Mattias Åkesson, librarian at the Nordic Africa Institute

An oasis for stats-loving researchers

Dull and dry. That’s a common view of statistics. Researchers, however, have a different outlook. At some point, in almost any research, statistics is of interest. 
 
The lion’s share of statistics in the Nordic Africa Institute’s library is in the collection of official documents. These are printed materials from African governments and ministries, such as population censuses, development plans, and policy documents. The collection includes more than 10,000 volumes. Documents from official authorities are primary sources and therefore of great interest to researchers.
 
“We often hear from guest researchers and scholarship holders that they are very impressed by our collection. Many of the official documents can be difficult to obtain, especially if you want to have access to them all at the same spot. In many African countries, access to official documents requires good shoes, lots of time and patience, since they are likely to be scattered in many different offices. Quite often they are not publically accessible at all”, says librarian Mattias Åkesson, who is responsible of the acquisition of official documents at the Nordic Africa Institute.
 
Because the official documents are rare, library users are not allowed to borrow them. They must be read at the library. However, other libraries in the Nordic countries can borrow from the Institute. Government agencies and statistical centres now publish an increasing amount of material on the internet. 
 
“We make the online material available also in our catalogues, for instance through free, research-oriented resources like our ‘guide to Africa on the internet’. However, it is difficult to say for how long the African offices keep the material online, so we still prefer to buy the printed documents as well”, Åkesson adds.
 
A British agent provides the institute with the official documents and annually delivers between 300 and 400 publications. In recent years, NAI orders less of central bank reports and budget presentations. Similarly, the library no longer buys documents that are available through the United Nation’s web servers. Private donations are also an important source.
 
“The Norwegian Statistics Bureau recently gave us a big collection of statistical series from African countries. Researchers and others also donate material from their field work trips. Gifts like that complete the gaps in our older collection, which is particularly important when it comes to countries from which it is harder to get material, for example Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Libya and Somalia”, Åkesson remarks.
 
“We would also like to have more census reports on national, regional and local level, because this is what researchers demand the most. Moreover, sometimes our visitors point out that our collection in Arabic is too small”, Åkesson concludes. 
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