. Coupons can be purchased by educators, research workers and students. However, if there is only a limited number of coupons available, the issuing agency decides on an order of priority for the various requests received.

Information about coupons is available from the National Commission for UNESCO, or other agencies where there is no UNESCO office in country.

Coupon users placing orders with suppliers who are unfamiliar with the scheme may experience difficulty in getting them honoured. If so they can request assistance from the Coupons Office in the UNESCO Secretariat. The Office will provide relevant information to the supplier.

Further information is available at: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/unesco/partners-donors/who-are-our-funding-partners/unesco-coupons-programme/

4.5.2 Procedure for obtaining materials

It is important to develop a clear procedure for obtaining materials and keeping records of orders and requests, or to follow any existing procedure that the organisation has for ordering materials. It is also important to obtain only materials that are in line with the collection policy, and to keep within the budget for purchasing materials.

An ‘Orders file’ (a ring-binder file labelled ‘Orders’) should be used to keep copies of order forms or letters requesting free materials. It should include separate sections for ‘Purchases’ and ‘Free requests’. Copies of orders should be filed alphabetically according to the name of the organisation that it is being ordered from.

A separate card file or ring-binder file labelled ‘Subscriptions’ should be kept for records of subscriptions to periodicals.

Before ordering from abroad, it is worth checking whether the publisher has a local representative in the country. Ordering from a country representative will be easier and will enable payment to be made in local currency.

TIP: Free materials

Some publishers supply materials free to developing countries. Even if a price is shown, single copies may be available free. If very little money is available for purchasing materials, it is often worth writing to the publisher or distributor explaining the situation and requesting a complimentary (free) copy or subscription. It might also be possible to obtain a ‘review’ copy, in exchange for placing a review of the material in a publication. Or it be might be worth offering to field-test some materials, such as training manuals, with a group of resource centre users, to find out how useful they are, and feed back the results to the publisher.

4.5.3 How to place an order

To order a material, either write a letter, using official stationery, or use an order form - either your own organisation’s form or one from a publisher’s catalogue. An example of an order form is given in Section 4.8.

1. Send your letter or order form. Remember to state what format of material you are ordering, such as book or audiovisual.

  • For a book, give details of author, title, edition, year, publisher, place of publication, ISBN, and number of copies.
  • For an audiovisual, give details of title, producer, year, format, and system.
  • For an article in a periodical, give details, author(s) of the article, title of the periodical, year, volume and page numbers.
  • For a subscription to a periodical, give details of title, frequency, publisher's name and ISSN if known.

If you are ordering several materials, attach a list.

2. After receiving your letter or order form, the supplier will probably send you a pro-forma invoice, so that your organisation’s accounts department can arrange payment. If you did not know the price of the materials or postage when you placed the order, and the material turns out to be expensive, you can consider whether to go ahead with the purchase.

Most suppliers send the materials after receiving payment. However, a supplier who knows your organisation may agree to send the material immediately, with an invoice.

Most overseas suppliers accept a cheque drawn on a bank in their own country or from a £ sterling or US dollar account, or a credit card such as Visa or Mastercard. Some provide their bank details so that they can accept payment by bank transfer. Sending cash by post is not recommended.

3. If payment needs to be made in foreign currency, your accounts department should write to your organisation’s bank, attaching the pro-forma invoice, and requesting a bank draft in the foreign currency. Send the bank draft to the supplier.

4. Remember to keep copies of all correspondence and transactions in the ‘Orders file’, so that you can follow up orders and ensure that the materials arrive. Keep a note with each order of the source of the information, such as a publisher’s catalogue, resource list or acquisitions bulletin. This is useful in case of any queries relating to the order.

5. Check the ‘Orders file’ regularly, for example, every two months. If materials have not been received, send a reminder.