Notice Board

SCOLMA AGM Chair’s Report 2021

14 June 2021
Chair’s Report 2020/21


The pandemic

This time last year, we were still in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, somewhat in shock and struggling with the mechanics of remote working. A year on, libraries and archives are, generally speaking, better equipped to deal with the challenges of the pandemic.
After gradual opening in the summer, England moved into an increasingly restrictive tier system in the autumn, and then a strict lockdown in January (with slightly different measures in the other countries of the UK). In the new lockdown many university libraries managed to stay open, at least to offer a click and collect service, although the British Library’s Reading Rooms had to close. Opening up began in April, and library reading rooms and exhibition spaces are now open, although covid measures mean that pre-booking is often required, and social distancing and masks remain compulsory. Most SCOLMA committee members are currently working in a hybrid way, partly on-site and partly from home. Most workplace meetings continue via MS Teams or Zoom.

The severity of the UK pandemic should be remembered. According to government figures (as at 28.5.21), 152,289 people have died in the UK with covid-19 on the death certificate. No one has been left untouched by this. The consequences of lockdown are also severe. Among other things, students – a large part of our user base – have had a miserable time over the past academic year, and researchers frequently struggle to get access to the material they need. As librarians and archivists, we are making every effort to provide as much access as we can.
While there is now some hope in the UK and other high-income countries of bringing covid-19 under control through vaccination, the vaccination roll-out to Africa has been pitifully slow and many of our colleagues on the continent are still unprotected. Overall, however, the pandemic has not been as severe in Africa as predicted. Cases have been highest in South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, Ethiopia and Egypt. That said, there have been further waves elsewhere this year, including in East Africa, and cases in Namibia and Botswana are rising alarmingly at the time of writing. It is to be hoped that this will be brought swiftly under control through a more effective distribution of vaccines to the continent.

Committee meetings and seminars

The SCOLMA committee met via Zoom on 11.11.20 and 24.2.21, and a further General Meeting was held on 30.4.21. There were no seminars this year.

The future of African Research and Documentation

Issues 137 and 138 were published during the year. Congratulations and thanks go to the journal editor, Terry Barringer, and her team (especially John McIlwaine, Lucy McCann and Barbara Spina) for keeping the journal going through the pandemic. The continued good work of our printers, The Printing Place, now Simmons Printers, should also be noted.

A major task of the year was to review the future of ARD and agree a journal merger with Africa Bibliography, published by the International African Institute and Cambridge University Press. The new journal will be called Africa Bibliography, Research and Documentation (ABRD). It will be published annually, with the SCOLMA editor, Terry Barringer, being responsible for article content, and IAI continuing to produce the bibliographic database. SCOLMA will benefit from this arrangement in numerous ways, including much wider distribution of the journal, including in Africa; some authors able to publish open access; a break-even model for SCOLMA, ending the deficit we currently have on ARD; and digitisation of the entire back run.

A special General Meeting on 30.4.21 agreed these changes, and the minutes of this meeting give further information. Since the meeting we have continued to work on the contract, which is now almost ready to be signed.

I would like to thank Stephanie Kitchen of IAI for suggesting and making possible this new arrangement; Sally Hoffmann of CUP for her helpfulness and support; and the SCOLMA working group and other friends who have worked hard on this, especially Terry Barringer, Pat Hewitt, Lucy McCann, John McIlwaine, John Pinfold, Sarah Rhodes and Barbara Spina.

Finance, membership and changes to SCOLMA’s constitution

In tandem with the journal merger, we are proposing to move to a new form of membership. Individual membership will be available on a new basis, and subscribers will have access to ABRD at concessionary rates offered by CUP. Institutional membership will be discontinued.

These changes, including the necessary amendments to SCOLMA’s constitution, will be proposed at today’s AGM (for more information see the relevant AGM documentation).

