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CLIR Announces Partnership Agreements
for Hidden Collections Africa


Partners will support organizations and staff across the African continent
to meet urgent preservation needs, close gaps in the historical record,
and make records more accessible to users


The Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) has signed partnership agreements with three international organizations to develop a new program to advance visibility and access to rare and unique cultural materials held in Africa. The program, Hidden Collections Africa, seeks to digitally preserve collections held in Africa to promote knowledge and understanding of the African continent, the African diaspora, and their histories.

The new partner organizations are the Association of African Universities (AAU), headquartered in Accra, Ghana; the Réseau francophone numérique (RFN)-AISBL, based in Brussels, Belgium; and the UbuntuNet Alliance, the Regional Research and Education Network for Eastern and Southern Africa. This builds upon an existing partnership with the HBCU Library Alliance, which is working with CLIR to plan the Hidden Collections Africa initiative.

The idea for Hidden Collections Africa was initially proposed by Buhle Mbambo Thata, CLIR board chair and Librarian of the National University of Lesotho. “When I think about this program, I feel it in my heart,” said Mbambo Thata. “Africa needs digital environments, infrastructures, and digital skills to engage with creation of digital content from Africa. Hidden Collections Africa is an important opportunity to work toward digital equity, so that the voices in digital spaces represent all of humanity.”

CLIR and these organizations will work together to support program development, capacity building, digitization, and the integration of advanced technologies. They will enable continent-wide outreach to academic, research, and cultural organizations, providing them an opportunity to participate in the program.

Hidden Collections Africa will build on CLIR’s previous regranting programs: Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives, Recordings at Risk, and, more recently, Digitizing Hidden Collections: Amplifying Unheard Voices. The latter was initiated to deepen public understanding of the histories of people of color and other communities and populations whose work, experiences, and perspectives have been insufficiently recognized or unattended to. Since 2015, the three programs have awarded 262 grants totaling over $32 million.

Led by Africa-based professionals, Hidden Collections Africa will directly support institutions and staff across Africa to meet urgent preservation needs, close gaps in the historical record, and make records more accessible to users.

The Hidden Collections Africa Initiative is aligned to the Association’s strategic goal of improving knowledge generation, management, and dissemination for the benefit of African higher education and its broader stakeholders,” said AAU secretary general Olusola Bandele Oyewole. “We are hopeful that through this partnership, we will jointly impact more communities and garner maximum visibility to Africa’s hidden collections.”

“As president of RFN, I am proud to be involved in such an ambitious project, bringing together partners from both English and French speaking countries,” said Laurence Engel. “Thanks to this initiative, we will be able to advance visibility and access to the documentary heritage of a large part of the African continent, a heritage too often at-risk and poorly recognized. The Hidden Collections Africa program encompasses and extends the objectives of the RFN. Working together to promote the preservation and access to a fundamental part of the African documentary heritage is of the utmost importance.”

“UnbuntuNet Alliance is excited to partner on Hidden Collections Africa, working with national research and education networks across the African continent to preserve African cultural and natural heritage and make them accessible,” said UbuntuNet Alliance chief executive officer Madara Ogot.

CLIR expects to work with additional domestic and international organizations as the program evolves. Industry and development partners, as well as funders with aligned vision to support future program planning, operations, regranting, and outreach are invited to collaborate on this initiative. Inquiries about Hidden Collections Africa or expressions of interest in partnering on the initiative may be directed to 

About the Council on Library and Information Resources

The Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) is an independent, nonprofit organization that forges strategies to enhance research, teaching, and learning environments in collaboration with libraries, cultural institutions, and communities of higher learning. CLIR aspires to transform the information landscape to support the advancement of knowledge. It promotes forward-looking collaborative solutions that transcend disciplinary, institutional, professional, and geographic boundaries in support of the public good.

About the Association of African Universities

The Association of African Universities (AAU) is an international non-profit, non-governmental organization created by African Universities to promote cooperation among them on the one hand, and between them and the international academic community on the other.

Established in Rabat, Morocco, in 1967, the AAU currently has a membership of over 415 institutions of higher learning across all the linguistic and geographic divides of Africa. Its mission is to raise the quality of higher education in Africa and strengthen its contribution to Africa’s development by fostering collaboration among its member institutions; providing support to their core functions of teaching, learning, research, and community engagement; and facilitating critical reflection on, and consensus-building around, issues affecting higher education and the development of Africa.

About the Réseau francophone numérique

The Réseau francophone numérique (RFN) is an international nonprofit association constituted under the Belgian law on AISBL. The RFN currently comprises 30 members (national libraries, national archives, university libraries, institutes) in 20 countries, a significant part of which are in Africa. The RFN’s mission is to help member countries conserve and reconstitute their documentary heritage, to promote the emergence of digitization programs, and to enhance the diversity of documentary sources in French-speaking countries, particularly through its digital library.

About the UbuntuNet Alliance

UbuntuNet Alliance is the Regional Research and Education Network for Eastern and Southern Africa. The organization facilitates and proactively supports research collaboration for the digital transformation of the higher research and education sectors throughout Eastern and Southern Africa through its network. This is achieved by providing high-capacity Internet and value-added services to research and education organizations through National Research and Education Networks (NRENs). Participation includes but is not limited to universities, colleges, hospitals, and libraries.

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