Michigan State University

MSU Libraries Partner with Refugee Development Center for Community Cataloging Event

Cindy Hunter Morgan

The Michigan State University Libraries has one of the largest collections of material on and from Africa in the United States. Students, faculty, and other library users and researchers rely on the Library’s cataloging system to find and access these materials, but how does it all get cataloged? On two days this October, MSU Librarians will have some help from members of the MSU and Greater Lansing community who speak various African languages, including Wolof, Hausa, Amharic, Tigrinya, Swahili, and Arabic. 

The community cataloging event will take place at MSU’s Main Library from 5:30 – 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, October 2 and from 10:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, October 5. The announcement was made by Dean of Libraries Joseph Salem, who said the partnership represents the MSU Library’s commitment to invest in collaborative relationships and serve as a connector of people, services, and resources.

“This project is a great example of how we’re using a unique collection to cultivate new relationships with community members,” Salem said. “The partnership is tremendously practical – the cataloging event will improve discovery of and access to our collection, but it also transcends what is practical. We value the perspectives and expertise our community partners will provide, and we want to seek out these opportunities to work together.”

African Studies Librarian Jessica Achberger Martin, who helped organize the event along with the Head of Cataloging, Joshua Barton, said the goal of the project is to ensure that Library materials are accessible and that Library records are accurate. “We want to make sure we’re cataloging materials in ways that are culturally appropriate,” Martin said. “Cataloging represents the official record of an item, and it’s important to do it right. Misrepresentations are inconvenient, and they’re harmful.”

Martin also hopes to engage communities of readers with the Library’s Africana collections. “We want to expand the reach of our collections beyond faculty and students of African studies at MSU, and we want to reach community borrowers.”

Community participants learned about the opportunity through MSU and through a partnership with the Refugee Development Center. They will serve as translators at each session. In addition to the six languages listed above, five nationalities will be represented: Tanzania, Ghana, Senegal, Ethiopia, and Palestine. Teams of experts will work together to catalog African language materials. Language teams will determine the bibliographic and content information of resources, which will help complete a catalog record, making material accessible to users. A variety of materials will be cataloged at the events,  including academic and popular books published in Africa and posters from Tanzania, Kenya, and Ethiopia.  

The Michigan State University Libraries Africana Collection is one of the largest in the United States and supports broad faculty and graduate student involvement in research and development projects on the continent. In recent decades, MSU’s program about Africa has been consistently rated among the top one or two in the country in both the number of faculty involved and the number of doctoral dissertations produced. The collection of about 300,000 books, journals, maps, films, archival and ephemeral collections, microform units and online resources covers all areas and disciplines. Across the collections, there is particular emphasis on history, politics, economics, culture, education, languages, health, and other fields of sub-Saharan African. The collection has special emphasis in the priority countries of Nigeria, Ethiopia/Eritrea, South Africa, the Sahel region of West Africa, Tanzania, Kenya, Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Library materials from all sub-Saharan African countries are collected at a high level, including materials in all African and other languages and across all historical periods.


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