The new membership scheme will initiate a new, if probably modest, income stream for SCOLMA, which, along with the fact that the journal will no longer be in deficit, will put us on a sounder financial path.

Thanks go especially to our Treasurer, Pat Hewitt, who has managed our finances admirably and wrestled heroically with the bureaucracy of PayPal. Thanks also to Peter Westley for continuing as auditor.

2021 conference

This year’s conference (held on 14.6.21) has moved online, with the same theme, and largely the same speakers, as planned for last year’s cancelled conference. The title is:

‘Oun a ní la ? gbé l’árug? (It is the heritage we have that we must celebrate): Publishing, Collecting and Accessing African-language Materials
The organising group consisted of Terry Barringer, Pat Hewitt, Alison Metcalfe, Sarah Rhodes, Dawn Wright and me, and the programme covers a number of languages from across Africa. Our keynote speaker is Munyao Kilolo of the Ngugi wa Thiong’o Foundation and Jalada Africa. Papers are intended to be published in the first issue of ABRD.

One of the benefits of going online is that speakers from outside the UK are able to participate without travelling, and this year we will be joined by colleagues based in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and the US. The technology has, however, raised particular challenges, and we are especially grateful to Jenni Skinner and Charles Fonge for the huge effort they have put into producing the event via MS Teams Live.

Web presence

Our web manager, Jenni Skinner, continued to update our current website and to prepare the planned migration to a new web platform. We continue to Tweet regularly, using a rota of SCOLMA members to try to keep up a flow of information. We now have 622 followers.
Many thanks to Jenni for her hard work on the website and all things technical, and to Charles Fonge for ably assisting her.

Mailing list

We continued to promote our Jiscmail mailing list, LIS-SCOLMA, which we are using to publicise SCOLMA activities to our friends and supporters and which now has 100 subscribers. Anyone interested in keeping up-to-date with our work is warmly encouraged to subscribe to this list.

European Librarians in African Studies (ELIAS)

ELIAS has not met since our last AGM, but hopes to convene in Bordeaux in October. Thanks are due to Dawn Wright for her work on the ELIAS steering group.

African Studies Association (UK)

Thanks to Stephanie Kitchen for continuing to represent ASAUK on the committee, and to Lucy McCann for attending meetings of the ASAUK Council on behalf of SCOLMA.

Policy issues

Black Lives Matter
At our last AGM we passed a motion supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, and committing SCOLMA and its members to further action. During the year, SCOLMA members have been active in a variety of decolonising movements in their own institutions. We will be returning to the issue in the coming year to explore further action by SCOLMA as a body.

Planned closure of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London
SCOLMA responded to the call for consultation on the threatened closure of this important research and teaching institute with a letter to the Vice-Chancellor of the University of London (31.10.20), focusing in particular on the archive and library collections. The outcry resulting from the closure plans led to the creation of a commission to consider the future of the institute.

Fire at the Jagger Library, University of Cape Town
On 24 April SCOLMA made a statement of support and sympathy after fire ripped through the UCT campus and the Jagger Library was burned down, along with a large part of their collections. We are glad to hear that many of the most valuable archives were saved by the library’s emergency measures, although many of these items sustained water damage.

We are continuing to discuss what practical support we can offer to UCT Libraries, in cooperation with other UK efforts.

SCOLMA statements on these matters are available on our website.

Thank you and committee

The committee has continued to work as a strong team, and to take major steps forward in safeguarding the future of SCOLMA and its journal, despite the pandemic.

This year we are sorry to say goodbye to our Bristol Record Office colleagues, Nicky Sugar and Jayne Pucknell, and thank them very much for their contributions to the committee and for sharing the cutting-edge decolonising work they have been doing with their collections relating to the British empire.

We have also been pleased to renew our connection with the University of Birmingham library and archives, with Ivana Frlan attending some meetings as an observer.

