- Africanist Librarianship in an Era of Change
This is the second volume on Africa-specialist librarianship in the United States to appear in two years, although the first—Research, Reference Service, and Resources for the Study of Africa (ed. Deborah M. LaFond and Gretchen Walsh [Binghamton, N.Y.: Haworth Information Press, 2004])—also touched on aspects of librarianship in Africa itself. Marion Frank-Wilson (Indiana University), Peter Limb (Michigan State University), and Gretchen Walsh (Boston University) have papers in both. Many others in the Africa-specialist community either contributed to one or the other or have their work mentioned. Gregory Finnegan (Harvard University) refers to the "graying" of U.S. area specialists in general as those from the baby-boom generation begin to retire, while Robert W. Lesh (Northwestern University) mentions the graying of catalogers of Africana in particular. But on the basis of what they publish, Africanist librarians in the United States seem energetic indeed.
Writing about strategies for acquiring material from Africa, Jill Young Coelho (Harvard University) shows just how valuable two decades of annual reports by Widener Library book selectors can be as primary sources of information. Her predecessor, Roberta Selleck, took on the half-time position of collecting Africana in 1979, a time when this was not a high priority at Harvard. Young Coelho says that Selleck needed to teach as well as inform the people to whom she was sending her reports and that her life as a selector appears to have been relatively solitary and quiet, apart from contacts with faculty and meetings of the Africana Librarians' Council (formerly the Archives-Libraries Committee) of the African Studies Association. Conversations at the latter confirmed her experience that purchasing material from Africa costs more in terms of staff time than cash. Other things have changed, however. Finnegan points out the significance of the Nairobi office of the Library of Congress in acquiring material not only for itself but also for more than thirty other U.S. libraries. Specialist vendors exist, including the African Books Collective, which, although based in Oxford, is owned by African publishers. The result of all this is that buying trips to [End Page 340] Africa itself are not as important as they once were.
The challenges facing journals published in Africa have always been daunting. Limb (drawing on a comment by South African librarians Dale Peters and Michele Pickover) refers to "digital imperialism," the latest threat. He is in favor of more effective cooperative projects with more African libraries and journals. Many universities and countries should be involved, as should international organizations such as UNESCO and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions and pan-African bodies such as the Association of African Universities. One of Limb's ideas is that every African journal be twinned with a Western partner—a journal, a university, or a library.
More U.S. doctoral dissertations are devoted to 35 million African Americans than to 800 million Africans, according to Joseph J. Lauer (Michigan State University), for whom this focus on the domestic is unsurprising. There were only thirty-four library science doctorates relating to Africa between 1974 and 1987 and only eighteen since then. Of the recent ones, nine have been by Africans studying at the University of Pittsburgh. Does this lack of involvement on the part of U.S. doctoral students in library science programs indicate that even those who might be interested in Africa see it as a career dead end? Alfred Kagan (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) refers to the fact that University College London has not offered its course on Oriental and African bibliography since the retirement of the faculty member who taught it for many years. This is not surprising either, given that area and subject specialist librarianship in U.K. universities has been under threat for some time. Kagan says that the different backgrounds of those who take his African studies bibliography course can make the beginning of the semester problematical...