African Studies

Collection Selector

photo of Beth Restrick

Beth Restrick

Head, African Studies Library
Interim Head, Liaison and Instruction Services

African Studies Library

General Purpose of the Collection

The African Studies Library (ASL) is responsible for a multidisciplinary collection of resources for the study of Africa. Strongest in the social sciences and humanities, it has considerable strength as well in the sciences, particularly in public health, and encompasses a broad spectrum of subjects in nearly every academic discipline. Its primary constituency comprises the students, faculty, research fellows and visiting scholars of Boston University’s African Studies Center (ASC), a department of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. ASL also supports the curriculum and research of students and faculty in the ASC’s cross-registration arrangements with several local universities, including Harvard, MIT, Northeastern, Brandeis, Tufts, and Boston College.

The African Studies Center does not itself grant degrees; students enroll in an academic department or school and select course work from the African Studies Core Curriculum (anthropology, archaeology, communications, economics, education, geography, health sciences, history, languages and linguistics, law, literature, sociology, and theology) for a concentration on Africa. The ASC does award a Graduate Certificate in African Studies, requiring completion of 16 credit hours from the Core Curriculum and a piece of significant research in African studies, such as an MA or MFA thesis, a doctoral dissertation, or two substantial research papers in graduate-level seminars. The ASC also offers an undergraduate minor for students who complete six courses from three or more disciplines in the African Studies Core Curriculum, and a minor in African languages and literatures through the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures. The African Studies Center focuses on three major interdisciplinary research priorities: African urban studies; environment in Africa; and African humanities, including literature, drama, and art. Recently, special focus has been placed on Francophone African literature and African art because of new tenure-track faculty in those areas. The ASL also supports new interdisciplinary projects of the School of Public Health and the African Studies Center in African public health.

The African Studies Library also supports the international aspects of Boston University’s mission and strategic planning. The President of the University and his newly appointed President’s Council on Boston University and the Global Future emphasize the role of Africa at Boston University. The African Presidential Archives and Research Center (APARC) ( was established in 2001 to provide a forum for African statesmen to continue working for African development after their terms of office, and to collect papers and documents relating to their presidencies. The APARC collections will be housed and preserved in the African Studies Library.

The African Studies Library is committed to information service on Africa beyond this immediate constituency, and responds to the research needs of the broader community in the University, greater Boston, and New England, as well as the nation and the world.

Scope of Coverage

Languages collected (primary and selective) or excluded
Actual and potential use shapes the language policy of the African Studies Library. ASL collects primarily in the official languages of African nations, including English, French and Portuguese. Arabic, while the official language of several African nations, is collected only selectively, mainly upon request. Materials in indigenous languages of Africa, whether or not designated as official national languages, are collected selectively, mainly to support language instruction and linguistic or other specialized research. Works in other languages are collected selectively, either because of a specific request or a particular research value.
Geographical areas covered by the collections in terms of intellectual content, publication sources, or both, and specific areas excluded, as appropriate
ASL primarily collects material dealing with all African nations and collects very selectively in material dealing with the African diaspora, e.g., recent African immigration, especially to the United States and Europe; vestiges of African languages, religions and culture in the New World, including Yoruba communities in Cuba and Brazil; Shango Cults; Africanisms in American English; and studies by African anthropologists of North American communities of African descent, such as the Gullah and the Black Nova Scotians. The primary focus is on Africa south of the Sahara, although North Africa is also represented.

ASL collects material on Africa published anywhere in the world, within the language policies described above. Special emphasis is placed on acquisitions from Africa, particularly primary sources, i.e., government publications, newspapers, scholarly works, and creative writing.

Chronological periods covered by the collection in terms of intellectual content, movements or schools, and specific periods excluded, as appropriate
ASL collects materials dealing with the entire history of Africa from first human populations to the present day. Certain periods in selected geographic areas are excluded because they are covered by other subject funds, e.g., ancient Egypt and Roman North Africa.
Chronological periods collected in terms of publication dates, and specific periods excluded, as appropriate
ASL acquisitions emphasize current publications. Historical publications are acquired selectively.

General Subject Boundaries and Library Locations

As an interdisciplinary collection within a geographic area, ASL collects in nearly all subject areas. Primary subject areas are determined by the following Library of Congress call number ranges:

