Ten years of Muslim publishing in Tanzania: a librarian’s perspective

Seminar date: 
13 October 2009
Speaker(s): Gerard C. van de Bruinhorst

In August 2009 I returned from my fourth Islamic book acquisition trip to Tanzania. Since the year 2000 these two to three week journeys were undertaken on a regular base with the more ambitious than realistic aim to build a complete and exhaustive public collection of Swahili Muslim print material produced and sold in the East African region. From the very beginning I had the intention to deposit these books in the public domain rather than burying them in a private library. So far quite a number of these books, pamphlets and newspapers acquired in these years are now included in the University Library collection in Leiden. In the future I hope to find the financial means and the organizational commitment to transfer all the titles to the same academic repository and make the collection more visible to users.

Most of the material has been purchased in Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar but my roaming extended as far as Garissa and Lamu in North Kenya and Bukoba and Ujiji in West Tanzania. The core collection consists of more than 2500 Swahili pamphlets, books and newspaper issuses, excluding some 800 Islamic titles in Arabic and English (sold but usually not produced in East Africa) which function as a comparative control group. Although not complete yet, I trust that these two collections give at least an indication of the Tanzanian Islamic book industry in the first decade of the 21st century.

In this informal presentation I will do two things: in the first place I will review the production of the final ten years, give some tentative answers on questions concerning writers, publishers, topics of interest and subjects silenced in this discourse. What trends and changes are visible in this publishing landscape and what can they teach us about societal developments?

In the second place I will take the oppurtunity to defend this case as an example of collection development particular useful for research libraries in the field of African studies. Because of the explosion in the production of academic end products as well as the proliferation of primary data like the collection under review here, most Africana libraries feel the pressure to maintain an acceptable level in both fields. In the absence of an explicit policy on this issue, most financial and human resources will be employed to purchase the secondary, peer-reviewed, academic easy-to-get-stuff. As a result the primary data, difficult to find when it is in print and irretrievably lost when out of print is neglected on a grand scale (an estimated 85% of my Swahili collection is not available in worldcat). It is only through systematic acquisition trips that these astounding and undesirable lacunae may be prevented.