Many thanks are due to the whole SCOLMA committee, and, in addition to those mentioned individually above, I would like to take this opportunity to thank especially Sarah Rhodes for all her hard work as SCOLMA Secretary. Her contribution has been essential support for me as Chair.
I am privileged to have been SCOLMA Chair for a second term of two years, during a particularly challenging period. This has also been a time when ways of thinking and acting have been questioned in new ways, and I think we have all found that there have been many positives in rising to these new challenges.

I am very grateful for Lucy McCann for agreeing to become Chair, also for a second time. I wish her all the best in the role, and am very glad to be leaving SCOLMA in safe hands. I’m also pleased that I will be continuing on the committee as Development Officer (subject to election at the AGM).

Marion Wallace, Chair, SCOLMA

SCOLMA AGM 2021 Agenda

SCOLMA (UK Libraries and Archives Group on Africa)



The 2021 AGM will be held virtually on Monday, 14th June at 4.15 pm.

If you wish to attend, please notify Sarah Rhodes, SCOLMA Secretary  by Friday 11th June.

Further papers will be sent to those attending the meeting, or requesting them.




1. Approval of the Minutes of the 58th AGM

2. Report of the Chair 2020/21 (Marion Wallace)

3. Financial Statement and approval of the audited accounts (Patricia Hewitt)

  • Appointment of auditor

4. Appointment of Officers and Committee

The following nominations have been received:

  • Chair – Lucy McCann (Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford)
  • Secretary – Sarah Rhodes (Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford)
  • Treasurer – Patricia Hewitt (Robert Sainsbury Library, University of East Anglia)
  • Editor – Terry Barringer (Individual member)
  • Web Manager – Jenni Skinner (Centre of African Studies Library, University of Cambridge) Programme Secretary – Daniel Gilfoyle (The National Archives)
  • Development Officer – Marion Wallace (British Library)


  • Julio Cazzasa – (Senate House Library, University of London) – elected 2020
  • Alison Metcalfe – (The National Library of Scotland) – elected 2019
  • Barbara Spina – (Individual member)
  • Dawn Wright – (SOAS Library, University of London) – elected 2020


  • Charles Fonge – (Borthwick Institute Archives, University of York)
  • Katie Sambrook – (Kings College London)

ASAUK representative:

  • Stephanie Kitchen – (International African Institute)

5. Approval of the Minutes of the General Meeting of 30 April 2021; discussion of the merger of African Research and Documentation and Africa Bibliography.

6. New SCOLMA membership scheme and related changes to SCOLMA constitution

7. Any Other Business

SCOLMA AGM Chair’s Report 2020

SCOLMA AGM 8 June 2020

Chair’s Report 2019/20

2020 has been a momentous year so far. I start my report by reflecting on major current events and their consequences for SCOLMA members.


The COVID-19 pandemic

The year 2020 has so far been dominated by the coronavirus pandemic. Although the UK lockdown was not announced until 23 March, most libraries and archives effectively shut down in the previous week. It has been a very demanding time. Library and archives staff have had to convert very swiftly to working from home, sometimes without access to appropriate devices or to electronic files held on central servers. Remote meetings have become the norm, with Zoom and Microsoft Teams the favoured options. Generally speaking, there has been little or no access to physical collections between lockdown and the time of writing, and other routine activities, such as book acquisitions, have been partially or wholly suspended. Librarians have had to scramble to support students finishing courses and dissertations with electronic resources only, and to assist academics converting their teaching to online-only.

For SCOLMA, the main consequence of the pandemic was the cancellation of our conference, scheduled for 8 June, on African-language publishing and collecting. We also initially cancelled our committee meeting on 20 April, but in the end went ahead on Zoom. At that point we were only about a month into working at home, still dealing with the shock of the new situation and exploring how to make things work, and seeing each other on Zoom was, I think, a morale-booster – it certainly was for me.

