As of 22 April 2009 this website is 'frozen' in time — see the current IFLA websites

This old website and all of its content will stay on as archive – http://archive.ifla.org

IFLANET home - International Federation of Library Associations and InstitutionsAnnual ConferenceSearchContacts
To Bangkok Conference programme

65th IFLA Council and General

Bangkok, Thailand,
August 20 - August 28, 1999

Code Number: 094-102-E
Division Number: VI
Professional Group: Preservation and Conservation
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 102
Simultaneous Interpretation:   No

The role of the joint IFLA/ICA Committee on Preservation on the preservation and conservation of library and archival materials in Africa

Gabriel Alegbeleye
University of Ibadan
Ibadan, Nigeria


It would appear that the problem of preserving library and archival materials is much more daunting on the African continent than in any other one. Reports of consultants, major studies and surveys as well as personal observations of concerned professional librarians, for example, confirm in unequivocal terms that the preservation and conservation scene in Africa is in a dismal state. A summary of the dismal state of the condition of libraries and archives given by Mazikana1 may be worth repeating.

  1. Many of the buildings housing library and archival materials are grossly inappropriate as they were built at a time when preservation and conservation was not an important issue.

  2. Most of the library and archival buildings were not equipped with air conditioners that could stabilize the temperature and humidity of the storage areas. Many air conditioners where these were present were inoperable.

  3. Less than half of the libraries surveyed perform any house keeping tasks such as cleaning, shelving, dusting etc.

  4. The few libraries and archives with facilities for bindery and repair lack qualified staff and equipment that are in good working condition.

The picture becomes even more depressing when a country by country description is given.

It may be appropriate to review the typology of constraints to preservation and conservation on the continent.

Typology of constraints to the preservation and conservation of library and archival materials in Africa.

The major constraints faced by librarians and archivists regarding preservation in Africa are not only due to the crushing poverty of the continent but also to the cultural, political, economic and legal environment in which these professionals live.

Poverty:- Despite of the consolation drawn from the economic analysis of the continent to the effect that it is not inherently poor, the truth is that many African governments are in debt. Nigeria's external debt for example is to the tune of about 30 billion dollars! African governments have often been forced to sacrifice the well-being of their citizens including of course the preservation of cultural heritage to servicing debts brought about mostly through gross mismanagement of resources. Little wonder that Africa is fast becoming a book less continent! It may be conjectured that a continent that gives scant attention to the acquisition of books is likely to pay even much less to their preservation.

An important cultural factor which has slowed down preservation and conservation efforts in Africa as a whole is what Mazrui2 has rightly referred to as 'primordial surpluss'. By this Mazrui means the surplus of excessive attachment to oralcy. Perhaps because Africa is profoundly an oral/aural continent, it is not surprising that it has tended to neglect its written documentation. Written documentation in the form of books and journals arrived to a great part of the continent in the wake of colonial rule. Libraries and documentation centres are less than two hundred years old in many parts of the continent. Even when libraries arrived, they were mostly specialized ones providing information for specialized groups - lawyers, doctors, geologists agriculturists etc. Public libraries of course came much later into most parts of the continent. In Nigeria, for example, whereas one of the first libraries was the High Court Library established in 1900, the first public library was not established until 1946!

Perhaps one other cultural factor is ignorance on the part of many librarians. This is probably due to the fact that except when there is a disaster which can wipe out a whole collection most agents of deterioration are insidious. This may be a reflection of the type of training and education which librarians have. Until quite recently, most librarians go through an education and training programme that does not stress the need to preserve library materials. Emphasis is often laid on the use of these materials. This is why the Joint IFLA/ICA committee on Preservation and Conservation for Africa JICPA decided to take the bull by the horns by introducing a preservation and conservation curriculum for library and Archival Schools in Africa. This, in fact, is one of the achievements of JICPA.

