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

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