Partnership as a New Paradigm for Reference Librarians in African Studies

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Stony Brook University]On: 18 December 2014, At: 21:14Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House,37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

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    Partnership as a New Paradigm for Reference Librariansin African StudiesPeter Limb aa Africana Library , Michigan State University Library , East Lansing, MI, 48824-1048 E-mail:Published online: 17 Oct 2008.

    To cite this article: Peter Limb (2004) Partnership as a New Paradigm for Reference Librarians in African Studies, TheReference Librarian, 42:87-88, 151-162, DOI: 10.1300/J120v42n87_05

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1300/J120v42n87_05

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  • PART II:COLLABORATION AND INNOVATIONIN AFRICA AND THE UNITED STATES

    Partnership as a New Paradigmfor Reference Librarians in African Studies

    Peter Limb

    SUMMARY. This article examines the changing paradigms of refer-ence librarianship as they relate to the study of Africa. It discusses im-portant issues to do with the role of the reference librarian in assistingfuture scholarly research. Particular attention is given to how electronicresources are influencing the nature of Africana reference services andcollection development. Given the problems faced in accessing informa-tion from Africa, emphasis is also placed on how partnerships between

    Peter Limb is Assistant Professor, Africana Library, Michigan State University Li-brary, East Lansing, MI 48824-1048 (E-mail: limb@msu.edu).

    [Haworth co-indexing entry note]: Partnership as a New Paradigm for Reference Librarians in AfricanStudies. Limb, Peter. Co-published simultaneously in The Reference Librarian (The Haworth InformationPress, an imprint of The Haworth Press, Inc.) No. 87/88, 2004, pp.151-162; and: Research, Reference Service,and Resources for the Study of Africa (ed: Deborah M. LaFond, and Gretchen Walsh) The Haworth Informa-tion Press, an imprint of The Haworth Press, Inc., 2004, pp. 151-162. Single or multiple copies of this articleare available for a fee from The Haworth Document Delivery Service [1-800-HAWORTH, 9:00 a.m. - 5:00p.m. (EST). E-mail address: docdelivery@haworthpress.com].

    http://www.haworthpress.com/web/REF 2004 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved.

    Digital Object Identifier: 10.1300/J120v42n87_05 151

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  • U.S. and African libraries and scholarly institutions can help improve in-formation access in and about Africa. [Article copies available for a feefrom The Haworth Document Delivery Service: 1-800-HAWORTH. E-mail ad-dress: Website: 2004 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved.]

    KEYWORDS. Africa, libraries, reference, electronic resources, part-nerships

    THE CHANGING ROLE OF THE REFERENCE LIBRARIAN

    The role of the reference librarian, in African studies as in other fieldsof study, is changing under the influence of persistent technological de-velopments and new learning patterns.1 One can speak of a new para-digm of reference work, not only in terms of new tools requiring newskills but also in that the very nature of the library and the librarian ischanging.2 Information users are modifying their conceptions of librar-ies, requiring reference librarians to master new tasks such as teachinginformation skills, providing effective interfaces to burgeoning e-re-sources, and responding to electronic queries.3 Librarians must effi-ciently interact with library clients to better understand their informationrequirements and develop appropriate services.4 While predictions ofthe imminent triumph of the virtual library have been premature, recenttrends indicate that scholars increasingly expect information, includingadvice traditionally associated with the reference query, to be deliveredto their desktops. Because clients can now more easily access informa-tion themselves, the role of the reference librarian has shifted from re-vealing hidden data and search strategies to one of providing qualitycontext and metadata.

    These changes are evident in specific reference tasks. Electronictools facilitate collection building, book selection and compilation ofbibliographies. Reference queries increasingly arrive electronically ande-mail and scholarly electronic discussion lists offer scholars the oppor-tunity of asking such queries of a much broader range of librarians orpeers.5 Rapid growth of Web-based collections of primary and second-ary sources (such as NetLibrary and digitized dissertations) and of cata-logs and searching aids requires reference librarians to be fully conversantwith existing Web resources or even to compile their own online guidesto such resources after evaluating their utility and quality.

    152 Research, Reference Service, and Resources for the Study of Africa

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  • Reference librarians have always been concerned with the quality ofbibliographic resources and have employed such media as bibliographicinstruction classes, printed guides, and book reviews to impress upon li-brary patrons the importance of using the best sources. However, thedisorganized nature of the Internet and the speed of technologicalchange are inducing new patterns or paradigms of best practice refer-ence that often involve working out qualitative and quantitative ap-proaches to new sources of data as they emerge. The technical andintellectual content of new electronic resources often requires closeconsultation or coordination with faculty or other librarians in referenceand technical services to competently assess quality. Librarians canhelp overcome the current misgivings by some faculty about electronicresources by explaining their use, by designing user-friendly interfacesto such sources of data, and by lobbying for higher quality e-products.6

    These developments signal important new trends among reference li-brarians. The librarian increasingly needs to provide context for, or me-diate between, rapidly expanding quantities and formats of information,and to have a more patron-focused approach. There is a growing em-phasis on partnerships.