But there are economic and political constraints as well. Firstly it is highly unlikely that attention can be directed to preservation under a condition of instability. Could we talk of preservation in the thickets of armed struggle? Even cultural heritage becomes targets for destruction during armed struggle as the sobering situation in Rwanda recounted by Mukimbiri3 and my good friend Kiyimba4 portrays. The armed conflict in Rwanda led to the loss of 50% of the collections of the university library. The case of Mr Kiyimba's library in Rwanda is a classical example of the type of destruction that could be visited on a library in war time. According to Mr Kiyimba, more than thirty man year's work in his library was lost. All that is left of his library was a few reference books (no dictionaries) a few reports, some furniture and metal book shelves. Of the national library, national archives and museum only fragments were left. In an oral/aural society like Rwanda a great deal of the old people died and with them a great deal of the oral tradition! In the Nigerian Civil-War which raged between 1967-70 and in which a university library and several public libraries where destroyed, large sums of money had to be spent on the replacement of books either burnt or looted. In all these cases, it is doubtful if the materials were the target of destruction. It would appear that they unwittingly fell casualty to the carnage that occurred. However, in isolated cases, the materials could actually be the target as the example of the Records Office of Bo in Sierra Leone illustrates. Here aggrieved citizens swooped on the records office and destroyed it. The target was the government but since the records were government property they were attacked. Of course, this is a subject that should be studied much more closely. There are of course legal problems. Could we realistically talk of copyright laws in a bookless society or insist on the doctrine of 'fair use' when books are in short supply! The truth of the matter is that the economic predicament of many libraries especially at the tertiary levels force them to make extensive photocopy of materials far beyond the stipulation of copyright laws. This, of course, is even where photocopy machines are available and where there is a regular supply of electricity to power the machines! In many parts of the continent, electricity supply is often erratic. But perhaps even far worse is the fact that scarcity of books promote the overuse of the few that are available with the consequent wear and tear that this entails. It is against the background of these constraints as well as the dismal state of the condition of materials in libraries in Africa that the epoch-making Pan-African Conference on preservation and conservation held in Nairobi Kenya in 1993 should viewed. One of the by-products of this landmark conference was the establishment of the Joint IFLA/ICA committee on Preservation in Africa (JICPA). The goal of the Joint IFLA/ICA committee on preservation is to promote the preservation and conservation of library and archival materials in Africa. One of the strengths of the committee is that it relies heavily on the support of both IFLA and ICA. An attempt was also made to ensure that the composition of the committee members reflects the linguistic diversity of the continent. Hence, the chairman of the committee, Mr Afanou is from Togo (French speaking) The Secretary, Mr Musila Musembi and the Secretariat are in Nairobi (English speaking) and the co-ordinator of training Prof. Bunmi Alegbeleye is from Nigeria. The terms of reference of JICPA are broadly to monitor and co-ordinate the implementation of the Nairobi Conference resolutions some of which are:

  1. to create awareness about preservation and conservation in Africa.

  2. to co-ordinate preservation programmes in Africa, and

  3. to identify training needs.

In order to ensure that the effect of JICPA was uniformly felt throughout Africa, it was decided to promote the establishment of national committees. A number of African countries now have preservation committees. At least at the last count, thirteen countries report having preservation committees. Some of these countries include: South Africa, Botswana, Kenya, Nigeria etc. It is expected that more countries, where there are no-existing agencies to fulfill similar functions, will establish preservation committees. The objectives of the National Committee are:

  1. To mobilize professionals in library, archival and related disciplines to undertake awareness raising at institutional and national levels. The Committee must spearhead awareness raising campaigns on the importance of preserving a nation's documentary heritage and publicizing preservation programmes.

  2. To support educational and training programmes; and provide formal and informal training of every day care of library and archival materials regardless of carrier or format.

  3. To stimulate the establishment of co-ordinated policies and guidelines together legal frame work through existing government structures.

  4. To identify documentary heritage of importance which may require immediate intervention to preserve it in its original form or in a different format.

  5. To, where appropriate, co-operate with UNESCO Memory of the World Programme in identification of documentary heritage of world or regional and national significance; and the inclusion of selected materials in the appropriate world, regional and national registers.

  6. To play a leading role in the development of disaster plans in all major libraries, archival institutions or museums as well as the implementation of other recommendations of the Nairobi conference.

  7. To co-operate with museum personnel and organizations concerned with preservation and conservation of national heritage. One area in which JICPA has been most successful and effective is in the area, of education and training. First of all, in early 1998, a meeting of experts drawn from library schools on the continent produced a curriculum on preservation and conservation to be used in various schools in Africa.

