SCOLMA (the UK Libraries and Archives Group on Africa) BLACK LIVES MATTER STATEMENT

SCOLMA (the UK Libraries and Archives Group on Africa)


Agreed at the SCOLMA AGM, 8.6.20

We in SCOLMA (the UK Libraries and Archives Group on Africa) wish to add our voice to those condemning the recent death of George Floyd in police custody in the US.

Systemic racism is far from being a US problem. Black people living in the UK are more likely to suffer death in police custody than white people, and they experience discrimination in education, employment, health care and the judicial system. Black children are twice as likely to live in poverty as white children. As individuals, we can all seek to understand, acknowledge and reflect on these issues, and to call out racism wherever it occurs.

SCOLMA stands in solidarity with library and archives staff and users, and the communities with whom we work, who experience discrimination based solely on their race or ethnicity. As librarians and archivists in African Studies, we are particularly aware of the past violence and racism that has led to the structural inequalities of today. Many of us are responsible for collections that have their roots in the history of British relations with Africa, including the slave trade, conquest and colonisation. We are also aware of the white-dominated nature of the library and archives professions in the UK and that the workforce lacks diversity (in 2015, 96.7% of professionals working in public, academic and commercial libraries identified as white – see SCONUL Research project BAME staff experiences of academic libraries).

As SCOLMA and as individual professionals, we regularly work with African colleagues and engage in activities to foreground African voices. We commit to building on these efforts in the following ways:

  • working to make our collections as widely available as possible;
  • seeking to engage meaningfully with the decolonisation movement;
  • supporting efforts to make the UK library and archive professions, as well as SCOLMA itself, more diverse;
  • and pointing to relevant resources on our website.

Change is long overdue, and we commit ourselves to the fight to dismantle racism in all areas of society.



Oun a ní la ? gbé l’árug? 

(It is the heritage we have that we must celebrate):

 Publishing, Collecting and Accessing African-language Materials 

Postponed from: 8 June 2020

It is with great regret that SCOLMA has decided to postpone its annual conference, which was due to be held on 8 June 2020, owing to the coronavirus pandemic.

We’d like to thank everyone who has shown interest in and support for the conference. We hope to see you all next year instead, and are looking at rescheduling the conference (on the same theme) for summer 2021. We’ll send out more information in due course.

In the meantime, stay safe and well everybody.

Ways to stay in touch with us:

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Call for Papers – ‘Publishing, Collecting and Accessing African-language Materials’

SCOLMA Annual Conference 2020

Oun a ní la ? gbé l’árug?[1] 

(It is the heritage we have that we must celebrate :

Publishing, Collecting and Accessing African-language Materials


Monday 8 June 2020

SALT, Paul Webley Wing, SOAS, University of London



The question of writing in African languages has frequently been a matter of debate and contestation in recent times. Today, English, French and Portuguese remain the official languages of most countries of Africa south of the Sahara, and most publishing appears in these languages.

Nevertheless, books and newspapers continue to be published in many African languages, albeit often in small numbers. New initiatives such as the Jalada Translation Project are actively promoting writing in this area. African languages also flourish in many other formats – and have done so historically – whether (for example) as manuscripts, ephemera, or audio-visual forms from cassette tapes and radio programmes to YouTube films.

This conference will take up these issues by looking at producing, collecting, accessing, researching and preserving African-language materials.

One set of concerns for the conference are those relating to production and publishing. What is the current state of publishing of African-language books, periodicals and newspapers – and what is its history? What other formats have been vibrant in the past, and what forms are emerging today?

More generally, what forms of creativity and innovation are encouraging the production of works in African languages, and which have been successful in doing so in the past? What is the role of government policy, and of school and university education, in encouraging writing and creativity in these languages? What can we learn from the creation of literary and other works in major languages such as KiSwahili or Yoruba? For endangered languages, does publication or the creation of new work play a role in revival?

Related to this is the question of new technology, which provides new platforms and possibilities of connection, as well as enabling written communication in non-roman scripts. Is this technology making a significant difference to the future of publishing and the making of creative works in African languages? Is it a game-changer?

Libraries and archives (in Africa, the UK and internationally) tasked with collecting and preserving African-language materials are faced with specific challenges – not least the multifariousness of formats, and the fragmented nature of the book trade in Africa. What sort of historic collections do these institutions have? How and to what extent are they currently collecting printed books, and material in other formats, in African languages? How are they responding to emerging formats? How are they dealing with the linguistic challenges of processing such material? In addition to academic and national libraries, do school, college and public libraries have significant collections in this area?

Access to these collections is crucial, in particular, for mother-tongue speakers of these languages. How do potential users find out what we have, and how do libraries and archives enable access to these collections? Do current cataloguing standards and practices offer sufficient support to catalogue users? How are these collections being used by language learners and non-mother tongue speakers? How are libraries and archives outside Africa working to engage diaspora audiences, and partner with African colleagues? How are libraries in Africa promoting these materials and encouraging their use? What is happening in the field of digitisation?



Papers covering all African languages (including Afrikaans and Pidgins), as well as Arabic, are within scope for this conference. Papers looking at the issues above in relation to non-roman scripts are also welcomed.

Papers should relate to questions of publishing/producing works in African languages, and collecting, accessing, researching and preserving such materials. We are not looking for papers on more general themes relating to African languages.


How to submit an abstract for consideration

Librarians, archivists, researchers, teachers and students are invited to submit abstracts on these themes of up to 350 words, together with a short bio (one paragraph only), including current affiliation (where applicable). Please send this information to Sarah Rhodes ( by 3 February 2020.


We regret that SCOLMA is not able to offer funding for travel expenses.


[1] Yoruba proverb

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