These pages offer occasional news items of interest to book industry practitioners, especially the book professions in Africa.
- The Los Angeles Review of Books has published an extensive and hugely insightful Interview with Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, the world-renowned Kenyan writer, scholar, and social activist. In conversation with Nanda Dyssou, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o talks about his role in the writing community, his publishing history and successes, his readership, what he considers to be his most important accomplishments, and his strong views on writing and publishing in African languages. “The problem is that, unfortunately, those that write in African languages remain invisible, their works are hardly ever reviewed or translated. Publishing venues are limited” he says, and getting published “is one of the most infuriating challenges of writing in African languages. There are hardly any publishing houses devoted to African languages. So writers in African languages are writing against great odds: no publishing houses, no state support, and with national and international forces aligned against them. Prizes are often given to promote African literature but on the condition that the writers don’t write in African languages.”
- In response to a question where he thinks the future of reading and writing is headed, Ngũgĩ says “the new technologies, electronic media, open vast possibilities. In Globalectics, I have argued that orality is coming back. I call it cyberorality. Look at the language of the Internet: chat rooms, Facebook friends, communities, et cetera. Social media is the electronic version of the old rumour mill writ large. We used to call it bush telegraph — that is, before the Internet. Maybe we should now call it ‘electronic rumour.’ But for Africa, the real frontier is writing and publishing in African languages.”
- The African University Press, an impressive new study by François van Schalkwyk and Thierry M. Luescher of the Cape Town-based African Minds Project and funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, provides an overview of the current African university press landscape, and examines the opportunities and constraints faced by university presses in Africa. While there are new and enabling conditions and opportunities for university presses to increase production and to widen distribution, the authors ask: How can African university presses make the most of these opportunities? Most likely, they believe, in deploying the technological changes in production, distribution and marketing made possible by digitisation and network effects of the Internet. The study is based on a baseline survey of university presses in Africa, in-depth case studies of selected university presses, and an analysis of the publishing choices made by African academics.
Overall the study presents a rather dismal picture of university presses in Africa today. The authors found that “university presses in Africa are not yet making use of technological advances to reconfigure their production, distribution and marketing processes, nor are they experimenting with new publishing models such as open access. While case studies of selected university presses surfaced unsurprising challenges (such as scarce resources and limited capacity), they also show that university presses in Africa are constrained by institutional logics that are holding them back from experimenting with new ways of doing things.” The report concludes with a set of pragmatic recommendations: “recommendations that are simultaneously attuned to the opportunities and to the realities of African university presses as revealed by the research conducted.”
As part of this project, African Minds have also created an interactive map of university presses in Africa that is continuously being updated. Users can either view the map by applying any of a number of filters, or download the full dataset at https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1URiTsMVkeM12DlZT7IfxqcYgVEt0hohIi4xIy983FI8/edit#gid=0.
- An Interview with Hans Zell in conversation with Olatoun Williams of Borders—Literature for all Nations, has been published on this new Nigerian forum and book review media platform. In this wide-ranging two-part interview he talks about his engagement with publishing and the book in Africa over a period of over four decades, as well as answering questions about the Hans Zell Publishers imprint, author-publisher interaction in Africa, the new boom in self-publishing, and conveys his views about the potential negative consequences on the African book industries of the activities of overseas book donation programmes, shipping millions of free books to Africa every year. Borders intend to publish a range of further interviews with book industry professionals in the months ahead.
- In an interview with Henrick Alfredsson, Her Mission: To Bring African Books to a Global Audience, Mary Jay, former CEO of African Books Collective Ltd, reflects on the prospects and challenges of the African book industries, and her involvement over the past three decades promoting the works of African authors and academic scholars to a global audience. Surprisingly, Mary Jay says, “few are aware of the importance of encouraging and supporting African publishing, even in the academic world of the Global North. Today in many UK universities, and probably elsewhere in the world as well, you can take a degree or master’s in African Studies without reading a single book published in Africa.” In many African countries and regions, like so many other sectors, the book market has also been infected by corruption and unfair competition, in some cases caused by big and powerful actors from the Global North, she says. Meantime overseas book donation programmes on a massive scale can have unintentionally negative consequences. In some cases when book aid organizations send large quantities of books, often textbooks for educational purposes, they unwittingly kill the market for regional or local publishers and writers. The donated books are almost without exception published outside of Africa, and written by non-African authors: “It is vital that African children have access to books published from within their own cultures, books that relate to their own lives and experiences. It would be preferable for Northern donations to be in the form of budgets for purchase, rather than the expense of shipping container-loads of books, which are too often simply library or publisher overstocks.”
- A new report commissioned by Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) – Working Group on Books and Learning Materials, A Comparative Study on the Role of Digital Media and Print Media in Enhancing Literacy and Reading Culture in Africa, examines the general context of literacy and reading culture in Africa, focusing on the contribution of printed books and digital materials. It explores the challenges of digital media and suggests interventions “that optimize reading of printed books and digital content to improve literacy for a better reading culture in Africa both in international and national languages.” The research draws attention to the fact that, as the number of printed books is expanding to reach a variety of audiences – covering a wide range of topics and knowledge - electronic publishing is equally expanding rapidly: “The two options are now available to publishers and the choice of a publisher will depend on a number of factors such as the cost, objectives and the prevailing circumstances.” The study notes that “numerous reports indicate that many pupils and students go through primary and secondary school without acquiring sufficient reading skills.” It recommends that “since technology will not replace reading in the near future, it is imperative to use the technology to enhance it. Reading on paper will always remain important and enjoyable and this means that the printed book will never lose its value and importance.”