Although the pandemic is likely to continue for some time, I think it is already clear that it will bring big changes in how we do our jobs, even after things begin to get back to something like normal. It looks as if it will become much more acceptable for those who can to work from home as much as possible, and that employers may improve their IT provision to support this. In terms of library provision and activities, the impetus for digitisation and open access are both likely to be strengthened; indeed, many academic publishers are currently making their online publications freely available for a limited period. What happens to international travel, and whether conferences will be able to continue as they have in the past, remains unclear at the moment.

The rise of Zoom and other remote-meeting technologies has given us a new way of doing things and holds out the possibility of doing much more online (and thus cutting carbon emissions) in the long term. It has also enabled meetings to be more inclusive than in the past, as people unable to travel have been included. Online meeting and teaching has, however, once again underlined divisions and inequalities. Academics in African universities have on the whole found it much harder to switch quickly to online teaching than those in the West.

The pandemic is also leading to severe economic recession, which will have consequences on the university and library archives sectors internationally. In the UK, it will impact on our institutions, with particularly grave consequences for those already in financial trouble. Measures are already being taken to make savings from current budgets, and without government rescue, which may not be forthcoming, some universities may be at risk.

Black Lives Matter

The death of George Floyd in police custody in the US on 25 May 2020 has led to an outpouring of protest in the US not seen since the civil rights movement, and to demonstrations across the world, including many in the UK (despite the coronavirus regulations). This seems to be a truly significant historical moment, with deeply felt and widespread expressions of anger at the enduring nature of racism, and a new determination to see the end of discrimination. Institutions are being challenged, from within and without, to make changes.

With respect to anti-racism, SCOLMA has, I believe, a record to be proud of in many areas, but there are still challenges to address, and much more that we can do. Jenni Skinner, Lucy McCann and I have worked on a resolution for presentation to the AGM today which acknowledges the situation, calls for change and commits us to practical actions.



Committee meetings and seminars

The SCOLMA committee met in person on 11.11.19 and 10.2.20, and via Zoom on 20.4.20.

On 11 November we met at King’s College London, where Geoff Browell (Head of Archives) kindly gave a seminar on the Finding Africa and Archives Africa digital projects, and hosted an extensive exhibition of the KCL archival collections relevant to Africa.

2019 conference

This took place on 10 June 2019 in Edinburgh on the theme of ‘Decolonising African Studies: questions and dilemmas for libraries, archives and collections’. The conference was a multi-faceted exploration of this complex subject, including consideration of African voices in the archives and printed collections, and acquisitions policies; African publishing; calls for African libraries and archives to define the agenda in relation to their history and collections; the migration and repatriation of records; and the current decolonisation movement. Contributors came from the UK, Sudan, Zimbabwe, the Netherlands, France, Switzerland and the US. Three of the papers of the conference have been published in issue 136 of our journal, African Research and Documentation.

2020 conference

This year’s conference was to have taken place on 8 June at SOAS. The title was

‘Oun a ní la ? gbé l’árug? (It is the heritage we have that we must celebrate): Publishing, Collecting and Accessing African-language Materials

The organising group (Terry Barringer, Pat Hewitt, Alison Metcalfe, Sarah Rhodes, Dawn Wright and I) had put together a strong draft programme, with speakers from a number of countries, covering various aspects of this topic. We had anticipated interest from diaspora communities in the UK as well as the research and library & archives communities.

We are hoping to be able to reschedule for about the same time next year, with the same programme and, as far as possible, the same speakers. Of course, things remain uncertain at the moment.

African Research and Documentation

Issues 135 and 136 were published during the year. We are particularly proud of 135, which is a special issue on archives and collections in Ethiopian Studies, guest-edited by Sophia Thubauville (Frobenius Institute, Frankfurt) and Sayuri Yoshida (Nanzan University, Japan). The issue is packed with articles and lavishly illustrated – an important contribution on this subject, as Ethiopian collections come more and more under the spotlight.

