The main entrance to the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center is now open. Van Pelt Library and the Fisher Fine Arts Library are currently open to Penn Card holders, Penn affiliates, and certain visitors. See our Service Alerts for details.

Note that this collection development policy is for material related to the African Diaspora. See this policy for material related to the African Continent.

Accordion List

Africana Studies is an interdisciplinary program of study devoted to the critical and systematic examination of the cultural, political, social, economic, and historical experiences of Africans and members of the African Diaspora —peoples of African descent outside of Africa. There were separate programs in Africana Studies (African Diaspora) and Africa studies (based in the Africa Center) until 2015, at which point the two programs merged as the Department of Africana Studies. The Libraries' collection funds align with the distinction between the studies of the Diaspora and of Africa. This policy pertains exclusively to funds dedicated to supporting the study of the Diaspora.

The Department currently includes 14 standing faculty members, nearly 30 secondary faculty, and numerous African language instructors. The Africana Studies program was established in 1972 with John Edgar Wideman as its first director. At present there is an undergraduate major, an undergraduate minor, and a doctoral program. Students can select from more than 50 courses offered by schools and departments of the University, including Africana, Anthropology, Education, English, French, Folklore and Folklife, History, Law, Linguistics, Music, Nursing, Political Science, Religious Studies, Social Work, and Wharton. A certificate program is available to graduate students who wish to gain interdisciplinary training and exposure to the totality of the African Diasporic experience. The highly interdisciplinary program attracts graduate students who are frequently associated with programs such as History, English, Education, or Anthropology in addition to Africana. 

In addition to the academic program, the University hosts the Center for Africana Studies, which is dedicated to fostering a deeper understanding of the peoples of Africa and their diasporas. Through its research, academic initiatives, and public programming, the Center’s work seeks to explore the profound ways in which African peoples have functioned on a global scale and how their experiences have resonated around the world throughout history. It sponsors public academic and cultural events as well as research projects, including the Africana Media Project, The Penn Program on Race, Science and Society, and the Marginalized Populations Project.

Materials supporting Africana Studies are found in many campus libraries, but most are in the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center. Art and Anthropology materials are usually held in the Fisher Fine Arts Library and the Museum Library, respectively. The collection has been built up systematically only in the last 25 years in response to developing programmatic needs, and for that reason the printed book component lacks great historical depth. However, the Penn Libraries has a small number of anti-slavery and abolitionist pamphlets and newspapers, and several archival resources of great value, notably the collections of Marian Anderson (1897-1993); the papers of Arthur Huff Fauset (1899-1983; a nearly complete run of The Black Panther; the papers of Claude A. Barnett, founder of the Associated Negro Press; and the collection of the Ivy Leaf, 1921-1998, the official publication of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, the world's oldest Greek letter organization of women of African descent. The Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell papers, which document the lives of two leading civil rights leaders in Philadelphia, are housed in the University Archives. 
The Libraries subscribes to many databases, with strengths in: historic African American newspapers and journals; collections of archival material related to slavery and civil rights; collections of literary works; streaming video; streaming music; and art and journalistic images.  A partial guide to our digital collections is available
The Africana Resource Room on the third floor of Van Pelt contains a large number of reference works and basic texts in the field of Africana Studies. The room was created to support the teaching and research needs of the students and faculty of the Center for Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, as well as the curriculum for students in the African-America Studies Program. While the primary focus is the African and African American experience, researchers in Anthropology, Urban Studies, Education, English, History, Linguistics, Music, Religious Studies, and Social Work may find this collection helpful. The room serves as space for the creation and exchange of ideas among undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and other scholars in formal and informal meetings. To that end, the Africana Studies Bibliographer works to develop and maintain a core collection of mostly non-circulating material, which is readily available for consultation, classroom use, and in-depth research. 

1. Chronological 

All periods. 

2. Formats 

Print and electronic books and journals form the bulk of the Africana Studies collection. Primary source databases are purchased heavily as funds allow. DVDs and streaming videos are purchased selectively with a focus on supporting current research and teaching interests. Specialized formats such as data sets, corpora, and manuscripts are purchased on an ad hoc basis to meet research needs or to support growing fields of interest. 

3. Geographical 

The African diaspora is global, and all regions outside Africa are covered. 

4. Language 

Emphasis is on English language materials, but coverage extends to French, German and Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese. Works in the languages of Eastern Europe, South Asia, East Asia, Africa, and the Middle East are purchased by other funds. 

5. Publication dates 

The majority of publications selected are current, although efforts are made to select older titles if they are of significant importance in regard to new collecting focuses. Out of print titles are actively sought to replace missing copies or fill gaps in the collection. 

6. Open Access  

Products that lead to open access publications and resources receive priority. Proprietary resources in which we would not normally invest receive greater consideration if they support a competitive market with freely accessible resources.

The interdisciplinary character of Africana Studies requires that materials be acquired from widely diverse sources. Approval plans, standing orders, publisher notifications, user requests, and regular review of the scholarly literature account for most of the materials. The approval plans incorporate small and large publishers to help ensure that the plan allows for books from a variety of perspectives and disciplines within the field. The approval plans draw upon publishers to acquire relatively unknown resources. Although many university and domestic press publications come primarily on the approval plans, faculty contact and review of the scholarly literature are crucial to obtaining relevant materials in a timely manner. This is especially true for some types of literature, such as reports and association publications. 

The Africana studies fund is used to collect broadly and deeply across many disciplines, including popular literature and the sciences. The fund does not systematically collect popular genres or devotional works. The fund only rarely purchases material that is clearly appropriate for other funds. These include anthropology, archaeology, clinical medicine, business, fine arts, and the hard sciences, though there are exceptions in each case. Requests for purchase in all areas are welcome. 

Although Penn collects at a high level for Africana, the Borrow Direct and EZ-Borrow consortia dramatically increase the availability of material. Collections that are less strong at Penn are very strong at the consortial level. For instance, monographs published by regional presses in the Caribbean or Latin America are represented in the Penn collection, but much more is available across all Borrow Direct institutions. Consortial availability is essential for non-English language material, out of print books that Penn once owned but lost, high-use books that are checked out, and topical material for which other libraries build extensive collections (for instance, Labor History at NYU or History of Science at Johns Hopkins).

The principal repository of material in the Philadelphia area concerning African Americans is the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American collection, a component of the Temple University libraries. The general Blockson collection contains "over 30,000 items and materials on the global black experience in all formats: books, manuscripts, sheet music, pamphlets, journals, newspapers, broadsides, posters, photographs, and rare ephemera. In addition, the collection houses selected artifacts, including statues, busts, etc." There is also a special collection that includes "rare books, prints, photographs, slave narratives, manuscripts, letters, sheet music, foreign language publications, and ephemera." An extremely rich collection of 18th century material is held by the Library Company of Philadelphia. Other local special collections that cover Africana include the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the Urban Archives at Temple University, and the Philadelphia Municipal Archives.  A more extended lists of local special collections is available here:

Extraordinary special collections with strengths in Africana Studies are located in New York, Washington, and Princeton. Columbia University, The central branch and Schomburg Center of NYPL, NYU, Princeton University, the National Archives and Records Administration, and other collections in the New York City to Washington D.C. corridor are all reasonable day trips.