Center for Research Libraries - Global Resources Network

Resources for

CRL International Resources - CAMP/Title VI African Archives Projects, 1993 - Present

James Simon
Director of International Resources, Center for Research Libraries


In an age of rapidly developing technology and ever more complex digital initiatives, many traditional preservation and access projects go overlooked -- and under-funded. This problem is amplified multifold in regions where conservation awareness and capabilities are stretched to their limits. Several millennia worth of extremely important research material lay crumbling in dusty heaps or moldering in humid conditions in countless neglected or imperiled archives and institutions around the world. In seeking to help address these challenges in Africa, the Cooperative Africana Microform Project (CAMP) and Title VI National Resource Centers for African Studies have engaged in a self-funded effort to preserve significant research material and build capacity in African archives.

The African archives cooperative projects have their roots in 1993. Dr. Dennis Galvan (University of Oregon), then a graduate student at the University of California-Berkeley, submitted a proposal to CAMP to film Senegalese regional court records. Between 1993 and 1995, research and reconnaissance trips to West Africa by Africana Librarians and historians culminated in a decision by Title VI Africana librarians (in consultation with Center directors) to proceed on a pilot project in cooperation with the National Archives of Senegal.

The National Archives of Senegal (Archives Nationales du Sénégal) is one of the premiere archival institutions in the region. Its collection contains many important resources for colonial Senegal (1816-1958), Afrique Occidentale Française (1895-1959), and independent Senegal (since 1958). By November 1995, the “pilot” material was identified as the already well organized, film-ready "Justice Indigène, 1838-1954: sous-série 6M." This collection consists primarily of statistics of judgments, reviews of court decisions, and administrative reports on divisional courts ("tribunaux des cercles") and sub-divisional courts regularly sent from interior posts to the colonial administration in Dakar as part of a process of legal oversight and review. This collection contains a significant portion of material relating to regions outside the "Four Communes," which are better represented in collections and the body of historical research.

With funding from CAMP and the Title VI Centers and under the voluntary direction of Dr. Joseph Caruso (Columbia University), the National Archives of Senegal was able to obtain film supplies from France and purchase needed equipment. Over the next four years, the Archives staff diligently worked to preserve the 160,000 pages of material (323 boxes) in the series. The collection, now held in its entirety by CAMP, was preserved on 206 reels of film.

The project was not accomplished without challenge. The National Archives had difficulty acquiring film stock, and equipment malfunctions slowed reproduction of the materials. Manuals accompanying new equipment were in English, and not readily readable by the technicians. The Archives purchased equipment necessary for film duplication in 1998, but unfortunately had difficulties in achieving satisfactory results for film duplication. For this and other reasons, in 1999 the project funded a four-day training workshop on preservation for the personnel of the preservation/reproduction unit of the National Archives of Senegal. Dr. Caruso and Robert Mottice (UMI/Bell and Howell) traveled to Africa to assess the Senegalese personnel abilities to microfilm and to run through the process of producing and making copies of film. The session was a practical training session in microform techniques, based not on theoretical or ideal conditions, but rather utilizing the limited resources available on-hand.

As follow-on to the successful cooperation in filming ”Justice Indigène,” CAMP and the Title VI libraries (with Northwestern University) have embarked on a second phase of cooperation with the National Archives to film "Affaires politiques et administratives de Sénégal, serie D." "Serie D" is a major collection on the history of Senegal and early French colonial rule in West Africa. The material provides valuable insight into political and administrative life (treaties and conventions, reports on native administration and justice, military recruitment, finances electoral operations, demography), economic life (agriculture, breeding and fishing, public works, mines, transportation infrastructure), and social life (ceremonies, health, and education).

Title VI cooperation and common language:

While the pilot project and follow-on described above was an innovation for Title VI participants, cooperation in collection building and research services has been the norm among Africana libraries for many years. This historical foundation of cooperation has provided the framework for much of the project's development. Along with this experience with cooperation, Africana librarians within the Title VI group have the advantage of a well-developed communications network and an established, collegial 'corporate culture' of frank and fruitful dialogue.

For the past three cycles of Title VI funding (nine years), the African NRC's have inserted common language into their proposals for continued funding of cooperative library projects. While the language was originally inserted to support the collaboration with the National Archives of Senegal, the second 3-year cycle expanded the elements of cooperation to include the collection of African dissertations. Since then, the Title VI librarians have included other points of cooperation for which funds may be committed. Though the funding approved each year is relatively small per institution, it provides an opportunity to funnel Title VI funding into projects that Africana Librarians Council (ALC) has been cooperating on for a number of years. For a full description of cooperative activities, see the report titled "Opportunities and Challenges in Africana Library Service."

Future Activity

Title VI librarians remain committed to the cooperative arrangements with the National Archives of Senegal. However, it is recognized that CAMP and the Title VI libraries need to consider a broader cooperative effort to support African capacity-building and broad collaboration with African institutions in these tasks. To this aim, CAMP has commissioned an "Archives Task Force" from among its members to examine the lessons learned from the initial cooperative effort and develop strategic directions for continued cooperation with African archives. The task force is compiling a list of current partnerships between U.S. (and foreign) institutions and African archives. Surveying the "landscape" of cooperative efforts will allow the group to better develop prospects for future collaboration.

At the core of the issue is the need for increased communication and collaboration -- among institutions and interested individuals in the U.S.; with African archives, universities, and associations; and with trans-national and international organizations such as IFLA's Section of Regional Activities for Africa and the joint IFLA/ICA Committee for Preservation in Africa (JICPA). CAMP needs to establish more substantive, enduring, and consistent relationships with these constituent groups in order to develop a rationalized and long-term response to the needs of the region.

From the experiences gained through current initiatives, the following principles of cooperation may be generalized.

  • Assessing needs: A comprehensive review of needs of African institutions must accompany any prospective cooperation. While institutions in some countries have reasonably well-developed preservation capabilities, lack of funding or institutional support continues to hamper efforts to develop viable conservation programs or policies. Other countries or institutions have no preservation capacity whatsoever. CAMP must work with JICPA and other efforts such as "Africa Research Central" to develop information on needs of African institutions in the area of preservation and identify potential projects. U.S. institutions must also enable their specialists to engage in such tasks by sponsoring research and acquisition trips, upon which up-to-date, detailed reconnaissance reports on conditions in regions and local sites can be made. This was critical for the first phase of this project and must continue.
  • Preservation education: On-site training is the most effective way to insure successful results, but training in any permutation should be an integral part of any future project. Whereas, the costs of on-going staff development should be primarily supported by the African institution to insure the sustainability of its own preservation program, U.S. partners must be willing to offer financial support as needed. The commitment of funds to improve preservation efforts and support for training are critical elements in considering the successful outcomes of this project.
  • Promoting Cooperation: As reflected above, there are many institutions without capacity to preserve the important collections they possess. While some imperiled institutions have been fortunate to receive broad international recognition, such as the Mamma Haidara Library and others in Timbuktu, countless others are losing the battle to preserve their precious heritage. CAMP must attempt to help build better relationships among institutions in order to share preservation information and resources. Institutions with microfilming equipment but little staff availability should give consideration to microfilming "time-shares" with those institutions lacking capacity, so that collaborators can share costs and ensure equipment is being used to full capacity to preserve more material.
  • Diversification of funding: The current projects in Senegal have been funded through the generous contributions of Title VI Centers and CAMP, but these funds are admittedly insufficient for projects of larger scale. CAMP must begin to identify funding opportunities to aid in the expansion of this project to other collections and regions. The benefits to funders and U.S. institutions are obvious, taking concrete form in the receipt of copies of research material previously unavailable or unexplored, thus contributing to a better understanding of this historically crucial region of the world.