CAMP Project History

The Cooperative Africana Microform Project*

by Ray Boylan**

The Cooperative Africana Microform Project, administered by the Center for Research Libraries, is an important source for research materials for the study of Africa. This article describes the Project and its importance for scholars in the field.

The Cooperative Africana Microform Project (CAMP) is a cooperative project administered by the Center for Research Libraries (CRL) dedicated to increasing access to research materials in support of the study of Africa. CAMP has two interrelated functions:

  1. to maintain a repository of microforms of rarely held Africana materials, and
  2. to carry on original microfilming of such materials.

The project attempts to maintain a balance between collecting materials that already exist in microform and original filming.

CAMP’s repository function provides easy and assured access through interlibrary loan to a significant collection of research materials related to the study of Africa. It helps to assure that scholars at institutions with only limited Africana collections will have access to important resources that exist in microform. At the same time, it allows those institutions with major Africana collections to be more selective in their acquisitions with the assurance that microform sets that they choose not to acquire will still be available to their patrons through CAMP.

Original microfilming is carried on both to provide access to materials that might not otherwise be available to researchers and to preserve materials for future generations of scholars. Much of Africa consists of underdeveloped nations in the process of emerging from the effects of colonialism. Political turmoil continues to exist throughout the continent. These two factors have an impact on the types of resources upon which scholars must depend for the study of Africa. Much of the material is printed on poor quality paper, had only limited distribution, or is archival in nature. Today’s governments are often controlled by yesterday’s revolutionaries, and thus political tracts, revolutionary newsletters, copies of speeches, trial transcripts, and personal correspondence are especially important to students of Africa. Few libraries have been able to systematically collect these types of materials. In fact, much of this material exists only in the private collections of scholars who acquired it while doing research in the field, or in the hands of individuals who have been involved in recent developments in Africa. In Africa itself only very limited facilities exist in most countries for collecting and storing research materials.

Development of CAMP

The systematic acquisition of Africana materials in North American libraries is a fairly recent development, dating from the 1950s. While the study of Africa is pursued today at many institutions, only a relatively few have made major commitments to collecting Africana in depth. This means that in the nation as a whole, only a limited amount of funding is available for collection building. A major portion of this funding is required merely to keep up with the growing number of publications coming out of Africa. The financial problems facing those charged with providing North American scholars with access to Africana materials, and some of the steps taken to deal with these problems have been discussed in a recent paper by David L. Easterbrook.(1) CAMP was among the first major efforts by Africana bibliographers to increase scholarly resources through cooperative activities.

As Africanaist bibliographers began building their collections in the late 1950s, they quickly recognized the need for cooperation. In 1963 representatives of the Foreign Acquisitions Committee, Africa Sub-Section, of the Association of Research Libraries approached the Center for Research Libraries, at that time named the Midwest Inter-Library Center, and requested that it begin acquiring microfilm of retrospective materials related to Africa. In May of that year, CRL’s Board of Directors agreed to set aside $3,000 for this purpose, provided that these funds be matched by the interested bibliographers. By the end of the year an additional $6,000 was raised. The responsibility for selecting materials to be acquired was to rest with the representatives of those institutions contributing to the project. Within a short time after its inception, CAMP was one of the leading sources for microfilmed materials related to African studies. Some of its accomplishments during the first ten years of its existence were described by Moore Crossey in an article in this journal in 1974. (2)

Through most of its history CAMP has been closely associated with the Archives-Libraries Committee of the African Studies Association (ASA). The meetings of the two groups are almost always held in conjunction with one another and during some periods they have held joint meetings. In a sense, CAMP may be viewed as the mechanism through which ASA’s Archives-Library Committee has addressed the problem of providing access to retrospective research materials. It has provided the Africana bibliographers with a dependable source of funds and an established mechanism for microfilming retrospective research materials.

Membership, Finances, and Governance

The project’s current membership consists of twenty-one North American institutions and two foreign subscribers. All members of the Center for Research Libraries can borrow from CAMP’s collection. CRL members who wish to participate in the project pay annual dues of $500 and non-CRL participants pay dues of $1,000 annually. Foreign subscribers pay $200. CRL currently contributes $4,000 annually to the project. Several CRL members make contributions in excess of the required $500 dues. Additional income is derived from the sale of positives to nonmembers. CAMP's annual budget averages approximately $20,000. This budget covers not only the amount spent on acquisitions, but the publication of catalogs and certain administrative expenses.