There was some delay in printing issue 136, because of the coronavirus situation, and we therefore decided to put this issue up on our website as a PDF (openly available SCOLMA African Research No.136 Web). Fortunately, the printers are now operating again, and 136 has been printed and distributed.

As ever, the success and smooth running of ARD is down to the hard work of our editor, Terry Barringer. John McIlwaine continues to give invaluable help with copy-editing and proofreading, and committee members including Lucy McCann and Barbara Spina have also helped.

During the year, we started to review the future of ARD again. We would like to increase access and long-term (electronic) preservation, while ensuring we don’t lose the advantages of producing it in print. The journal is healthy, and fulfils an important role, but we need to bear in mind both the changing environment and the need for financial self-sufficiency. We will be continuing to discuss this in the coming months, building on the work carried out this year by Stephanie Kitchen and others.

Finally, I would like to note the good work of our printers The Printing Place, who rose to the challenge of printing Ethiopian scripts and many illustrations for issue 135, and then produced 136 in lockdown conditions.

Web presence

Our web manager, Jenni Skinner, is currently reviewing and updating both the content and the look of the SCOLMA website, which are due for a refresh, and working on changing the hosting platform.

We continue to Tweet regularly, using a rota of SCOLMA members to try to keep up a flow of information. We now have 573 followers (@SCOLMA).

Mailing list

During the year we refocused on our Jiscmail mailing list, LIS-SCOLMA, which we are using to publicise SCOLMA activities to our friends and supporters. Since mid-May, we have had 40 new subscribers. Anyone interested in keeping up-to-date with our work is warmly encouraged to subscribe to this list.

European Librarians in African Studies (ELIAS)

The ELIAS meeting this year was originally planned to be held in Bordeaux on 29 May. It was held instead on the same day on Zoom, with three SCOLMA members (Dawn Wright (our member on the ELIAS Working Group), Lucy McCann and myself). There was good representation from across Europe (including, for the first time, Italy), as well as from the US. Most of the discussion centred around the pandemic and its effects on libraries and archives. It was encouraging and enlightening to hear how colleagues in other countries were dealing with the situation. We also discussed (without coming to any conclusion) whether annual in-person meetings should continue in future, or whether we should try to introduce a stronger element of remote meeting.

African Studies Association (UK)

Stephanie Kitchen continues to represent ASAUK on the committee. Lucy McCann attended meetings of the ASAUK Council on behalf of SCOLMA. The ASAUK conference, scheduled for September 2020 in Cardiff, has been cancelled.

COVID-19 resources

We responded to the pandemic by creating a page of free resources on the SCOLMA website at

Thank you and committee

This year has presented unprecedented challenges, and committee members have nevertheless managed to continue our work effectively and as a strong team.

Thanks are due to the whole SCOLMA committee for all their hard work during the year. I am very grateful to Pat Hewitt for taking on the role of Treasurer over the last year with great commitment and efficiency, and to Sarah Rhodes for continuing as our very effective Secretary. Thanks to our other officers and special representatives for their hard work: Terry Barringer, editor of African Research and Documentation; Jenni Skinner, Web Manager; Dawn Wright, our ELIAS representative; Dan Gilfoyle, Programme Secretary; Stephanie Kitchen, ASAUK representative on the SCOLMA committee; and Lucy McCann, SCOLMA representative on the ASAUK Council. The ordinary members of the committee, Charles Fonge, Alison Metcalfe, Nicky Sugar, Katie Sambrook and Barbara Spina, contributed in numerous ways, from making actual or virtual room bookings to conference organisation and proofreading ARD.

Thank you to everyone for your contributions, and to all SCOLMA members and supporters for your support during this difficult year.

In the coming year, I am very pleased to welcome Julio Cazzasa, who is standing as an elected member of the committee. Julio is the new Commonwealth and Latin American Studies Librarian at Senate House Library, University of London. I am also very pleased that the rest of the committee and officers are continuing in their current roles.


Marion Wallace, Chair, SCOLMA


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