    THE REFERENCE LIBRARIAN IN AFRICAN STUDIES

    The rapid growth of electronic databases and Web-based sources ofinformation on Africa has made the evaluation of these resources byAfricana reference librarians more complex, immediate, and vital. Theexplosion of information sources has made the organization of timelyand efficient reference guides to the literature more necessary than ever.Africana reference librarians increasingly are asked to evaluate thequality and relevance of African studies databases and select appropri-ate Web sites for inclusion on library or university Web pages dealingwith Africa.

    The effect on users of these developments is profound. Johnsen ob-serves, Today the graduate student enters the library with 50 referenceson the same subject that she has found on the Internet, and just wantshelp to get hold of copies. He argues that it is inadequate for Africanalibrarians to keep doing the same tasks if with new tools: These changedcircumstances represent a challenge to our thinking and to . . . our wayof working and our priorities. . . . We have to start by looking at what ourpatrons need from us, that is not provided by other professions . . . [suchas]. . . . inputting of information into the databases. . . . [and] quality.7

    Part II: Collaboration and Innovation in Africa and the United States 153

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  • Africana reference librarians in the United States, drawing on theirbibliographic expertise of Africa and their technological skills, have re-sponded creatively to these challenges. They have compiled a wholenew generation of online subject guides to Africa-related Web sites aswell as tutorials to facilitate the use of electronic resources on Africanstudies.8 If at times there has been duplication of effort in these Internet-based projects, the new reference tools initiated by librarians haveproven popular among Africanists and encouraged publishers belatedlyto enter this emergent field of African reference information. Librari-ans, interestingly, have thus been able to secure a niche for themselveson library servers in a world otherwise dominated by commercial pub-lishers.

    Over the last decade, Africana reference librarians also have been ac-tive in scholarly and professional e-mail discussion networks wherethey have adapted to new, interactive online reference scenarios. Refer-ence queries and their answers now can be provided by distinguishedscholars, as well as librarians, and in a global context. This internation-alization of the reference query can be daunting to some, as is the pros-pect of local students opting to route queries to a remote librarian orprofessor. However, this trend also allows librarians to measure theirreference competencies against expert and international yardsticks.This is apparent with the most successful African studies e-mail discus-sion lists in the humanities and social sciences, the H-Africana familyof networks. This group of seven moderated networks includes amongits editorial staff eight Africana reference librarians who have been in-volved not only in fielding reference queries but have also acted as bookreview editors, online and Web editors, planners, and compilers of se-lective dissemination of information services such as tables of contentsof journals.9

    Little published research has yet appeared on the attitudes to, and ef-fects of, these new Africana media and the role of reference librarians inthem. However, the active role of librarians in these areas should help toraise the profile of the profession at the very time when fewer patronsfind it necessary to visit the physical library. Moreover, while non-li-brarians nowadays have access to many of the same electronic tools, thelibrary skills and subject knowledge of Africana librarians continue tomake them well placed to take the lead in these new arenas of referenceprovision.

    In the field of collection development, Africana librarians now canuse a host of electronic tools to identify and select Western imprints onAfrica in a fraction of the time it once took to consult a plethora of

    154 Research, Reference Service, and Resources for the Study of Africa

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  • printed bibliographies. U.S. librarians also have developed highly suc-cessful co-operative Africana acquisition and preservation schemes,such as the Cooperative Africana Microfilm Project and the Coopera-tive Acquisitions Program of the Library of Congress Nairobi Office.However, the chronic problems facing publishers and libraries in Africaand the growing technology gap continue to make it difficult to acquireAfrican imprints. Moreover, with much African information still pro-duced in printed format, the aim of Africana librarians should be toachieve a judicious balance between traditional and electronic sourcesof information, between access and ownership, however much thismay appear to depart from recent Western library preferences for theformer. Many African publications, particularly journals, simply do notfind their way into large Western commercial databases, and the Africanareference librarian must therefore continue to monitor and access printmaterials.

    It is important that librarians appreciate the substantial differencesbetween the African library and publishing worlds and their Westerncounterparts and do not try to reproduce solutions to collection develop-ment problems more appropriate in an American setting. To understandthese issues and their implication for reference services, it is necessaryto outline these African problems.

    AFRICA TODAY:THE CRISIS IN INFORMATION RESOURCES

    AND THE RESPONSE OF LIBRARIES

    A crisis in information resources has intensified across Africa in re-cent years. Scholarly communication continues to face enormous prob-lems. In many African societies, the fragility of publishing and theinability of governments, educational systems, and libraries to maintainbasic services reflect the state of crisis. An African book famine con-tinues unabated. In 1991, Africa, with 10 percent of world population,produced only one per cent of the global output of books, with 70 percent of its book needs imported. In this context there is an urgent need,argues Sturges, for a new African library paradigm more relevant tocommunity needs, for forms of information delivery appropriate for Af-rican conditions. African publishing today continues to face severeproblems such as weak distribution networks, low incomes, low literacyrates, weak infrastructures of libraries and bookshops, and the difficul-ties of marketing publications in African languages.10 These problemsdeleteriously affect African librarianship in general and collection de-

    Part II: Collaboration and Innovation in Africa and the United States 155

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  • velopment in particular. Journals cease or become dormant for years.Manuscripts remain unpublished. The acquisition of African disserta-tions remains very difficult, even in neighboring countries. Keepingtrack of...

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