- A paper by Eve Gray A Critique of Research Dissemination Policy in South Africa, with Recommendations for Policy Reform reviews the policy context for research publication in South Africa, using South Africa’s relatively privileged status as an African country and its elaborated research policy environment as a testing ground for what might be achieved – or what needs to be avoided - in other African countries. The policy review takes place “against the background of a global scholarly publishing system in which African knowledge is seriously marginalised and is poorly represented in global scholarly output. Scholarly publishing policies that drive the dissemination of African research into international journals that are not accessible in developing countries because of their high cost effectively inhibit the ability of relevant research to impact on the overwhelming development challenges that face the continent.”
The paper charts “a set of conflicting expectations of academic institutions and their values in research policies. On the one hand, the government has an expectation of social and development impact from the university in return for its investment in research funding. At the same time, there are increased pressures towards privatisation of the universities, with a decline in traditional financial support from the state, and, linked to this, pressure on the university to demonstrate results in the form of greater Intellectual Property Rights enclosure. Thus, while South African research and innovation policies stress the need for development impact, performance measures focus on patents or publication in internationally-indexed journals, effectively inhibiting the effective dissemination of research and thus greatly retarding its potential development impact.”
The paper concludes with a set of recommendations at international, national and institutional levels for addressing this situation, arguing that open access, and collaborative approaches, could bring substantially increased impact for African research, with marked cost-benefit advantages.
- A Case for National Book and Reading Policies for Africa in the Advent of the Digital Revolution, by Lily Nyariki and Lisa Krolak is an advocacy policy paper prepared for the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) – Working Group on Books and Learning Materials, and published by the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning. UNESCO and other organizations have repeatedly stressed over the years that, in order to ensure that book development is integrated in overall national development planning, the establishment of national book development councils is an essential requirement to guide national book policies; to serve as an intermediary between the book professions and the government, and to provide coordination between the different players in the book sector. As the authors of this policy paper note, national book development councils (or similar bodies) exist, or have existed, in several African countries, albeit “with varying degree of success”. Several of them are currently dormant, or have shut down operations altogether. It could be argued that the main reason for this is that their funding has always been based either on government support, or dependent on continuing financial aid from donor organizations; and when the funding came to an end activities ceased. This advocacy document is a plea for their revival. In their conclusions the authors state “national book and reading policies are at the core of educational quality, literacy development, lifelong learning, and sustainable development. Africa needs to position itself to achieve the UN SDGs, and its own set of targets as stipulated in Agenda 2063 and CESA 2016-25 if it is to catch up with the rest of the world. All African countries owe it to themselves to formulate their book and reading policies and enact National Book and Reading Councils.”
- Thinking Twice Before Donating: “We Don’t Want Other People’s Rubbish” is an article by American librarian Mary Grace Flaherty in the Summer 2017 issue of the IFLA Library Services to Multicultural Populations Newsletter. While spending some time in Malawi on a Fulbright scholarship award she had opportunities to visit all types of libraries in that country: academic, school, and community based. During her visit she found that many of the books in collections were donations shipped by book aid organizations, but did not fit the scope of any of the collections and were discards from libraries overseas. “While the gifts signify a lovely spirit of generosity and willingness to help, it takes a considerable amount of resources to ship them, such as the staff time to get them ready for shipping, the physical resources (boxes, labels), and, of course, the shipping itself. Whether they come by land, sea or air, books are heavy and expensive to transport.” As the headmaster in one of the schools she visited aptly put it, “It’s nice they send the stuff, but we don’t want other people’s rubbish.” Flaherty goes on to suggest: “Don’t put anything in a box to send overseas that has been withdrawn because it can’t withstand circulation and don’t put anything in a box to send overseas because it is outdated. When the need for generosity arises, we should consider working directly with individual libraries in a deliberate and measured way to send new or lightly used items by using wish lists, or sending a donation so they can procure for themselves what they deem as appropriate. Rather than using funds and resources to ship old books around the globe to foist upon under-resourced libraries, we should be supporting local and regional authors and publishers through organizations such as the African Books Collective (ABC), a great resource for procuring books by local and regional authors.”
- A blog post in The Economist From Abuja to the Arctic. Norway and Nigeria’s Unlikely Bibliophilic Collaboration reports that the National Libraries of Nigeria and Norway are to sign a letter of intent concerning the digitization of books in Nigerian languages by the National Library of Norway. “Our aim is to give access to digitized books in indigenous Nigerian languages to Nigerians living in Norway through our multilingual library. We also hope that this project becomes a model for our cooperation with other countries, and the success of more African languages” Jens-Petter Kjemprud, Norway’s ambassador to Nigeria is quoted as saying. The agreement will cover literature written in the Nigerian languages of Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo (although the first two can be described as cross-border languages, also spoken in some other countries of the West African region). The costs will be shared, with the library in Nigeria responsible for collecting and making available copies of the material to be digitized, while the Norwegians will be responsible for undertaking the digitization. Questions relating to formats and access (and rights issues?) will presumably be answered in the months ahead, and this is certainly a most welcome development and might well serve as a pilot for similar collaborative ventures with African national libraries elsewhere with significant holdings in African language materials.
- Publishers Weekly, in a story by Ed Nawotka, Cassava Republic Brings Africa to America reports about the new US distribution arrangements of Nigerian publisher Cassava Republic, having earlier launched a UK operation in April of 2016. Asked why she decided to expand to the US, Bakare-Yusuf said that it was partially about ‘legitimacy’ and would play well at home, giving her publishing a house an edge in attracting talent. But, she added, there’s something more at stake than mere pragmatism: “Our aim is to show the broader reading audience that there is more to African life and literature than what you might read in the news. We know that many Americans will pick up these books out of curiosity at first. But they will find stories that they themselves can relate to and characters they can identify with.”