The Library of Congress >> African & Middle Eastern Reading Room

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Unusually rich and extensive research materials concerning the fifty countries of sub-Saharan Africa, an area that includes the Western Indian Ocean Islands but excludes the North African countries of Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia, are available at the Library of Congress. The Library's collections of Africana -- material from or relating to Africa -- are among the best in the world. Although most Africa-related material is dispersed in the Library's general book and periodical collections, impressive works of Africana may also be found in the collections of manuscripts, maps, microforms, music, newspapers, prints, photographs, and films in the various special-format custodial divisions of the Library. Every major field of study except technical agriculture and clinical medicine is represented. Holdings in economics, history, linguistics, and literature are especially strong.

watercolor view of Cape Town, South Africa
Among the unexpected treasures that abound in the Library of Congress is this pen-and-ink and watercolor view of Cape Town, South Africa, drawn by A. Robinson in 1831, housed with maps.
(Geography and Map Division)

The Library has a longstanding role in acquiring and providing access to material about Africa, beginning with the Thomas Jefferson collection purchased in 1815, which included several books on Africa. The Library has developed one of the world's outstanding collections by acquiring and retaining materials through copyright deposit, by purchase, by the exchange of publications, and by encouraging collectors or creators of Africana to donate their treasures to an institution pledged to preserve them for future generations.

The growth of the collections over the years has been phenomenal. According to the Annual Report of the Librarian of Congress of 1901, the Library's collection of materials about the entire continent of Africa included about 1,830 volumes and 78 pamphlets. Measuring the largest single block of material in the General Collections, that is, surveys, yearbooks, histories, and general descriptive works under the DT classification, as an example, in 1960 the Library held about 13,000 books and periodicals in this category alone, in 1970 it held 21,000, and in 1997 it counted 50,000. The African Section's Pamphlet Collection currently numbers more than 22,000 items, among them brochures, speeches, conference papers, and other ephemera.

poster reproducing Botswanan postage stamps
Beautiful and interesting African stamps have long attracted the attention of philatelists. This poster reproducing Botswanan postage stamps offers information about traditional, popular toys. Although posters are housed in the Prints and Photographs Division, this one is part of a small, but growing "informational" poster collection in the African Section.
(African Section Poster Collection
African and Middle Eastern Division)

The Library's field offices in Nairobi, Kenya, which obtains materials from Eastern, Central, and Southern Africa and the Indian Ocean islands and that in Cairo, Egypt, whose acquisition responsibilities include Mauritania and Sudan, have been instrumental during the last thirty years in developing one of the most extensive collections of contemporary materials published in sub-Saharan Africa. These field offices manage networks of bibliographic representatives resident in each of twenty-eight countries in Central, Eastern, and Southern Africa who make contact with any organization likely to issue publications. Because of small press runs, on-the-spot collecting of African publications has been crucial to the successful assembling of unparalleled resources in contemporary African imprints.

A number of gifts of manuscripts and special collections are highlighted in this guide. Organizations and individuals have also deposited collections of archives, correspondence, photographs, maps, posters, and memorabilia in the Library of Congress. Of special note is the American Colonization Society collection, a key research source for scholars of Liberian history and related topics, which provides primary data on the society and its work in founding that country. Particularly important are the American Colonization Society manuscript records that are housed in the Manuscript Division and the photographs from the collection, which are located in the Prints and Photographs Division.

From ancient hand-drawn charts to the latest satellite surveys, the Geography and Map Division houses more than 150,000 maps and atlases of Africa offering diverse types of information, including political and geographic divisions, environmental conditions, and ethnological data. Besides the illustrations that may be found in journals and books from the General Collections and in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, many images of Africa may be found in the Prints and Photographs Division and the Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division. The Library offers the researcher the opportunity to hear the sounds of Africa in the Performing Arts Reading Room or in the Folklife Reading Room, housing the Archive of Folk Culture.

Preserving its collections is one of the Library's basic functions. In addition to an active conservation program, the Library investigates the best way to store the information contained in these materials, whether by the acquisition of facsimile or reprint editions or by transfer to microformat or electronic storage. The Library of Congress seeks to offer researchers what is needed in Africana today and to acquire and preserve what will be needed in the centuries to come.

Reseau panafricain de télécommunication = Panafrican telecommunication network = Red panafricana de telecommunicaciones
The telecommunications industry and other new technologies are key to the continuing development of African economies. This map, Reseau panafricain de télécommunication = Panafrican telecommunication network = Red panafricana de telecommunicaciones, produced by the International Telecommunications Union, offers a graphic depiction of these resources as of April 1990.
and Map Division)

1870 map of the Liberian coast
This 1870 map of the Liberian coast is one of many maps of the American Colonization Society that form a special collection in the Geography and Map Division. It is estimated that the society assisted about six thousand former slaves between 1820 and 1867 to settle in what was to become Liberia. This map of Liberia is available on the Internet through the Library's Web site.
(Geography and Map Division)

  HOME  Foreword  Introduction   Overview  Creative Expression, Culture, and Society  African Peoples' Encounters with Others  Contemporary African States  Note to Researchers  List of Sub-Saharan Countries  Publications  Writings

The Library of Congress >> African & Middle Eastern Reading Room
( November 15, 2010 )
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