Endangered Archives

EAP097: Preserving and digitising the documentation and resource centre of the African Publishers' Network (APNET)

Mr Roger Stringer, Independent Researcher
2007 award - Pilot project
£2,712 for 5 months

Project Overview

The African Publishers' Network (APNET) is an association of publishers' associations in Africa which was founded in 1992.

APNET's Secretariat was initially established in Harare, Zimbabwe. However, as the political and economic climate in Zimbabwe declined rapidly, APNET's Board decided to relocate it to Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, in 2002. Unfortunately, soon after arriving there, the country was unexpectedly embroiled in a civil war. Partly as a result of this, APNET went through something of a crisis, particularly as regards funding.

A Task Team was appointed to address the situation urgently, and funds were obtained to move the Secretariat to Accra, Ghana, in 2006. However, following a need to reduce costs, only one member of staff, the Membership and Trade Promotion Officer, is now employed.

The matter that concerns this proposal relates to a resource collection (called the APNET Documentation and Resource Centre) that has been maintained at the Secretariat, and specifically its core collection donated by Hans Zell. This collection is described as comprising resource materials on African publishing dating back to 1960, as well as a computerised database of the collection stored on diskettes. It is particularly the Hans Zell collection that is in need of being preserved and digitised. It is unique in many respects, containing a great deal of grey literature - original documents, reports and papers on African publishing, particularly from its early days, gathered over a period of more than three decades.

There is significant danger that this material might be lost, having been moved around in boxes for quite a few years. It is unclear what material is still remaining in the boxes and the condition it is in.

The existence of the collection only in one physical location is of little value to African publishers who are scattered throughout the continent. To serve a more useful purpose, it would be ideal if these historical documents were accessible in electronic form via the Internet - both to African publishers themselves as well as to others interested in the growth and development of African indigenous publishing.

It is APNET's wish that the Resource Centre should remain in Africa. Part of the project will involve discussion with other institutions to ascertain whether they could hold and administer the collection on a permanent basis.

The aims of this pilot project therefore are to:

1. Assess the current state of the original Hans Zell Collection.
2. Ascertain what additional material has been added.
3. Ascertain what amount of cataloguing of these materials has been done and is still needed.
4. Ascertain what electronic databases exist and in what formats.
5. Identify the number and type of materials that are in need of preservation and could be made available electronically.
6. Identify a possible permanent home for the physical collection in Africa.

Project Outcome

This pilot project found that the Hans Zell Collection was probably more than 90% complete. It is possible that the missing materials are still in the boxes, and these should be examined more closely when they are in a more accessible environment. The condition of the material was generally good, though many of the photocopies had faded. Only a small percentage, perhaps 25%, might be unique or rare.

It seems that very little additional material had been added to this collection but it was evident that a lot of books had been added to the general ADRC collection, maybe as many as 5,000. These were mainly books that had been supplied to APNET by African indigenous publishers, initially as samples for trade-promotion exercises and later added to the resource centre. These can be seen as a valuable central record of the output of these publishers and an important part of the ADRC.

The only evidence found of a catalogue was two sets of print-outs, evidently from a CDS-ISIS database. No information exists in electronic form. Although these print-outs included documents with the same accession numbers, the titles were different, and were therefore quite unreliable. Both the cataloguing and classification of the materials would have to be done from scratch.

The value of much of the photocopied material is probably no longer significant as they are probably accessible elsewhere. The unique and rare material needs to be individually identified and digitized, though there may not be a large amount of this, and be relocated with the hard copies and the rest of the material to a new 'home', preferably as a special collection.

The bulk of the material remains where it is, in the warehouse in Accra. The boxes that were found to contain documents from the Hans Zell collection were extracted and left at the office used by APNET where they will be secure until decisions can be made about their future. There is no capacity to make this material useful in its current location.

The next step is to pursue the possibility of getting the boxes that are in Accra transported to a new home, maybe a university library, where they could be housed, catalogued and classified, and where scanning and digitisation of the valuable material might be carried out. These materials could become a special collection in the library, and be accessible to researchers interested in the early years of African indigenous publishing.