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Commission on:


Paul N. Nkwi


Isaac Nyamongo


During the 2013 Manchester Congress of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences (IUAES) the following persons were chosen to lead the commission:
Professor Paul Nchoji NKWI, Catholic University of Cameroon, P.O. Box 782 Bamenda; Chair:
Professor Isaac Nyamongo, University of Nairobi, Nairobi, Kenya: Co-Chair
The original mandate of the Commission on Documentation (CoD) was to provide documentation for scholarship in anthropology and to help libraries in developing countries gain access to that documentation. Early on, it was realized that the key problem was not lack of documentation, but lack of documents—that is, lack of access by colleagues in developing countries to books and journals. Book drives helped anthropology libraries in those countries acquire some minimum library resources, but the real needs were far greater than book drives could meet.
Today, the mandate to supply hard copies of books and journals has become obsolete with the development of online library databases and e-books, and the Commission on Documentation (CoD) has redefined itself to address three critical goals, namely:
 1.     To provide access for universities in developing countries to online access to major libraries in developed countries.
2.     To provide support for indigenous-language publishing industries.
3.     To provide support for anthropologists in developing countries to work with colleagues in developed countries on grants and on publishing the results of research in competitive, international journals.



Initially, the big problem for the commission was to distinguish between documentation and documents. How can the commission help develop the library resources of Third World universities? Even in the 1970s, when the CoD began,various documentation resources were available for purchase. Today, those same documentation resources (the Social Science Citation Index, Sociological Abstracts (and its computerized version, called Sociofile), Psychological Abstracts (and its computerized version, called Psych‑LIT) are more comprehensive and can be interrogated online. One important resources, Anthropological Index, is available free. These documentation resources make it easy to find appropriate literature for any any research project.
In North America, Western Europe, Japan, and other industrialized nations, access to documentation is enough. In the U.S., for example, small academic libraries may not have big journal or book collections, but they are all hooked together in a computerized network and any faculty member (or graduate student, for that matter) can request a book or a xerox copy of a journal article from the nearest library that has what he or she wants. If you can find what you need in the documentation resources, in other words, you can get the actual document at low cost in a matter of days through regular mail, or even with pdf’s delivered by email.

This does not help people in areas of the world where resources for library purchases are scarce or even nonexistent. In August 1989 a conference (sponsored by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research) was held in Yaoundé, Cameroon of anthropologists from Sub-Saharan Africa. One of the consistent themes at the conference was the lack of access to basic library materials. What good does it do, people asked, to have documentation resources like the Social Science Citation Index or Anthropological Index or the CD‑ROM versions of Sociological Abstracts if you can't get your hands on the actual materials once you learn of their existence?  Third World libraries will not soon have the money to buy the journals and book collections that they need so desperately. Clearly, too, international agencies, like UNESCO, cannot help everyone ‑‑ the money available is only a fraction of what would be required. It is against this background that the commission has come up with some suggestions that can be explored.

First of all, colleagues from Third World universities should make an effort to obtain the most important documentation sources in anthropology. Money is scarce, but even the poorest libraries acquire some things from time to time. It's a matter of priorities, of course: what do you spend the scarce resources on? Do you buy journals? Books? Reference volumes?

In the view of the commission, there is a need to start with the documentation reference publications. The Anthropological Index Online (AIO) is a good  start. It is available from the Royal Anthropological Institute (RAI) in cooperation with Anthropology Library and Research Centre at the British Museum. As stated on the AIO website, “Use of the Anthropological Index Online is free to individuals and educational institutions in the developing world for the purpose of academic and private research.” (http://schapera.kent.ac.uk/aio/conditions.html). Other essential documentation resources in anthropology include the Cultural Anthropology volume of the International Bibliography of the Social Sciences (available by subscription from ProQuest) and Anthropological Literature (AL) (which catalogs the holdings of the Tozzer Library at Harvard University).  The online version of AL is available by subscription from EBSCO Publishing.


Let us assume that, after providing the documentation resources, institutions in the Third World cannot afford to provide the documents required for effective scholarship. That is, you can find out that an article important to your research exists in a journal somewhere, but the journal is not on the shelf. At this point some means must be developed where individuals and collections of individuals can help themselves.

Many of the indexing and abstracting resources provide the address of the author whose work is listed. Scholars can write directly to the authors of articles and book chapters and get copies of important materials. Most people are flattered and pleased to send copies of their articles to colleagues who ask for them. Also, Anthropological Index offers a photocopying service. For a modest fee, AI provides copies of the articles and book chapters documented in its pages.