  • BL 2400-2490 : African Religions
  • BP 64 : Islam in Africa
  • BR 1360-1470 : Christianity in Africa
  • BV 3500-3630 : Missions in Africa
  • DT : African History
  • GB 330-378 : African Geography
  • GN 493.4 / GN 643-661 / GN 861-865 : African Ethnography,Anthropology, and Archaeology
  • GR 350-360 : African Folklore
  • HC 501-591 / HC 800-1085 : African Economic Conditions
  • HD 8771-8839 : Labor in Africa
  • HN 771-840 : African Social History
  • JQ 1870-3981 / JS 7531-7829 / JX 1021-1145 : Politics and Government
  • KQ, KR, KS, KT : Law in Africa – by country/area
  • LA 1500-2090 : Education in Africa
  • N : see Art History
  • PJ 9001-9293 : Semitic languages spoken in Africa, including Arabic, Somali and Ethiopian languages
  • PL 8000-8844 : African Languages and Literature
  • PQ 3949-3989 : African Literature in French
  • PR 9340-9399 : African Literature in English
  • R : see Health
  • Z 3501-3975 : African Bibliography
  • Z 8001-8999 : Personal Bibliography

Materials with the location “African Studies” and “African Document” will be found in the reading room of the African Studies Library on the sixth floor of Mugar Memorial Library. Because of the interdisciplinary nature of the collection, an effort has been made to shelve segments of the LC classification scheme relating to Africa in the stacks adjacent to the African Studies Library’s reading room. These locations are indicated on maps and floor plans on the Web and in the building. Researchers should note that materials on Africa may be located throughout the stacks of Mugar Memorial Library and its branches.

Related subjects and Interdisciplinary Relationships

ASL collects works that deal with Africa, no matter what the subject, with some exceptions

African American Studies:
The appropriate subject selectors collect works dealing with the African diaspora in the Americas and the Caribbean. ASL collects selectively in works dealing with vestiges of African culture among the diaspora, and contemporary African immigration to the United States and Europe.
Archaeology and Classics:
The Archaeology and Classics Selector collects works on ancient Egypt and Roman Africa. ASL collects works on archaeology of sub-Saharan Africa; there may be some overlap in works dealing with Nubia and Meroe.
Art History:
The Art History Selector consults with ASL concerning the purchase of works on African art, both modern and traditional. Retrospective collecting in African art will be undertaken by the African Studies Library.
Earth Sciences:
ASL will acquire works related to environmental studies and geology in Africa.
ASL will acquire works for Mugar Memorial Library related to public health in Africa, in collaboration with the Alumni Medical Library and the Health Sciences bibliographer.
The History Selector collects works dealing with the Atlantic slave trade; ASL collects works dealing with the trans-Saharan slave trade. History collects works covering North Africa if the focus is primarily the Middle East.
ASL collects works of African writers. The Selectors for English, Romance Studies, and Modern Languages and Comparative Literature collect works of writers born outside of Africa whose reputation and oeuvre span Africa and other areas. Each may purchase selectively in fiction set in Africa written by non-African writers.
Political Science/International Relations:
ASL collects materials that pertain specifically to politics and government within and among African countries. ASL very selectively collects legal materials pertaining to African countries. The Political Science Selector collects works dealing with U.S. policy toward Africa, and works covering North Africa if the focus of the work is the Middle East.

ASL takes responsibility for adding volumes of collected essays and articles which are international in scope, but contain a majority of articles on Africa.

Types of Materials

Books; periodicals; proceedings; reference materials; atlases; and government publications, including those of African nations and their states or provinces, African regional organizations, and international organizations.
Collected Selectively:
Dissertations and theses on African topics, whether done in the U.S. or abroad; maps; and electronic resources.
Not Collected:
Audio-visual materials, except for tapes and CDs included with print works; children’s books, except for works in African languages; and textbooks.

Other On-Campus or Local Resources

Additional materials relating to law and human rights in Africa can be found in the Pappas Law Library.

Also, International Law and Foreign Law Materials (K-KF; KZ) are collected by selectors at the Pappas Law Library.

The African Studies Center Outreach Program oversees an Teaching Africa Library with a substantial collection of materials available for lending to the public. The library’s focus is particularly on providing materials for classroom teachers, elementary through high-school. Audio-visual materials may be borrowed through the mail, while print materials are generally lent only to visitors. The collection currently comprises approximately 1000 children’s books, 1500 adult books, 300 curriculum guides and approximately 200 videos.

Cooperative Africana Microforms Project (CAMP). CAMP is a consortium of Africana libraries which uses the pooled funds of the membership to purchase commercially available microform sets of research materials on Africa, and to undertake original filming of unique resources. Materials held by CAMP are available on interlibrary loan from its headquarters at the Center for Research Libraries. Increasingly, CAMP has been digitizing its collections, which may be accessed via the general CRL catalog. ASL staff have created a guide to assist in navigating to CAMP resources (

The Union List of African Newspapers (AFRINUL). (Please note that this project is no longer being updated.) AFRINUL was a project of the Africana Librarians Council of the African Studies Association and CAMP, with funding by the Association of Research Libraries through a grant from the Mellon Foundation. AFRINUL is a web-based database of titles and holdings of African newspapers in any format in North American libraries. It is still useful, but do note that it has not been maintained and so the list may not accurately represent current holdings. To search AFRINUL: