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CRL's Digitization of Africana Materials
Judy Alspach, International Resources Project Coordinator, CRL

The Center for Research Libraries (CRL) continues to increase its capacity for digital delivery of its vast collection of over four million monographs, journals, archival documentation, ephemera and newspapers. CRL has already digitized an array of Africana content, and is poised to deliver a growing amount of this content digitally.

Based in Chicago, Illinois, CRL is a consortium of over 200 North American academic and research libraries. Scholars at these institutions have increasingly come to expect rapid delivery of source materials, including those from CRL. In this environment, electronic delivery and Web-based access to documents are becoming standard. In response to scholarly demand, CRL is scanning materials from a variety of formats, and has brought servers online that provide secure and Web-based hosting and management of digital files.

The Cooperative Africana Microform Project (CAMP) was invited to participate in early development of CRL's efforts to mount electronic materials for scholarly use. CAMP has advocated making its materials more widely available to researchers in Africa, and CRL's digitization efforts are one way of meeting this goal.

In 2006, CRL mounted a small collection of 19th century slavery and manumission manuscripts from Timbuktu, with support from the Northwestern University Program of African Studies. These materials are available from CRL's e-collections site at By fall 2006, CRL scanned approximately 100 monographs from CAMP's collection to test its scanning workflow, capture specifications, and delivery processes.

Thoughout 2007, CAMP's subcommittee on Digitization and Newer Technologies worked with circulation data from CRL and their own knowledge of Africana sources to recommend a list of CAMP content for potential digitization. While some items may not prove easy to digitize, in no small part due to copyright concerns, this subcommittee has provided valuable input for CRL's current and future digitization priorities.

As of December 2007, there are nearly 1,500 Africana-related monographs available to the membership. Relevant titles include such examples as The Anglo-African Who's Who and Biographical Sketch-book from 1907, The Census of the Colony of the Cape of Good Hope, 1865, and Campagne dans le haut Senegal et dans le haut Niger, 1885-1886 from 1888. CRL has also digitized a number of African language dictionaries and grammars, including Perrin's English-Zulu Dictionary from 1865. These can be found using the e-Resources tab on CRL's catalog (, which provides access to more than 4,000 full-text online titles for CRL member institutions. Many additional sources from the colonial era are linked in the Spring 2007 issue of CRL's Focus on Global Resources Newsletter, entitled England in Africa.

CRL and CAMP are also pursuing partnerships with other organizations to provide a broader platform for digitized CAMP materials. Such a partnership would allow for a wider range of CAMP content to be made available more quickly to scholars. These efforts are still being negotiated, but the partnership should be announced in the early part of 2008 and the online content should be available later this year.

CAMP's interest in digitization goes beyond the electronic delivery of material held at CRL. CAMP has provided support to the nascent West African Cooperative Preservation and Digitization Program, which held a planning meeting in Dakar, Senegal in November 2006. Participants at the meeting discussed the basis of an international cooperative program of preservation and digitization, involving CAMP and the national archives of Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Guinea, and Gambia. They plan to provide further training to technicians in conserving, digitizing, and providing access to West African historical materials, as the physical condition of many of these items is rapidly deteriorating.

CRL and CAMP have an ongoing interest in developing new partnerships with institutions that could help further efforts to make Africa-related content more widely available in electronic format. Especially sought after are opportunities to promote access to materials that are currently available only in Africa. CAMP and CRL strongly believe that equitable access to the digitized African content is critical to building mutually beneficial partnerships. CRL and CAMP are currently pursuing new partnerships of this nature and will welcome opportunities to open dialogues with potential partners in the future.

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