Africa: A Guide to Reference Material (2nd edition). John McIlwaine. Lochcarron, Scotland: Hans Zell Publishing, 2007.
Is reviewing a print-only research guide in an online-only journal anachronistic? It shouldn't be. As an Africanist librarian colleague aptly puts it, "while Google may be pretty good for Goethe, it is not nearly as good for Gao" (Henige 2005:2). My own library experience and nearly ten years of teaching graduate students effective methods to pursue their own library research on African-related topics supports my belief (along with generations of librarians) that quality printed guides such as this one remain valuable and have a significant, continuing role to play in scholarly research on Africa. This is true even as academic libraries themselves become increasingly digital, virtual and, it may seem at times, infinite. Research in the library, with the advice of a specialist librarian if available and using high quality print resources in combination with the catalog and an array of useful tools now available online, shouldn't be unfamiliar, unusual, or anachronistic for Africanist scholars. This is especially true for beginning researchers and anyone working outside his or her established area of expertise.
Electronic full-text, indexed or abstracted resources accessed at home and in the office are, of course, a great benefit to most researchers. They save us time, gas, and the inconvenience of multiple trips to the library as we rush to complete complex work on deadline. A vast and diverse array of online resources enriches our professional and everyday lives while enabling entirely new kinds of research. My own work and that of people I assist every day is enhanced by quick, easy access to scholarship via powerful web search engines, free library catalogs online, links to scanned books, subscription databases and electronic journals with hypertext-citations. While I'm not an early technology adopter, I advocate and promote the usefulness of a range of electronic tools and resources, especially as they begin to mature and become reliable for researchers in the fields I support.
It may be difficult to imagine that the solutions to all one's research problems aren't available online. This is especially true at any major academic university in the developed world, where it's likely that on behalf of faculty and students the library spends several million dollars each year providing access to research resources and the tools to locate these effectively. However, it's worth reflecting on what might be lacking from connected computers, because print publications (old and new) are sometimes the best tools available despite the prevalence, convenience, and...