The Centre for African Literary Studies: An Opportunity to be Managed?

Keywords: Special Collections, Archive, Afrocentrism, Eurocentrism


Libraries contain many collections but professional practice has long recognised the concept of “special collections”. The Centre for African Literary Studies (CALS) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), South Africa, was established to house the private collection of Bernth Lindfors, a retired professor of English and African literature from the University of Texas, Austin. This article draws on Polak’s study which sought to determine whether universities need designated centres for African studies. She explored the role of CALS as a special collection and in what way the Centre was able to fulfil its role in facilitating and enabling African Studies at UKZN and in the broader community. This article focuses on the challenges of managing CALS as a valuable special collection. Data sources included a literature and document analysis, as well as a survey using questionnaires and personal interviews. The most significant finding was that the original noble vision of the founders to create a centre that boosted the humanities and African literature at UKZN and especially on the Pietermaritzburg campus had been restricted. The establishment of CALS as an externally funded centre had had a negative impact on the endeavours of CALS’s directors who, despite great efforts, had been handicapped in their management of CALS by lack of institutional support, funding and staff tenure. Recommendations for the UKZN which also have relevance for other special collections are made.

Author Biographies

Fiona Margaret Polak, University of KwaZulu-Natal

PhD Graduate: Information Studies

Christine Stilwell, University of KwaZulu-Natal

Emeritus Professor and Fellow: Information Studies

Peter G Underwood, University of KwaZulu-Natal

Honorary Professor: Information Studies

Ruth Hoskins, University of KwaZulu-Natal

Emeritus Professor and Fellow: School of Social Sciences