Friday, January 30, 2015

Libraries Are Full of Lies: 8 Tips for Researchers in Africa

Biko Agozino

They are called libraries because libraries are full of lies. When next you consult your library catalog, search for the keyword, lies, and you will get numerous hits.  The biggest library lie is the suggestion that the truth only lies in libraries waiting to be excavated, so be careful about online sources, they warn. The knowledge society of today has exposed that lie enough for researchers to know better but the allure of tradition still holds many brilliant minds captive and makes them skeptical about sources of knowledge beyond the walls of libraries. Here are some tips for scholars who do not have access to well-stocked libraries:

1.     An African colleague once asked an online forum for suggestions of books on a topic to help a graduate student under his supervision who could not find relevant publications on a certain topic. This is a common assumption among doctoral students – that they are always the first to chance on an uncharted territory even though we know that there is nothing new under the sun. I in-boxed the colleague on Face Book and suggested that he should have the graduate student do a Google search on the topic and then narrow down by selecting ‘More’ and then selecting ‘Books’ to see many recent book publications on the topic. As an example, I copied and pasted the web address for a search that I did on the topic and the books displayed. The colleague wrote back to verify if I was trying to spam him or infect his computer with a virus by asking him to click on the search results that I pasted? I responded that he did not have to click on my results, he should just replicate the steps and he will find similar results. I reassured him that Google Books often offers previews of many relevant books that students can read and decide if to order the book. I never heard back from the colleague since then despite the fact that we were college mates and friend each other on FB. Was it something that I said?

2.     Another African colleague complained recently that a university of technology where he works has no library worth that name and that the few reference materials in the library were not properly archived, making it impossible for his students to find any relevant materials. Again I suggested that he should ask his students to try Google Books search to help them. However, he said that in the natural sciences, they value refereed journal articles more than books. In that case, I suggested that they get their university libraries to subscribe to databases such as Proquest, Project Muse (for the arts), or EBSCO-HOST to enable them to access full texts of journal articles online. Individual subscriptions may also be cheaper. He told me that he had been looking for a 1985 journal article that is crucial for his teaching but could not find it. I Googled the title of the article and came up with nothing...

3.     So I tried another strategy. I did a Google Scholar search on the name of the lead author and the article came up. I clicked on it and my college library allowed me access to the article online. In case your college library does not subscribe to the particular journal, a Google Scholar search on the author might throw up other articles written by the same author that may cover similar grounds and that may be openly accessible on the internet.

4.     A simple Google web keyword search will also throw up PDF copies of complete documents that could be downloaded and read for academic use. And many authors place their personal copies of their articles in PDF format under their personal websites to be found through a general Google search. Other search engines also throw up stuff but Google stands out for me by adding specialized book and scholar searches. Thank you Google!

5.     I have also received requests from Law Professors in Africa asking for suggestions on journals to submit their articles for possible publication. I tell them that almost every university with a law school in the US also has a Law Review Board that is edited by the students but with publications by professors. For instance, Barrack Obama was the President of the Harvard Law Review Board when he was a student. I advise them to search online and read articles in the Law Reviews and see if their own article could fit in.

6.     More importantly, I advise them to encourage their own students to establish their own on-line Law Review Journals and start publishing articles through their university websites. Such publications will have more respectability if they regularly publish top scholars and if they do not make them seem like vanity publishing by charging authors hefty sums the way many open access journals are doing now. Feminist Africa is a highly respected scholarly online journal that was launched by the Nigerian scholar, Amina Mama and colleagues at the University of Cape Town. Many top journals in the medical sciences now regularly publish many articles online as well as in hard copies but commercial publishers still require subscriptions before a full access to contents.

7.     Online archives of complete books for academic uses can also be found in sites like the Gutenberg Project and A search for an author followed by comma and then by Gutenberg Project may show whether that author has books already archived. A search for any work by major Marxists from around the world may indicate that the complete text or major portion is already archived online for fair use by scholars. reported last year that publishers had challenged them to take down the links because they claimed to hold the copyrights to the complete works but many users persuaded the publishers to back off because the online versions do not compete with the hard copies since many of those who use the online versions may already have hard copies too.

8.     With internet technology serving as what someone called the digital talking drum, African scholars should seek to bring the many journals they have been struggling to publish epileptically in hard copies with limited resources online to cut costs drastically and reach a wider audience. For example, the African Criminology and Justice Association launched its online journal, African Journal of Criminology and Justice Studies and I have been serving as the founding Editor in Chief since 2005. Authors do not pay to publish in it and it is openly accessible to readers worldwide. It is also archived by the Africa Knowledge Project along with other Africa themed journals on philosophy, gender, arts, and West Africa that AKP supplies to subscribers.

Although public libraries originated in Africa more than 7,000 years ago following the invention of writing in Africa, it is unfortunate to note that up-to-date libraries are less likely to be found in Africa today and ancient texts that survived in Timbuktu recently ran the risk of being burnt by fanatics due to our peculiar history of arrested development.  Arise and organize discovery, do not agonize! A mind is a terrible thing to waste and the most powerful weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed because if you control the minds of a people, you need not worry about what actions they may take, warned several African ancestors.