A reference in an excellent chapter by Natalia Taylor Poppeliers (Bowdoin), “Cultural rights and library development and discourse in Sub-Saharan Africa: Is the colonial legacy still alive?” (In: Julia Biando Edwards and Stephen P. Edwards, eds., Beyond Article 19: Libraries and social and cultural rights, Duluth MN: Library Juice Press, 2010, pp.41-84) reminded me of an almost forgotten paper I had delivered back in 1993, “Africanisation of South African libraries: a response to some recent literature”. The paper was delivered in the period between the freeing of Nelson Mandela (1990) and South Africa’s first democratic election (1994) at one of the Info Africa Nova conferences which took place during that period. For librarians it was a time of soul-searching and rethinking the role of libraries in post-apartheid South Africa. A major planning exercise, the National Education Planning Investigation (NEPI) was under way to prepare for the expected African National Congress (ANC)-led government. My participation in the library component of this process, largely led by librarians affiliated to the progressive Library and Information Workers Organisation (LIWO) had helped to open my eyes to the issues that needed to be addressed if libraries were to be relevant to the new South Africa.
Poppeliers referred to this paper, as cited by Paul Sturges and Richard Neill in their important book, The quiet struggle: Information and libraries for the people of Africa, 2nd ed. (London: Mansell, 1998), in complementary terms. This is gratifying, but I need to acknowledge my debt to my colleagues who were LIWO members and to Kingo Mchombu, whose work I had at that time only just encountered. In the paper I cited the article on national information policies, Kingo Mchombu and K. Miti, “Formulation of national information policies in Africa: some unlearnt lessons” (International information and library review 24(1): 139-171. But the article I should have cited is his seminal article on the librarianship of poverty: Kingo Mchombu, “On the librarianship of poverty” (Libri 32(3): 241-250).
Although it is now decidedly dated, I’ve decided to post the paper here, as it is referred to from time to time and was published in a quite obscure conference proceedings.