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Research in African Literatures 33.1 (2002) 226-228

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Book Review

The Electronic Bookworm: A Web Navigator

The Electronic Bookworm: A Web Navigator, comp. Hans Zell. 2nd rev. ed. Oxford: African Books Collective Ltd., 2000. xii+238pp. ISBN 09521698. Available from: African Books Collective, The Jam Factory, 27 Park End Street, Oxford OX1 1HU United Kingdom.

The decrease in or disappearance of funds for acquiring print information resources, as a result of the economic crisis affecting Africa, has been widely discussed by researchers and book professionals. In what may also hold true for many African countries, Anthony Olden has noted that between 1981 and 1991, some public and academic libraries in Tanzania and Zimbabwe received no foreign exchange allocations from the government to order books. In the circumstances, some educators believe that [End Page 226] one of the most effective ways of getting current information without incurring much financial burden is electronic resources. As one African University Pro-Vice Chancellor puts it, the computer is the "single weapon that will help [. . .] to keep information alive and well in Africa" (qtd. in Rosenberg). Although Africa still lags far behind in information technology and PC ownership, there is growth in these areas, and with it, the increasing use of electronic resources. Indeed, the University of Dar es Salaam has been labeled "the best-wired sub-Saharan university outside of South Africa" (The Chronicle of Higher Education 6 Apr. 2001). However, until the day when time spent online and monetary considerations cease being primary concerns, cost-saving reference tools that help researchers in Africa use online resources more efficiently and cheaply will be needed.

The Electronic Bookworm: A Web Navigator, the print version of the online resource of the same name (, is one tool that provides such assistance. Aimed at book professionals, writers, and researchers in Africa whose use of the Internet is limited by expensive dial-up costs, Hans Zell hopes that consulting this directory of websites and planning a search before going online will offer access to high-value information and lead to a more effective use of time and money.

The book is divided into two parts. The first contains brief, jargon-free essays that teach the basics of online searching, provide information on uses of the Internet in the book profession, and answers to some WWW-related questions (such as "what is a search engine?"). There is also a useful glossary of approximately two hundred terms, which in addition to definitions gives tips on, for example, the value of offline surfing, or how to deal with spam (junk) mail.

The directory of about 1500 Africa-related and non-Africa-specific websites, carefully selected and grouped under nine sections, constitutes the second part. Three of the sections are on general resources, and five are geared toward specific audiences: book publishers and retailers, writers and editors, librarians and academics. Despite being nondiscipline- oriented, one subject area, African Literature, stands out because it has a section devoted entirely to it. The longest section--almost one-fifth of all the entries--combines sites on book publishing and selling, libraries, journals and newspapers, mostly areas in which Zell has had practical experience. Most entries are annotated, and the best-rated resources (such as African Journals Online, Africa on the Internet) are highlighted. The cross- referencing of sections also makes this directory an easy tool to use.

For a book that promises to be widely used for ready reference, however, it could be made a bit more user -friendly. Future updates must therefore consider features such as tabs to mark off each section; this would enhance its handbook format and make navigation easier. Another help for users would be to indicate journal sites, like that of African Studies Quarterly, that provide free access to all users. Another major shortcoming that could undermine the usefulness of such directories as a guide to current information, helpful as web directories in print may be, is their revision date. Links become dead, sites migrate, and print formats cannot...


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pp. 226-228
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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