50 years DFG-funded Special Collection “Africa South of the Sahara” (1964-2014) at Frankfurt University Library

Since 1964 Frankfurt University Library (at that time called “City and University Library”) is in charge of the Special Subject Collection 6.31 “Africa South of the Sahara” in a co-operative acquisition scheme funded by the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG). Some 20 German university, state and special libraries cover more than 100 academic disciplines and regions. The aim is to acquire at least one copy of every relevant book for a German library. Nationwide access is guaranteed via interlibrary loan. With more than 210,000 volumes, “Africa South of the Sahara” is the largest collection on sub-Saharan Africa in Germany and one of the top collections in Europe.


Between 1964 and 2014 the funding of the DFG allowed to collect continuously books, journals and other materials published in African countries with the help of local vendors, on acquisition trips, and with the help, e.g., of the Library of Congress Nairobi Office and the Goethe-Institut. In 1970 the DFG sponsored 32000 DM to acquire 1077 volumes, in the 1980s and 1990s the DFG-part raised up to 100000 DM allowing to add on average around 3000 books a year to the collection. In 2014 the DFG-budget exceeded 100000 EUR. The library in Frankfurt added the necessary own contribution and especially the funds for staff and space. These numbers demonstrate the strong continuity in funding and collection building.

Additionally, it was possible to develop and maintain bibliographic and current awareness services in a broad sense and to adapt these services to the general technical development: e.g. from the printed “Current Contents Africa” (1975-1993) to the “Online Contents”-database (2009-) included in ilissAfrica. At all times it was possible to raise extra funds for the acquisition of special collections, like those of Janheinz Jahn or Janos Riesz.

Finally, beside the regular tasks of collection building, indexing and information services two large projects were managed to get realized: first the digitization of the Colonial Picture Archive (1991-2004), second the set-up of the ilissAfrica subject gateway (2007-2010). In the following a survey of the stages of development, services and projects is given.

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