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Finding Africa in the Penn Libraries

Eight things to know about the African collection of the Penn Libraries

1. Materials will be held at many individual Penn libraries

  • Van Pelt Library: General, including history, anglophone and francophone literature and literature in other African languages, folklore, economic and social conditions, statistical information, geology and environment, languages.
  • Museum Library: Anthropology, archaeology, art, and ethnography.
  • Fine Arts Library: Art.
  • LIBRA: Books in uncommonly-taught African languages, older materials in all subjects.

2. Use Franklin to browse the Penn Libraries African collection.

With materials housed across the campus (and offcampus at LIBRA), don't waste your time wandering in one library's stacks. Think about it. Is a church missionary's travel account history, literature, religion (in Van Pelt) or ethnography (in Museum)? Use Franklin's "Place Request" feature to have the books sent to the library nearest to you.

3. Think before you use Franklin.

Know your synonyms!
Many African countries are in transition. New countries are appearing, internal administrative units are redrawn, and colonial placenames are being changed to locally-meaningful names. Ethnic group terms, language and dialect names, and other social labels may vary geographically. Also, many African languages use noun-class prefixes, e.g., Uganda (the country) -- Ganda/Baganda (the people) -- Buganda (the kingdom) -- Luganda (the language) -- Muganda (a person).
Useful tools to help you discover synonyms:

4. Use Keyword Expert searching ... again and again.

Link your synonyms with "or" when searching:
"ivory coast" or "cote divoire" or abidjan
Don't pretend to know how a library cataloger thinks. Is it "Ngugi wa Thiong'o", "Thiong'o, Ngugi wa", or "Ngugi, James T."? Should the term be plural? Use distinctive words and truncation:
nigeri* (for: Nigeria, Nigerian, Nigerians), ngugi
Be prepared to use field limiters in searching. For instance, University of Ghana Press and University of Nairobi Press publish on Africa-wide topics. Searching for "ghana" or "nairobi" is noisy. If you're researching Nairobi and your first search pulls in too much, try limiting your search to title and subject words:
title:(nairobi) or subject:(nairobi or kenya*) and ...

5. Hidden treasures: Things we own you might never find.

Government document collections, microform sets, and similar omnium gatherums are critically important as primary sources. They often get overlooked in searching or they get bypassed when the unprepared reader encounters their cumbersome finding aids. Don't be shy! ASK FOR HELP!

6. We don't own everything ... but we can get what you need.

BorrowDirect and CAMP at CRL. These are library services you should learn to use regularly. BorrowDirect permits you to borrow from Yale's outstanding South African collection and the strong West African collection at Columbia's library. The CAMP collection at CRL holds long backfiles of newspapers and government documents from many African countries as well as microform copies of manuscript and archival materials on African history and politics.

7. Don't waste time.

Do your basic research now and be generous in requesting materials. Books move between Penn libraries in a couple days, BorrowDirect delivers in a week, CAMP materials and books and articles requested through ILL may take a couple weeks to arrive. You may discover you don't need what you've requested but would you rather we told you, "Too late!" the day before your deadline?

8. HELP!

Ask for it. E-mail us. Call us. Visit us. Penn librarians built the Penn Libraries collections, we maintain it, and we use it every day. Visit Get Help/Ask Us as soon as possible!