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MSU Libraries partner with Refugee Development Center to pilot community catalog program

The Michigan State University Libraries has one of the largest collections of material on and from Africa in the United States. Students, faculty and other library users and researchers rely on the library’s cataloging system to find and access these materials, but how does it all get cataloged?

On two days this October, MSU Libraries will have some cataloging help from members of the MSU and Greater Lansing community who speak various African languages, including Wolof, Hausa, Amharic, Tigrinya, Swahili and Arabic.

The community cataloging event will take place at MSU’s Main Library from 5:30 – 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 2 and from 10:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 5.

African Studies librarian Jessica Achberger Martin, who helped organize the event along with the head of cataloging, Joshua Barton, said the goal of the project is to ensure that library materials are accessible and that library records are accurate.

“We want to make sure we’re cataloging materials in ways that are culturally appropriate,” Martin said. “Cataloging represents the official record of an item, and it’s important to do it right. Misrepresentations are inconvenient, and they’re harmful.”

Martin also hopes to engage communities of readers with the Library’s Africana collections.

“We want to expand the reach of our collections beyond faculty and students of African studies at MSU, and we want to reach community borrowers,” Martin said.

Community participants learned about the opportunity through MSU and through a partnership with the Refugee Development Center. They will serve as translators at each session.

In addition to the six languages listed above, five nationalities will be represented: Tanzania, Ghana, Senegal, Ethiopia and Palestine. Teams of experts will work together to catalog African language materials.

Language teams will determine the bibliographic and content information of resources, which will help complete a catalog record, making material accessible to users. A variety of materials will be cataloged at the events, including academic and popular books published in Africa and posters from Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia.

Across the collections of about 300,000 books, there is particular emphasis on history, politics, economics, culture, education, languages, health and other fields of sub-Saharan Africa.