The Dr Audrey Richards’ pamphlet collection – as detailed by Ophelia, volunteer @AfrStudiesLib

From the start, the huge amount of knowledge contained in the Audrey Richards’ donation boxes was obvious. As a new volunteer at the Centre of African Studies Library, I felt impressed (and a little bit nervous) when I first saw these papers, results of long years of research, and many different collaborations. In other words, it was a truly honorary pleasure to get to touch what I had in front of me and to discover Audrey Richards’ centres of interests.

The papers had to be listed and, if it was tricky at the beginning, I have to say I had the time of my life with these five boxes (Patrick Swayze was sadly elsewhere). Little by little, I felt I started to discover Dr. Audrey Richards, not only as the scientist we know within her books and research, but the person too : a person, with her very own interests and passions who kept for years papers and books which were sent to her. Going over her donation boxes made me feel special in a particular way, it was a chance to get to know someone who did so much in her life without even talking to her. It was like a big puzzle, and I wanted to gradually add its pieces. So yes, I was twitchy when I first started to open these boxes ; I was twitchy because I didn’t want to make any mistakes ; I was twitchy because eh, I was (and still am) a newbie so it was likely I would do something wrong. It took me some time, it took me some books, it took me some papers, to really understand what was going on and what I had in my hands. I was not meant to be an archives factory ; I was meant to see, to touch, to read and – most important – to enjoy that.

The first box I needed to catalogue was called MS RICH 2 (MS RICH 1 was fortuitously found soon after that). This box, along with the previous one, was an anthology of everything that didn’t really fit in the other boxes. From a chapter about Marriage in Northern Rhodesia to an article around Witchcraft and Sorcery, I think I had little stars in my eyes by the end of the day. What was brilliant was the diversity contained in one simple cardboard box; some papers were with annotations, some not, some were written in English, some were written in French… Two other boxes, South Africa and East Africa, were more structured in their composition as they were consolidated around specific parts of Africa. But fear not, they were as diversified as the first ones, touching a lot of different subjects (political, social, cultural). Another box, the last one, was called General ; although there were not any specific locations, all the articles and papers found inside were about customs and social systems.

Then, I had to write a short biography about Dr. Audrey Richards and had the opportunity to meet Dr. Ray Abrahams who knew her personally. I had the opportunity to go through his own boxes of donated materials and my very first “impressed-feeling” came back quickly. Meeting such a great Anthropological figure gave me goosebumps (and my cheeks were certainly blushing a bit).

Being a Volunteer at the Centre for African Studies Library is honestly the best professional experience I’ve ever had. It has given me the feeling of being part of something bigger, to help students and researchers by providing them with more resources.  Volunteering has given me more focus in my career path, and I think that everybody should have at least a taste of this great experience.

ophelia

Ophélia Labardacq is a volunteer at the African Studies Library, she will start an internship at the Schlumberger Institute in August, alongside starting her Masters in Library & Information Management at Sheffield.

For more information on this archive collection, visit the “Featured Archive Collection” box on our LibGuide.

 

Volunteering at the CfAS Library: Adventures in the Archives

I have recently been lucky enough to have been able to volunteer at the Centre for African Studies Library, and honestly, it is difficult to know where to begin, or end in describing my experience!

My initial expectations were that I would be doing nothing more complicated than tidying and re-shelving books, perhaps fetching books upon request, which to be honest I was rather looking forward to- I have always loved libraries and books- but the reality was far more interesting and entertaining than I had expected…

I began by checking through materials donated to the library to check for potential duplicate items, using the Library Search system, which proved interesting as it provided me with the opportunity to learn more about the various libraries and the accessibility (or lack of!) of items, and more about cataloguing systems and procedures. Later that day, the library manager received an external request from an international academic, and I made my first visit to the archives. Working in the archives has by far been one of the most interesting and varied aspects of my time here, which really should be unsurprising, containing as it does an almost endlessly fascinating variety of items; governmental reports and commissions, both colonial and post colonial relating to land reforms, human rights, economic and agricultural policies; investigations and assessments of potential threats to the then status quo, such as communism or local unrests; personal notebooks and correspondences, which with time and patience could be found in their entirety, collated and ordered into a complete narrative; poetry, literature, local media items; photographs, slides, old tape cassettes and vinyl records of local music.

A photo album from the earliest days of photography (ca. 1878- 1882), and a collection of visual and audio materials from the archives

One particularly exciting find- on my first day- was a copy of a very old manuscript (written in 1819!) written in Arabic, which had been the subject of a request from an external academic, and one which was entirely due to luck, not judgement on my part! It is the opportunity to work with unique and beautiful items such as this that makes the archives such a rewarding aspect of my volunteer experience.

Examples from a copy of an Arabic manuscript entitled Kanzal-Awlād and authored by        Sambo Kulwa (Muḥammad Sambo b. Modibbo Aḥmad b. Mujayli), authored in 1818-19,        from our archives.

Once the box of requested materials were located, it was back upstairs to investigate the contents, and to create a descriptive record and finding aid; this required identifying the contents- not always straight forward if the cover was missing or the title compromised in some other way, or if published in a local script or language; often seeking out the date of publication- again, not always obvious without performing a little investigative research- sometimes even the author may not be clearly identified! Searching out and finding this information- or at least trying to provide as much information as possible from often disparate documents in various states of repair or completeness- was a fascinating and very satisfying experience in itself, but knowing that you have contributed in some small way to creating an academic resource that may be a useful future aid to students and researchers adds an extra feeling of a job worth doing.

Volunteering at the Centre for African Studies Library was not at all what I expected- it was even better- a wonderful and educational experience, and one I hope to repeat!

(John Hennessy, Library Volunteer)

Margaret Reardon donates signed copy of her autobiography

We welcomed another distinguished guest, and her daughter Catherine Armstrong, to the library last Thursday afternoon for tea, and to receive a signed copy of her autobiography:

“An unexpected journey. Life in the Colonies at Empire’s end : a woman’s role” by Margaret Reardon.

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Margaret Reardon and her book in the African Studies Library

Margaret supported her husband Patrick Reardon O.B.E. whilst he was posted in Eritrea serving in the British Military Administration 1945-1952; and continued to support him and her young family as he moved into the Colonial Service with postings in Tanganyika, Bechuanaland, The Gilbert & Ellice Islands, and finally the Turks & Caicos Islands.

As a couple they became friends with Sir Seretse Khama and his wife and saw the transformation of Bechuanaland to Botswana in 1966.

Among the many fascinating memories that she shared with us, Margaret recounted an occasion when whilst making her way across her garden, she was charged by a small rhino!  Her autobiography is based on her diaries, and other official documents which are now housed at the Bodleian in Oxford.

Both Alex and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Margaret and her daughter Catherine, and we wish them every success with the book.