There is another tactic: use the editors of the major anthropology journals as your first link in a network of colleagues who are working on the same general problem as you are. Then use those colleagues to obtain the primary materials that you need.

Here's how it could work: Suppose you are trying to write a paper dealing with folk healing among some people in Africa. Submit a draft of the paper, or an outline of it, to the editor of one of the major journals in the field. Tell the editor that you are not submitting the paper for review, but that you want his or her help in getting the paper ready for review. Ask the editor to select, say, three colleagues to whom he or she would send your paper if it were ready for review. This Commission could easily distribute an updated list of the names and addresses of the editors of major journals in our discipline.

The editors of major journals are never in a position to guarantee publication, and they will be wary of making any commitments in that regard. So tell any editor to whom you write that you are not asking for any guarantee of eventual publication. Make it clear that you are willing to accept the decision of the review process, once you feel you have a paper that's ready for review by a major journal.

All you want is a fair shot at writing a paper that can enter the competition for space in such prestigious journals. This means having access to the primary materials that are needed to write scholarly papers in the first place.

Ask the editor to put you in touch directly with two or three colleagues in your field who have access to the material you need. Then write to those colleagues, tell them the name of the editor who gave you their name, and ask those colleagues a) to read your draft or outline, and b) send you the materials they think you need. For articles in major journals, this will mean sending pdf’s by email. For chapters in books, this will mean photocopying sending by mail. This will mean some work for a colleague and a few dollars in photocopying and postage. You can offer to pay the cost. Once you have materials in hand, you can share them with students and build up your own collections for the topics that are most important to you. Over time, if enough people do this, library collections can become substantially improved.

An alternative is to have the editor send your paper out for review anonymously (the usual procedure) and to ask the reviewers to provide not just a critique but actual copies of the materials they think you need. The problem with this method is that you won't get the opportunity to interact with those anonymous reviewers and they may be reluctant to spend time and money on a colleague with whom they won't interact. For these reasons the CoD favors the direct approach.

Will editors respond positively to such requests? Perhaps not all of them, but you have nothing to lose by asking. Dr. Adam Kuper, editor of Current Anthropology, has offered to publicize a program of the sort outlined here, by announcing it in CA. Would individual colleagues respond to the request for their help? Some would not and some would—some would even consider it in their own interest to help. In any event, there is nothing to lose by asking.

The problem, as we see it is not just that Third World scholars lack adequate libraries. Just as important, they don't have colleagues who are active in research and who have access to libraries. Anthropology departments in the industrialized countries provide the same training to a young scholar from Zambia or Ecuador as they provide to a young scholar from the U.S. or Great Britain or Sweden or France.

But when the young scholar from New York or London goes to teach in California or Manchester he or she is dropped into an existing structure of senior colleagues’ ‑‑ people who can provide the post‑doctoral advice and training so necessary to active participation in the world of publication, grant applications, and so on. Most scholars, no matter where they come from, don't learn how to do those things until after they get their PhD.

Who will help well trained young scholars of the developing countries into the world of publication and grant supported research? If no one does that, then isn't much of the effort spent training a new PhD is wasted? If a new PhD never reports research results in the major journals of the world ‑‑ the ones we all read ‑‑ then the entire discipline loses that scholar's wisdom as surely as if he or she were doing no research at all beyond the PhD.

To summarize: 1) Third World libraries will not likely have the resources to address the big problem ‑‑ lack of documents ‑‑ but they may at least be able to acquire documentation resources. They should make every effort to do so. 2) International agencies do not and will not have the money to purchase documents (journals and books) for most Third World libraries. 3) Together, we must become the answer to our own common problem. What can we, as a Commission of the IUAES, do to promote the sort of global, collegial cooperation that is needed in order to address the problem created by lack of library resources in the Third World?


Anthropologists around the world who share these views can be become members of the Commission by contacting the Chair and Co-chair using the following emails:
nkwi70[at]yahoo.com or inyamongo[at]uonbi.ac.ke


Prof.Paul  Nchoji NKWI,PhD, FCAS, FAAS
Deputy Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs
Catholic University of Cameroon: Bamenda
P;O Box 782 Bamenda
Phone 00237 77378494
Mobile 00237 96167396
Mobile 00237 50254000