The affairs of the project are governed by the CAMP Committee, on which all North American members are represented. The CAMP Committee elects an Executive Committee, but in practice most matters are discussed and decided upon at meetings of the full Committee. The CAMP participants meet twice a year in conjunction with the meetings of the African Studies Association’s Archives-Libraries Committee.

The Center for Research Libraries carries on all administrative functions related to the project such as collecting dues, maintaining financial records, placing orders, processing incoming materials, and handling purchase orders for positive copies. The microforms are stored at and circulated by the Center. Most of the costs for these processes are absorbed by CRL’s general budget.

Selection Process

Most decisions regarding project acquisitions are made at the biannual meetings of participants. In some cases, mail ballots are circulated.

The selection of materials to be microfilmed involves both identification of materials of potential value and evaluation. As noted above, much of the material with potential value for students of Africa exists in the collections of private individuals. Other materials may be housed in libraries in Africa and Europe where there is little interest in its dissemination or preservation. Merely being aware of what is available is a major task. Through contacts with scholars at their institutions, visitors to their libraries, and field trips to Africa, the representatives of the participating institutions are able to bring together a great deal more information about potential candidates for microfilming than any one bibliographer working alone could ever hope to do.

The pooled expertise that the bibliographers bring to these meetings is normally deemed sufficient to judge the value of particular material. When it is not, scholars at the institutions represented on the CAMP Committee are consulted. In a field as diverse as African studies, it is impossible to expect one bibliographer to be knowledgeable about all of the material that might be of research value. It is important to note that CAMP’s success over the years has resulted not only from the pooling of financial resources, but also from the pooling of expertise.

Accessibility is a primary consideration in relation to the decision to microfilm a given title or body of material. Most of the materials that CAMP selects for microfilming are simply not accessible to the wider community of students and scholars unless they are microfilmed. In regards to microforms that are available from commercial sources, the question of what constitutes adequate access is sometimes open to debate. CAMP has never reached a definitive set of guidelines concerning this, but if a title is held by several participants who will make it available for interlibrary loan CAMP has usually decided against purchasing it. For the most part, the project has purchased larger microform sets that cost more than most individual libraries can afford to pay or smaller sets in which there is only limited interest. A major portion of the funds that CAMP has expended for the purchase of microforms has been for newspapers and documents issued by African governments.

Due to the nature of the material with which the project is concerned, the need for preservation is almost a given. As already noted, most of the material is printed on poor quality paper with only a limited number of copies being extant. In most instances, the determining factor in a decision to microfilm something is based more on the need for wider dissemination than the need for preservation. Preservation needs are more likely to be considered in establishing priorities.


Whenever feasible, CAMP tries to arrange for the materials to be microfilmed to be sent to the Center for Research Libraries. By having the filming done in Chicago, it is possible both to assure the quality of the work and control the costs. In most cases CRL staff collates the material to be filmed. In some cases the complexity of the material requires that an expert in the field supervise the arrangement of the material prior to filming. This is especially true in the cases of archival materials and private collections consisting of a wide diversity of documents. Such materials are normally sent to the appropriate person prior to being sent to CRL.

In the case of serial runs, an effort is made to fill gaps in the file prior to filming. The usual means of doing this is to ask CAMP participants and other appropriate libraries to report their holdings to CRL. Due to the nature of the material, this method has proven more productive than checking union lists.

The actual microfilming is carried out by the Photoduplication Department of the University of Chicago, with which CRL has a close working relationship. Silver halide 35mm roll film is used for both the negative and positive copies. In instances where microfiche is for some reason preferable to microfilm. The material is sent to a commercial filmer. All film is processed and stored in accordance with specifications established by the American National Standards Institute. CAMP’s master negative copies are stored in the vault of the University of Chicago, which has been designed to assure a controlled environment for the storage of master negatives, and the positive service copies in the stacks of The Center for Research Libraries.

