Academic journal article African Research & Documentation

Research, Reference Service and Resources for the Study of Africa

Academic journal article African Research & Documentation

Research, Reference Service and Resources for the Study of Africa

Article excerpt

Research, Reference Service and Resources for the Study of Africa, edited by Deborah M. LaFond and Gretchen Walsh. New York: Haworth Information Press, 2004. 299 pp. ISBN 0-7890-2509-4. Also published in The Reference Librarian 87/88 (2004).

The sudden and untimely death of Gretchen Walsh earlier this year makes this an opportune moment to draw attention to this important volume on Africana librarianship in the U.S, and U.S.-Africa partnerships. The book begins with a substantial essay into which Walsh distils her astute and frequently witty insights, gained over many years as head of the African Studies Library at Boston University.

The volume ends with a long essay by Deborah LaFond on capacity-building and technology in African libraries. In between are sandwiched a number of other contributions, all by specialists in the field, divided into two sections covering 'African Studies in the United States' and 'Collaboration and innovation in Africa and the United States'. The essays as a whole constitute required reading for anyone interested in the field of African Studies librarianship, and contain much of interest concerning partnerships between rich and poor countries. In this short piece, however, I will concentrate specifically on Walsh's opening essay.

Entitled '"Can We Get There From Here?" Negotiating the Washouts, Cave-Ins, Dead Ends, and Other Hazards on the Road to Research on Africa', Walsh's essay takes as its starting point a variety of possible research questions and topics. In exploring the answers, she has produced a knowledgeable, copious, incisive and often amusing explication of the problems and challenges of reference work in this specialist field. While demonstrating an appreciation of the benefits of the Internet for research, she also convincingly makes the case for the continued importance of librarians' services and specialist bibliographies in the digital age.

Electronic library catalogues, she shows, are generally not sufficiently specialised - or even sufficiently accurate - to provide all the answers. …

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