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African Collection @ Penn


The Penn Library's Africa-related collection development program is forward-looking through necessity. Its retrospective collection appears to have had an uneven growth, with strong, almost unitary emphases in anthropology, folklore, history, and languages. This lopsided picture is the result of a presumably well-intentioned donation in September 1948 to Northwestern University's nascent African collection of more than 1,000 volumes -- "almost a ton and a half in all" -- of newspapers, government publications (including legislative proceedings from twelve countries), and social sciences periodicals published in Africa. While this gift formed the nucleus of the Northwestern's Herskovits Library, the largest sub-saharan African collection in the world, the Penn Library attempted unsuccessfully to create a comparable North African collection. The retrospective collection has a strong West African and East African focus. Only major older works in Central African history, ethnography, and linguistics are present. No Afrikaans and few older publications on South Africa beyond apartheid can be found.

Penn Library Africa-related holdings are shared among the Van Pelt Library (general topics, social sciences and humanities: 80%) and the University Museum Library (anthropology and archaeology: 15.5%), with other departmental libraries -- Fisher Fine Arts, Lippincott (business), Biomedical -- collecting in special areas. African collection strengths are in ethnography, linguistics, history, political science and government, literature in all languages, and demographic, social, and economic statistical information.

Subject Percentage of Africa-Related Penn Library Holdings (Oct. 2005)

SubjectPenn Libraries
History, ethnography, archaeology50.8 %
Non-Western/Non-Arabic lang. + lit.14.2 %
Western African lang. + lit.9.5 %
Economic history + conditions7.5 %
Political science + Law4.4 %
Religions4.2 %
Social history + conditions3.8 %
Performing + Visual Arts2.5 %
Other subjects3.1 %

All major African studies periodicals are represented in complete runs. In addition to its large print journal holdings, the Penn Library Web links to 178 individual e-journals in African studies which are provided through e-journal projects and aggregators such as JSTOR, Project Muse, ScienceDirect, Ingenta, and EBSCOhost and also through individual publishers. The online title selection includes all major African studies scholarly periodicals currently available in electronic format.

The Penn Library's African studies collection has grown considerably during the past dozen years. The 1993 North American Title Count described 11,504 titles held in the core African history and non-western/non-Arabic African languages and literature subject areas, with an additional 3,259 uncounted titles acquired before 1968. An October 2005 survey of the same holdings ranges showed an estimated 22,760 titles: the core African collection has doubled over this period.

African languages and literature have been a major collecting focus following a 1994 external review by Yvette Scheven, University of Illinois Library. Non-western / non-Arabic language and literature holdings continue to grow, increasing 70% in the past three years alone, to 6,372 titles. These titles include all literary genres -- novels, short stories, poetry, plays, biographies and autobiographies -- as well as scholarly works and periodicals. Seventy-one African languages are represented in the Penn Library collections, with 1,111 titles in the 11 languages currently taught in the Pennsylvania African Studies Consortium, and is particularly strong in Yoruba (432 titles), Swahili (274 titles), and Amharic (202 titles). The library holds complete and current runs of the principal philological periodicals for these languages, Kiswahili, Mulika, and Journal of Ethiopian Studies. The Swahili materials include the complete works of Robert Shaaban and other writers; duplicate sets of 16 graded Swahili textbooks authorized by the Tanzania Institute of Education. Recent acquisitions include microforms of Somali newspapers from the 1990s and Swahili manuscripts, many in Arabic scripts, held by SOAS, University of London. The Penn Library holds 1,908 works in Francophone African literature and 2,186 Anglophone African literature, with 14.3% growth in these subject areas over the past three years.

Penn readers have access to a wide array of bibliographic tools for African studies. The Penn Library Web links to 66 licensed and free online databases relevant to African studies, including African Studies Abstracts, Quarterly Index to Periodical Literature: Eastern and Southern Africa, eHRAF Collection of Ethnography, Index Islamicus, CAB Abstracts, International Index to Black Periodicals Fulltext, Anthropological Literature, Francis, the ACLS History e-book project, and Historical Abstracts. The Penn Library is determined to support online resources developed within Africa and thus was the first U.S. academic library to provide online access to the Association of African Universities' Database of African Theses and Dissertations,, and the National Library of South Africa's own version of Index to South African Periodicals. Print bibliographies include Africa Bibliography, African Contemporary Record, Africa South of the Sahara 1900-1970 (with supplements), African Book Publishing Record, Current Bibliography on African Affairs, Guide to the Sources of the History of the Nations, Series B: Africa, and International African Bibliography.

The Penn Library African video collection has grown explosively over the past three years, increasing 165% to 600 VHS tapes, DVDs, and VCDs. Recent acquisitions have largely completed a core auteur collection and focused on supporting the Penn curriculum, e.g., Africans outside Africa, health issues in Africa, African environmental crises, African popular culture. African studies funds continue to support subscriptions to eight Africa-published medical periodicals in the Biomedical Library collections to support the Penn Africa Health Group and the Population Studies Center's Social Networks Project.

Major primary research collections in microform, print, and online formats concerning Africa include the complete Human Relations Area Files and networked online access to eHRAF, historic records of the Organization of African Unity, 19th- and 20th-century British parliamentary papers, state papers, confidential papers, and Public Record Office files on African colonial affairs and the slave trade, the online documents collection Empire Online, colonial-era census publications, documents and newspapers from Somalia during the 1990s, and government and nongovernmental agency documents on U.S. policy toward South Africa. Recent microfilm acquisitions have completed historic sets of French colonial statistical abstracts and British colonial Blue Books, with gaps in their related Annual Reports holdings to be filled in FY 2006. As a member of the Cooperative Africana Microform Project (CAMP), the Penn Library is able to provide Penn readers with request-based access to expensive or scarce microform newspapers, periodicals, and primary collections.


The University of Pennsylvania Museum holds one of the largest historically significant collections of African art and material culture in the U.S. comprising more than 10,000 objects deriving mostly from research projects undertaken in sub-Saharan Africa. African objects are installed in interpretive displays in the Museum's permanent Africa Gallery, open to the public six days a week and visited extensively by primary and secondary school groups. The University Museum's Education Department holds the Kintner collection of 96 sub-Saharan Africa ethnographic films dating from 1952-1969.

The University Museum Archives has extensive Africa-related holdings, including field notes and manuscripts, prints, maps, photographic images, stereographs, glass plate negatives and lantern slides, film footage, and audio recordings relating to Africa from the 1890s and through the twentieth century. The Penn Library's Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text and Image collaborated in 2000 with the Museum Archives and the African Studies Center to produce a digital exhibit, "Daily life in Sierra Leone: the Sherbro in 1936-37", providing ethnographic photographs and interpretive text in a freely-accessible WWW environment.

Two independent campus libraries complement the Penn Library collections in African studies. The Demography Library of the Population Studies Center, funded through an NIH research center core services grant, is a major national resource for demographic literature. Its African Censuses Collection holds post-World War II and recent African census publications, as well as African national statistical yearbooks and demographic and health survey publications. It serves as the repository for African Census Analysis Project (ACAP) and Social Networks Project publications and research materials. The Population Studies Center's Computer Core provides access to online numeric data from ACAP and the Demographic and Health Surveys. The Law School's Biddle Law Library acquires African legal and human rights materials as part of its international law collection.

(Overview drawn from materials prepared for the Title VI NRC grant application, October 2005.)