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Collection Development in African University Libraries — Challenges and Frustrations.
by Sam E. Ifidon.
Bloomington: African Studies Program, Indiana University, 1990. 32 p. Monographs on Africana Librarianship, number 1. Price not given.

Collection development — or rather the lack of it — is the most serious of the many problems facing the libraries of Africa’s universities today. The 1988 World Bank policy study on education in Sub–Saharan Africa named “supplying [university] libraries with multiple copies of basic textbooks, as well as supplementary books and periodicals” as the highest priority in improving the quality of education available — something that any university library should see as essential to its very existence! Sam Ifidon, the librarian of one of these beleaguered university libraries (Bendel State in Nigeria), has in this booklet — the first of a projected series of monographs on African librarianship — surveyed collection development theory and practice in the context of university structures and policies as well as in relation to library organization. His information, gathered by a questionnaire (supplemented by the Commonwealth Universities Yearbook of 1989), covers 18 universities in 11 English–speaking countries of Africa south of the Sahara (only Ethiopia, Lesotho, Sudan and Swaziland are omitted). The data are from 1988. The booklet enumerates the sources of financial support to African university libraries, examines the state of the bookstocks, identifies and analyzes collection development problems and finally, after a summary of findings, makes recommendations for the future.

Ifidon highlights the fact that the public universities of Africa, and therefore their libraries, are heavily reliant on government grants—overall 84.14 percent of library income comes from government. The proportion of a university recurrent budget devoted to the library averages at 5.88 percent — a fairly respectable figure. However, there are only 44 books and 3.2 current journals per user (only academic staff, postgraduates and final year undergraduates were counted to arrive at the latter figure), well below international standards. Ifidon’s treatment of selection and acquisition policies and of the methods of collection building is very thorough. The tables make it possible to get an overall picture of financial support, fields of study, and state of the library collections; and they make possible comparisons among the various universities surveyed.

Data gathered by questionnaire are always open to criticism. For instance, 1988 for the University of Nairobi in Kenya was a very unusual year financially, and the allocation to the library was increased by 30 percent. This is true of neither the years before nor the years after 1988. Furthermore, the figures on publishing in Kenya are doubtful: If there really were 66 publishers and 45 booksellers at the tertiary level in Kenya, then no one could criticize the local publishing industry! I was recently given the figure of 27 publishers at all levels. I am therefore left with question marks about the data coming from countries about which I have no detailed information.

Perhaps it is unfair to ask for more data from a booklet which aims to be brief and concise. However, I should like to have known, for example, what proportion of university stock acquired in 1988 was actually purchased, as this would reveal much about the value of the grant received. (In the University of Nairobi in 1988 only 31 percent of new acquisitions came on purchase from University funds.) In addition, figures of expenditures rather than budgets would enable us to know how much of the allocations actually reached the libraries. Ifidon’s sample included just one private university. I should be interested to read a survey of the burgeoning private universities of Africa and know whether their libraries — financed by private funds and student fees — are doing any better than the public institutions.

Ifidon analyzes a number of problems faced in collection development, many of them obviously stemming from his own experience in Nigeria. Although he first stresses the underdeveloped state of local publishing as a major problem, he then rightly states that funding, the reliance on government for financial support and the unpredictability of national income (and foreign exchange), is far more serious. Given that the decline in library collections is, therefore, closely linked to the declining economic situation prevailing in most African countries, I would disagree with the core of Ifidon’s recommendations, which are to request (directly or indirectly) more financial help from government — by subsidies to the publishing industry, by more liberal bank loans to publishers, by special grants to upgrade libraries, by allowing printing materials to be imported duty–free, by allocating foreign exchange to book purchase, by ensuring that libraries are given 10 percent of university budgets, by enforcing minimum library standards. African governments already have the will to support tertiary education — it is the means that are lacking. The problems involved in collection development still require solutions beyond pressing for additional subsidies.

About the Author

Diana Rosenberg is Dean, Faculty of Information Science, Moi University, Kenya. She has worked for the Tanzania Library Service, and was Librarian of the University of Juba, Sudan. Among her professional interests are academic libraries, cataloging/classification, public libraries.

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