eReviews: Africa Bibliography, August 2012

Africa Bibliography

Cambridge University Press

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CONTENT This online guide to African studies works is published yearly under the auspices of the International African Institute. Content includes books, chapters in books, journal articles, and pamphlets, and covers the regions of the continent and associated islands (the African diaspora is selectively covered).

Material is organized by country, region, and subject, and the file has an author index as well as a detailed thematic index. Subjects covered include the arts and humanities, biology, environmental sciences, and medicine, and material comes from specialized African publications as well as non-specialist scholarly journals. Resources listed are predominantly in English, with selected key publications in Afrikaans, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Swahili.

Usability The bibliography opens at the quick search screen, with a single search box and a dropdown menu to search by all, author/editor surname, title of item, keyword, year of publication, or journal title. The search tip, “Place search term in inverted commas “” to search multiple words as a phrase” follows these.

At screen right are links to, for example, home, a guide to the bibliography, introductory articles, subscription options, instructions on registering for alerts, the International African Institute, Africa (a journal), and the International African Library.

Alongside the quick search area are tabs leading to the full search and browse screens. The full search screen prompts users to enter keywords, author/editor surname, and/or journal title criteria; they can restrict searches by region, country, subject, and publication year. Browse allows access to the author index, prompting users to “Type the first characters of a surname and click Browse to view authors and editors with matching surnames” or to peruse the journal list by selecting an initial title letter.

Browsing the author/editor index for “gates” (looking for Henry Louis Gates), I found two results listed under Gates H.L., and one by Gates, P. Clicking on each of the first two uncovered duplicate listings for three publications written or edited by Henry Louis Gates. Browsing for “gates henry” provided no results, but a quick search for “gates, henry louis” revealed 88 matches. That list included the three results from the browse search, as well as 85 results for the names “henry” and “louis.” It was somewhat frustrating that I could browse and search only for the surname, although that search did apparently yield all of the database’s relevant results.

Browsing for the name “appiah” resulted in six hits: Appiah K.A. (listed twice), Appiah-Kubi K., Appiah-Mensah S., Appiah-Opoku S., and Appiah-Yeboah K. The “Appiah K.A.” links both produced the same list of five publications by K.A. Appiah. Duplicate links for the names, producing identical results lists, were odd.

My first full search was for the term “child soldier” as keyword, which found 324 matches. The list included all instances of “child” or “soldier,” so next I searched by entering the terms in separate keyword search boxes, resulting in 26 solid hits.

It was frustrating and time-consuming to search keyword by keyword in full search, and the positioning of the submit key (to search the database) very low on the screen increased this frustration, since it was necessary to scroll down each time to use it.

I next did a browse of journals, choosing the letter “J,” and discovered a couple of alphabetizing anomalies in the list (Journal of Development Economics and Journal of World Trade were close to the head of the list). Then I clicked on the link to Journal of African Cinemas, which led to a list of 17 articles from that publication. Each citation had a link to Google Scholar, Open URL Query, and Full-Text. Checking the guide to the bibliography reveals what each does; the Google Scholar link “sen[t] a query to Google Scholar requesting a list of all publications which match one or more bibliographic element (such as author or title) of the relevant entry in the Africa Bibliography.” The Open URL Query link provides “a version of the bibliographic entry expressed in a form compatible with their library’s OpenURL link resolver and […] a link to the OpenURL link resolver of the library registered to the IP address of that user.” The full-text link uses DOIs (digital object identifiers) to link directly to the relevant online content.

Clicking the full-text link in one of the articles, I was taken to a web page that unfortunately stated, “Atypon Link was discontinued on 1 January 2012 and stopped redirecting requests for content previously hosted on Atypon Link on 30 June 2012. Please follow the links below to reach each publisher’s new journals website.”

The material itself is scholarly and useful. This database has some problems in design and functionality. It was difficult to use, screens took several seconds to refresh, key functions were badly located, and the architecture of the information made it difficult to find material in a sophisticated manner.

Pricing A subscription to the print and online versions of the 2012 bibliography is $415; online-only access to the same material is $290. A subscription to the online archive is purchased separately.

Verdict Cambridge should clear up some of the anomalies here and redesign the search screen, for starters. The good news is that it’s easy to get a free trial to this product, and I recommend libraries serving serious African studies scholars do so.

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Cheryl LaGuardia About Cheryl LaGuardia

Cheryl LaGuardia always wanted to be a librarian, and has been one for more years than she's going to admit. She cracked open her first CPU to install a CD-ROM card in the mid-1980's, pioneered e-resource reviewing for Library Journal in the early 90's (picture calico bonnets and prairie schooners on the web...), won the Louis Shores / Oryx Press Award for Professional Reviewing, and has been working for truth, justice, and better electronic library resources ever since. Reach her at claguard@fas.harvard.edu, where she's a Research Librarian at Harvard University.

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