This, it is hoped, will help counter apathy and ignorance to which we have earlier made reference. Secondly, a series of workshops supported by international organizations including UNESCO, BIEF and ALP have been held in different parts of Africa. The objectives of the various workshops have all being concerned with awareness raising about preservation and imparting practical knowledge to archivists and librarians. Workshops have so far been held in Senegal, South Africa. Tunis and Zimbabwe. A typical example of the kind of workshops referred to is the one held in Zimbabwe in January 1999. The workshop lasted for five days. The first day was devoted to explaining why library materials deteriorate. On the second day, participants were instructed on how to ensure proper storage for materials. While due attention was given to reformatting, disaster management etc., at least two days were devoted to the making of protective enclosures. Quite a number of experts in Africa believe that in order to prolong the life of library and archival materials on the continent, it is more sensible to lay emphasis on proper storage of materials. This is why this aspect has come for special mention at the workshops. For now, it is more difficult to convince many library directors to spend part of their limited budget on library preservation projects such as reformatting or even mass deacidification which are expensive. But there are not-two-expensive aspects of preservation such as the every-day care of materials about which Rosenberg wrote, which can be implemented by libraries without undue stress. It is of interest, to note that once librarians in Africa are presented with the whole range of preservation activities that are possible, they are likely to be more willing to implement activities that are within their means ranging from the minimum (small programme) to the optimal (full scale programme).

Fig.1 Possible levels of Preservation and Conservation Programme in Libraries and Archives.

Fig.1 is unavailable. Please contact author.

Briefly, at the minimum level, the library should have good procedures for cleaning and shelving of books and what Rosenberg5 calls every-day book care. Quite a number of libraries particularly, the more specialized libraries with trained librarians have the minimal or small programme - Training in preservation is essential to get libraries to be involved even at the small programme level. The middle-level, encompass programmes at the minimum or small programme level, the library should have a preventive preservation programme. Again, quite a number of specialized libraries particularly those belonging to Non-governmental organizations (N.G.O) and a few universities and polytechnics belong to this group. At this level there is probably a staff who performs preservation tasks and there is small budget for preservation. The maximum level is where the library engages in all the programmes at the minimum and middling levels and in addition is involved in disaster management, deacidification and reformatting. Very few libraries in Africa are in this category. Libraries in this category are probably to be found in South Africa. Only libraries in South Africa can be said as at now, to have disaster management programmes. It is hoped that as more information is available to national committees many more libraries will have disaster management programmes.

As can be inferred from this paper, JICPA has brought positive change to preservation and conservation on the continent. More information is now available to librarians through such means as newsletters e.g. the Preservation News circulated by the IFLA PAC centre in Paris. All these have brought home to many who thought that the situation on the continent is hopeless.

But problems abound. There is the need to increase government involvement in preservation and conservation so that more funds can be made available for preservation. This can only come about if the leadership in the library field is convinced about the importance of preservation. There is also the need to strengthen the nascent national preservation committees. There is need to increase the number of conservators so that they can effect positive changes in the preservation field. For this to be achievable, there is need to make the curriculum of our library schools more plastic so as to accommodate new subjects like preservation and conservation. A way forward is the wider use of the recently published curriculum on preservation drawn up by experts from Africa. There is also a need for greater co-operation among libraries in the field of preservation. Funds should be made available to enable a conservator to move from one library to another less developed to advise and assist. There should also be inter regional and international co-operation. among libraries on the continent in order to promote preservation and conservation. Still talking about international co-operation, special mention should be made of the key role played by the ALP in the provision of needed funds, UNESCO, and the PAC centre in Paris whose director has provided logistical support for JICPA. It is expected JICPA will in future be able to co-operate with other similar organizations outside Africa for the preservation of library and archival materials in our libraries and archives.


1. Mazikana, P. (1993) An Evaluaton of Preservation and Conservation Programme and Facilities in Africa. Paper delivered at the Pan-African Conference on Preservation and Conservation of Library and Archival Materials held in Nairobi, Kenya June 21-25.

2. Mazrui, A African Archives and Oral Tradition, (1985) The Courier, February p.13.

3. Mukimbiri, N. quoted in Mr Justin Kiyimba's letter to Mrs Birgitta Berghal, Uppsala University.

4. Kiyimba, Justin's letter to Mrs Birgitta Bergdhal.

5. Rosenberg, Diana (1993) Everyday care of Books in Libraries. Paper delivered at the Pan-African Conference on the Preservation and Conservation of Library and Archival Materials held on Nairobi, Kenya June 21-25.


Latest Revision: June 16, 1999 Copyright © 1995-2000
International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions