European Librarians in African Studies (ELIAS), June 2010
‘Library-to-Library Partnerships: University of Malawi, University of
Nigeria, Nsukka, and Michigan State University
Africana Bibliographer & Adjunct Associate Professor, MSU Libraries
University-to-university partnerships are an important and growing focus of
African Studies programs, underpinning grant or development project rhetoric.
Yet vagaries of funding and politics, and administrative siphoning of grant funds
often can render such projects ineffective. The rush for prestige projects often
neglects libraries, though there have been ad hoc contacts with, and useful
disinterested assistance to African libraries, for example by the British Library’s
Endangered Archives Project, by Nordic material support in Lusaka and Dar es
Salaam, or USAID’s construction of Malawi’s Bunda Agricultural College library.
Coordinating efforts by bodies such as INASP, Africana Librarians Council and
CAMP have provided some mentoring, book donations, preservation projects,
and successful lobbying of publishers for better access for African libraries, but
the need for more effective partnerships has never been more urgent than in
today’s tight global economy that continues to hit African libraries very hard.
Since 1960, Michigan State University (MSU), with a major African Studies
Center, has forged extensive partnerships with African universities, currently
focused on 7 strategic partners. It helped build the University of Nigeria, Nsukka
(UNN) and since the ‘80s, developed close ties with University of Malawi.
Recently, MSU re-established the close links with UNN tragically sundered by
the Biafran war. In 2010, MSU was one of very few successful applicants for a
major USAID grant project, incorporating substantial capacitisation of a weak
Malawi library system and involving: prioritizing African library needs;
mentoring; joint publishing in library journals; reciprocal visits; book donations;
hardware replenishment; and professional librarian development.
Lessons from these initiatives show that librarian and book exchanges and
director visits can assist partnership building, but major material benefits are
more likely given close academic-librarian liaison, tightly focused grants, key
library-faculty commitment, and streaming of strategic partnerships into a single
university or limited subject focus. This was more effective in tiny Malawi with
its single major university than in sprawling Nigeria. Recent experience suggests
this approach is a workable model, especially for those universities with
established grant writers and African Studies centers or institutional support. Yet
grant moneys soon expire; to be more effective long-term, such initiatives should
link up with other projects. ELIAS could play a growing role here in coordinating
or facilitating library-to-library contacts or networking.