REFERENCE GUIDE TO AFRICA: A BIBLIOGRAPHY OF RESOURCES. Alfred Kagan and Yvette Scheven. Lanham MD and London: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1999. pp. 272. Hardcover $49.50. ©The compilers of this reference book are two of the leading Africana librarians in North America. Both are among the established leaders of the Africana Librarians Council of the African Studies Association, and both have published important bibliographies. Kagan and Scheven are careful to spell out in the front matter what their book does and does not include, and by whom they intend it to be used : "This guide lists and annotates the most important resources for the study of Africa. It is intended for students, teachers, librarians, casual inquirers, and serious researchers who are delving into unknown territory. It covers works dealing with the entire African continent." They thus grapple with a major problem of much scholarly writing: how to balance the differing needs of the specialist, the generalist, the expert, the novice, the scholar and the citizen.
The book raises a second problem: how can one volume cover a large topic both deeply and broadly? Or, is it enough to raise the reader's consciousness about what can and should be expected of reference tools in African Studies? A real strength of the book lies in the introductions to each chapter, which provide exactly that sort of direction and overview. Scheven also refers readers to David Henige's very important 1990 article in History in Africa: "Are Bibliographers Like Shortstops? Gresham's Law and Africana Bibliography" for a discussion of the quality of printed bibliographies (p.4).
The chapter on internet resources, necessarily, is a good effort at describing a rapidly changing subject in a way that will remain useful. Scheven and Kagan also note in their preface that the disparity between Africa and North America and Europe in terms of access to electronic resources means they intend to publish subsequent editions in paper as well.
The book contains 25 chapters, split between "general sources" and "subject sources." The former comprise: Bibliographies and Indexes; Guides, Handbooks, Directories, and Encyclopedias; Internet Sources; Current Events; etcetera. Subjects treated are: Agriculture and Food; Communications; Cultural Anthropology; etcetera.
There are Author/Title and Subject indexes. Kagan succeeded Scheven as African Studies bibliographer at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana; both have worked in a university with a major USDOE Title-VI African Studies program and perhaps the most important graduate school of library science. This last point influences the nature of this book. Scheven began, and Kagan continues to teach, one of the very few graduate courses on the Bibliography of Africa, from which the book springs. For example, the chapter on Libraries and Librarianship contains 80 entries, with another 38 listed under Publishing and Book Trade. This contrasts with 40 for anthropology, 46 for history, 47 under literature, and government's 50. The proportions are affected by the original core users being students of bibliography. It's customary to note the number of entries in a bibliography; this one contains 944. That figure is misleading, however, as there are not that many separate entries. Resources useful for more than one topic are entered as often as appropriate. Indeed, the same item may be entered twice in one chapter when it bridges categories; an example is NIGERIAN ARTISTS: A WHO'S WHO AND BIBLIOGRAPHY. This appears twice in the art chapter, fifteen entries apart, with distinct annotations discussing it as biographic and bibliographic tools.
Each chapter is meant to be a self-contained source, justifying the multiple, but topic-specific, entries. This is not always achieved, however; one will want to check all related chapters, along with the most general ones, to be sure of seeing everything of possible interest. The chapters on current events, government publications, statistics, and politics each contain important references not found in the others.
Fundamentally, this entire book is not a self-contained resource. A significant, if explicit limitation is the paradoxical result of the compilers' great expertise. Scheven is the compiler of BIBLIOGRAPHIES FOR AFRICAN STUDIES, 1970-1986 That 615 page work (compared to this volume's 263 pages) was honored with the 1990 Conover-Porter Award of the (US) African Studies Association, as the outstanding reference book on Africa published in the previous two years. Its existence, along with a 176 page supplement for 1987-1993, and other major tools like John McIlwaine's AFRICA: A GUIDE TO REFERENCE MATERIAL (1993) mean that Kagan and Scheven can distill a core list while frequently reminding readers that these far more inclusive works support more focused research.
This is sometimes explicit: "country-specific and most region-specific titles were generally excluded due to their tremendous volume. The researcher can find such titles by consulting the databases, indexes, and bibliographies described" (p. vi). Thus Kagan, in the chapter on guides and handbooks, properly noting that for the African Historical Dictionary series, "depth, breadth, and quality vary greatly," refers readers for evaluations of specific titles to the Africa section, which he co-authored, in the American Library Association's Guide to Reference Books. It is less clear when the compilers have excluded works due to age. They are careful to note the cut-off for new material (November 1997). They also note that the topical arrangement of the book was determined by topics "which have stood the test of time" in their course. They do not indicate, however, whether they have tried to include only recent, or the most recent, solid works on a subject. Were excluded works deemed superseded, outdated, or sufficiently specialized to relegate to the higher tier of more inclusive guides? Was Hans Panofsky's still-valuable A BIBLIOGRAPHY OF AFRICANA, 1975, for example, simply thought too dated?
Since this work aims at such a wide audience, and may serve as a guide for building as well as using reference collections, it might have been a good feature to have listed the Conover-Porter Award winners and runners-up, or to have noted the awardees in entries. Since the award began in 1980, fifteen books have won or shared the Conover-Porter Award, and since 1986 an additional 19 have received honorable mention. Nine award-winners are included, while 6 are not; of the runners-up, nine each are included and excluded, with one more folded into a subsequent winning book. Most of the excluded works likely fell into the country-specific category. Of two books not in English, one, in French, is included here; the other, in Portuguese, is not. One honorable-mention encyclopedia was published just weeks after the compilers' cut-off date.
But some award winning books look like they fell out for lack of a proper setting. One of two works to share the 1994 award was Thomas George Barton's SEXUALITY AND HEALTH IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA, a massive, 673 page annotated bibliography on AIDS in Africa. While formally published in Nairobi, and hence possibly considered out of the mainstream by the compilers, despite sponsorship by several US universities and institutes, it may simply be the lack of a chapter on health or medicine that excluded this highly important work on a frequently-sought topic. There are subject index entries for HIV and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, but only one book is so indexed, Tarver's URBANIZATION IN AFRICA, A HANDBOOK, an entry in the Geography and Maps chapter.
The stature of the compilers does reassure one that works included are good, and those excluded are either too specialized or have been superseded by others, and should inspire confidence in the usefulness of this work. The limitation to mostly works continental in scope, however, means that users will almost always use this work in conjunction with others. Its best value (and one the compilers certainly intend) is to raise awareness of what kinds of reference tools, illustrated with exceptionally useful examples, to seek and expect regarding Africa. It is as much a textbook as a reference book (or more?). The combination of references to key resources within intelligent discussion of what comprises value, and at a reasonable price, recommend the book highly.
Gregory A. Finnegan