The project also finances the microfilming of materials that cannot be brought to Chicago, either on its own or in cooperation with other groups or institutions. Whenever possible, it tries to obtain the master negative of material that is filmed at its expense. When filming is done at another location, CAMP has only a limited control over the quality of the microfilm produced. This sometimes presents a problem with materials microfilmed in Africa. While efforts are made to assure the quality of the film, the general principle followed is that something is better than nothing.


All CAMP participants and CRL members may borrow any microfilm held by the project unless some restriction has been placed on the material. (In a few instances CAMP has microfilmed material which, due to its sensitive political nature, has had restrictions placed on it.) The policies on the lending of CAMP microforms are those of The Center for Research Libraries. These policies are more liberal than normal interlibrary loan policies since they were designed to meet the needs of scholars borrowing infrequently used materials. The loan period is unlimited, subject to the need to recall material for another patron’s use; it is therefore not unusual for materials to be out on loan for several months. The number of reels that a patron may borrow is also not restricted, subject only to reasonable limits. As is the case with all materials held by CRL, loans are made only to libraries which, in turn, loan it to their patrons.

Since CRL accepts requests transmitted through both the RLIN and OCLC ILL subsystems, as well as by mail and telephone, most research libraries are able to forward their requests to CRL on the same day they receive the requests from their patrons. The requested material is normally sent to the library requesting it via United Parcel Service.

CAMP participants also have the right to purchase a positive service copy of any microform for which the project has the master negative. They pay only the cost of printing the positive plus a small service charge. This is the primary benefit that foreign participants derive from the project. Nonparticipants may purchase positive copies, but must pay the cost of printing plus a share of the cost of the negative.

CAMP titles are cataloged by CRL’s staff utilizing OCLC. CRL’s OCLC tapes are periodically loaded into RLIN database. Since CRL only began using OCLC in 1982 and has completed the retrospective conversion of only its serial titles, not all CAMP titles are currently available through these online utilities.

The primary bibliographic source for CAMP materials is the CAMP Catalog: 1985 Cumulative Edition (Chicago, 1996). This is a traditional book catalog containing entries for 7,590 titles acquired prior to May 1985. It has an extensive subject index prepared by the staff of the Africana Library at Northwestern University. Current plans call for updating the catalog through periodic cumulative supplements. The projects holdings are also listed in the microfiche edition of CRL’s general catalog. Recent CAMP acquisitions are listed in CRL’s semimonthly newsletter FOCUS.

The extent to which the microform sets acquired by CAMP have been analyzed varies. For some sets complete analytics have been provided, while for others the catalog record includes only a brief description of the contents. In many cases where extensive analytics have proven too costly, lists of the materials included on each reel of a particular collection have been prepared as an aid to researchers. A few of the larger sets have been organized so as to make them bibliographically accessible through publications prepared by or under the supervision of scholars.


CAMP’s current collection is too extensive and diverse to be easily described. A few examples of specific projects may give some indication of CAMP’s accomplishments.

One of the major projects carried out in the mid-1970s was the microfilming of the Carter-Karis Collection. Two distinguished scholars in the field, Gwendolen M. Carter and Thomas G. Karis, made available to CAMP their combined collection of materials gathered while studying political developments in South Africa from 1920 to 1965. The collection consists primarily of materials issued by African, Indian, and Coloured political, cultural, and labor organizations during this period. It includes personal papers of some of the leading participants in South African political activities during this period. Using funds provided by the Ford Foundation, the collection was organized and a detailed printed catalog listing each document was prepared. (3) CAMP microfilmed the collection using its own resources. The collection consists of seventy-one positive reels and serves as the cornerstone of CAMP’s very rich resources related to political developments in South Africa, which include trial transcripts, personal papers, and newspaper backfires.

