Hans Zell's fourth edition of The African Studies Companion: A Guide to Information Sourcesis a revised and expanded version of the third edition (2003), which had already been acclaimed as "the best single source of general and current scholarly information on African Studies" (Hurskainen 241). The Companionwas first published in 1989 and was widely accepted as a preferred reference guide. That first edition is owned by about 450 libraries that are members of the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC). Zell has been publishing scholarly reference materials for more than four decades. One such notable publication was New Reference Tools for Librarians(1962). His first major Africana reference publication, African Books in Printwas first published in 1975. The African Studies Companionwas the culmination of Zell's resilience and dedication to publishing in an area of study in which reference materials are somewhat sporadic and far apart. Perhaps the Companion'sbiggest accomplishment was in compiling those reference sources together in one multipurpose volume. At the very least, it is the most comprehensive references source of its kind. Its usefulness is further enhanced by its on-line version which is conveniently searchable and is regularly updated. The print edition comes bundled with the on-line version.
The African Studies Companionis multipurpose: for the librarian, it serves both as a checklist for the library's Africana collection and as a quick reference tool; for researchers of all levels, it is useful for identifying resources in various formats including print, electronic, sound, and microfilm. Moreover, the Companionis only as useful to users as is their ability to obtain the resources they find in it. The author fittingly gave it the title "companion" because it is handy in providing information on what has been published and in some cases where it can be found. As such, users will need libraries, computers to access on-line information, or bookstores equipped with Africana materials. Perhaps that explains why out of the 450 OCLC libraries that own the first edition, only 18 of them are in Africa. Furthermore, 15 of those are in South Africa. The Companionhas quintupled in size since its inception, from a humble 165 pages to the 833 pages that comprise the fourth edition. Likewise, so has its price. The cloth-bound copy of the first edition cost $55 while the fourth edition costs $309. In so doing, the Companionseems to be pricing itself out of the market. As of January 2007, only 78 OCLC libraries owned the fourth edition. Worse still, with the publication of the fourth edition, owners of the third edition had to acquire the fourth edition in order to maintain their on-line access.