Africana studies collection development policy

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Program information

Africana Studies is an interdisciplinary program of study devoted to the critical and systematic examination of the cultural, political, social, economic, and historical experiences of Africans and members of the African Diaspora--peoples of African descent outside of Africa.  There were separate programs in Africana Studies (African Diaspora) and Africa studies (based in the Africa Center) until 2015, at which point the two programs merged as the Department of Africana Studies.  The Libraries' collection funds align with the distinction between the studies of the Diaspora and of Africa.  This policy pertains exclusively to funds dedicated to supporting the study of the Diaspora.

The Department currently includes 14 standing faculty members, nearly 30 secondary faculty, and numerous African language instructors.  The Africana Studies program was established in 1972 with John Edgar Wideman as its first director.  At present there is an undergraduate major, an undergraduate minor, and a doctoral program.  Students can select from more than fifty courses offered by schools and departments of the University, including Africana, Anthropology, Education, English, French, Folklore and Folklife, History, Law, Linguistics, Music, Nursing, Political Science, Religious Studies, Social Work and Wharton.  A certificate program is available to graduate students who wish to gain interdisciplinary training and exposure to the totality of the African Diasporic experience. The highly interdisciplinary program attracts graduate students who are frequently associated with programs such as History, English, Education, or Anthropology in addition to Africana. 

In addition to the academic program, the University hosts The Center for Africana Studies, which is dedicated to fostering a deeper understanding of the peoples of Africa and their diasporas.  Through its research, academic initiatives and public programming, the Center’s work seeks to explore the profound ways in which African peoples have functioned on a global scale and how their experiences have resonated around the world throughout history.  I sponsors public academic and cultural events as well as research projects, including the Africana Media Project, The Penn Program on Race, Science and Society, and the Marginalized Populations Project.

Collection description

Materials which support Africana Studies are found in many campus libraries, but most are in Van Pelt. Art and Anthropology materials are usually held in the Fisher Fine Arts Library and the Museum Library respectively. The collection has been built up only in the last twenty-five years in response to developing programmatic needs, and for that reason the printed book component lacks great historical depth. However, the Library has a small number of anti-slavery and abolitionist pamphlets and newspapers, and several archival resources of great value, notably the papers of Marian Anderson (1897-1993), the papers of Arthur Huff Fauset (1899-1983), a nearly complete run of The Black Panther, the papers of Claude A. Barnett, founder of the Associated Negro Press, and the collection of the Ivy Leaf, 1921-1998, the official publication of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, the world's oldest Greek letter organization of women of African descent. The Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell papers, which document the lives of two leading civil rights leaders in Philadelphia, are housed in the University Archives.

The library subscribes to many databases, with strengths in: historic African American newspapers and journals; collections of archival material related to slavery and civil rights; collections of literary works; streaming video; streaming music; and art and journalistic images.  A partial guide to our digital collections is available here: http://guides.library.upenn.edu/c.php?g=476075.   

The Africana Resource Room on the 3rd floor of Van Pelt contains a large number of reference works and basic texts in the field of Africana Studies. The room was created to support the teaching and research needs of the students and faculty of the Center for Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, as well as the curriculum for students in the Afro-America Studies Program. While the primary focus is the African and African American experience, researchers in Anthropology, Urban Studies, Education, English, Folklore and Folklife, History, Linguistics, Music, Religious Studies, and Social Work may find this collection helpful. The room serves as space for the creation and exchange of ideas among undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and other scholars in formal and informal meetings. To that end, the Africana Studies Bibliographer works to develop and maintain a core collection of mostly non-circulating material, which is readily available for consultation, classroom use, and in-depth research.

Guidelines for Collection Development

1. Chronological

All periods.

2. Formats

Print and electronic books and journals form the bulk of the Africana Studies collection. Primary source databases are purchased heavily as funds allow.  DVDs and streaming videos are purchased selectively with a focus on supporting current research and teaching interests.  Specialized formats such as data sets, corpora, and manuscripts are purchased on an ad hoc basis to meet research needs or to support growing fields of interest.

3. Geographical

The African diaspora is global, and all regions outside Africa are covered.

4. Language

Emphasis is on English language materials, but coverage extends to French, German and Italian.  Works in Spanish or the languages of Eastern Europe, South Asia, East Asia, Africa and the Middle East are purchased by other funds.

5. Publication dates

The majority of publications selected are current, although efforts are made to select older titles if they are of significant importance in regard to new collecting focuses. Out of print titles are actively sought to replace missing copies or fill gaps in the collection.

Principal sources of supply and major selection tools

The interdisciplinary character of Africana Studies requires that materials be acquired from widely diverse sources. Approval plans, standing orders, publisher notifications, user requests, and regular review of the scholarly literature account for most of the materials. The approval plan incorporates small and large publishers to help ensure that the plan allows for books from a variety of perspectives and disciplines within the field. The approval plan draws upon publishers to acquire relatively unknown resources. Although many university and domestic press publications come primarily on the approval plans, faculty contact and review of the scholarly literature are crucial to obtaining relevant materials in a timely manner. This is especially true for some types of literature such as reports and association publications.

Subjects excluded

The Africana studies fund is used to collect broadly and deeply across many disciplines, including popular literature and the sciences.  The fund does not systematically collect popular genres such as cookbooks, devotional works and children's literature.  The fund only rarely purchases material in disciplines that are supported by other funds.  These include: anthropology, archaeology, clinical medicine, business, fine arts, and the hard sciences, though there are exceptions in each case.  Requests for purchase in all areas are welcome.

Cooperative arrangements

Although Penn collects at a high level for Africana, the Borrow Direct and EZ-Borrow consortia dramatically increase the availability of material.  Collections that are less strong at Penn are very strong at the consortial level.  For instance, monographs published by regional presses in the Caribbean or Latin America are represented in the Penn collection, but much more is available across all Borrow Direct institutions.  Consortial availability is essential for non-English language material, out of print books that Penn once owned but lost, high-use books that are checked out, and topical material for which other libraries build extensive collections (for instance, Labor History at NYU or History of Science at Johns Hopkins).

The principal repository of material in the Philadelphia area concerning African Americans is the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American collection, a component of the Temple University libraries. The general Blockson collection contains "over 30,000 items has materials on the global black experience in all formats: books, manuscripts, sheet music, pamphlets, journals, newspapers, broadsides, posters, photographs, and rare ephemera. In addition, the collection houses selected artifacts, including statues, busts, etc." There is also a special collection that includes "rare books, prints, photographs, slave narratives, manuscripts, letters, sheet music, foreign language publications and ephemera." An extremely rich collection of 18th century material is held by the Library Company of Philadelphia.  Other local special collections that cover Africana include the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the Urban Archives at Temple University, and the Philadelphia Municipal Archives.  A more extended lists of local special collections is available here: http://pacscl.org/libraries.

Extraordinary special collections with strengths in Africana Studies are located in New York, Washington and Princeton.  Columbia University, The central branch and Schomburg Center of NYPL, NYU, Princeton University, the National Archives and Records Administration, and other collections in the New York City to Washington D.C. corridor are all reasonable day trips.

Related subject collections