The Carter-Karis Collection is an example of CAMP making the research materials gathered by individual scholars available to the wider community. In other cases, CAMP has had to bring together material from a variety of sources in order to form a useful collection. One such effort was the project to microfilm newsletters published by African liberation groups. These newsletters were published by groups actively engaged in revolutionary endeavors. They served a variety of purposes, but were primarily aimed at rallying support for the revolutionary cause. They contain political manifestoes, stories of atrocities, and interpretations of world events as viewed by the revolutionary leaders. Due to the nature of these publications their distribution tended to be spotty and few libraries were able to get complete runs of a particular title, in fact, it was often difficult even to know what had been published. Numbering is highly irregular and they tended to be published in a variety of places, often by political leaders in exile. Tracing the bibliographic history of a particular title is almost impossible without having the title in hand. By circulating lists of titles to libraries in this country and Europe, CAMP was able to identify extant holdings. The issues were then brought together at CRL and collated by the staff. In instances where it was impossible to borrow issues of a title, the project paid to have needed issues filmed on site and spliced these into its master negative. This particular project was especially successful in relation to liberation newsletters from Zimbabwe.

Similar projects have been carried on related to other types of periodicals, out-of-print books, and speeches by African leaders. CAMP is currently engaged in the filming of a periodical that requires bringing together forty-three issues from the Hoover Institution, forty-one issues from Northwestern University, twelve issues from Boston University, twelve issues from Indiana University, nine issues from the Library of Congress, and six issues from Yale University.

For projects of this sort, the actual filming cost may be modest, but the hours spent by numerous individuals in identifying and gathering the material are substantial. The value of cooperation in pooling human resources, as opposed to merely pooling financial resources, is best manifested by such projects.

While the emphasis in this article has been on CAMP’s filming activities, it should be noted that the project actually purchases more microfilms than it produces. As mentioned above, many of these purchases have consisted of large costly microform sets that are beyond the means of most libraries to acquire. For example, the project has been purchasing, as published, the “Government Publications Relating To Africa” and the “Annual Departmental Reports” series being produced by Microform Limited. Though the project has acquired more reels through purchase than through original filming, over the years the expenditures for original filming and purchases of positive copies have tended to be about equal.


In the over twenty years of its existence, CAMP has added significantly to the resources available to North American scholars for the study of Africa. Its success has been attributable not only to the pooling of funds, but to the pooling of the expertise that exists among Africana bibliographers and scholars in North America. In the current economic environment the resources available to libraries, and especially to area study collections, are more limited than they were when CAMP was initiated. The need for cooperation is thus greater than it was twenty years ago. Yet these same economic restraints limit the funds that local institutions are able, or willing, to devote to cooperative endeavors. CAMP is thus in a position of having to either find additional sources of funding or of narrowing the focus of its activities.

More information on the project may be obtained by contacting the CAMP Coordinator, The Center for Research Libraries, 6050 S. Kenwood Avenue, Chicago, IL 60637 USA.


  1. David L. Easterbrook, "Africana Collections in the 1980s: A Reemergence of Cooperative Acquisitions," Academic Libraries: Myths and Realities, Proceedings of the Third National Conference of the Association of College and Research Libraries. Chicago, 1984.
  2. Moore Crossey, "A Survey of Africana in Microform," Microform Review, Vol. 3, No. 2, April 1974, 96–105.
  3. Southern African Political Materials: A Catalogue of the Carter-Karis Collection. Compiled by Susan G. Wynne. Southern African Research Archives Project, Bloomington, IN, 1977.

* This article originally appeared in Microform Review, vol. 15, no. 3 (Summer 1986), 167–71. It is reprinted by permission of K. G. Saur, Ortlerstr. 8, D-81373, Munich, Germany.

**Ray Boylan was Collection Management and Planning Officer at The Center for Research Libraries, Chicago, IL 60637 USA.

For additional information on CAMP, see also:
The Cooperative Africana Microform Project: Forty Years of Collaboration and Scholarship
from Focus, Volume XXIII, Number 4 – Summer 2004

CAMP Preserves Kenyan Newspaper Taifa Leo

CAMP Preserves Kenyan Newspaper Taifa Leo

CAMP has microfilmed issues of Taifa Leo from November 2004 to May 2010. Taifa Leo is the only Kiswahili daily paper published in Kenya.

CAMP Preserves Government Documents from the Plateau State of Nigeria

Documents from the 1970s through the 2000s include annual reports of state agencies, state budgets, government white papers on issues of the day, texts of speeches, and other ephemeral material.