University of Ouagadougou Library

My principal activity for yesterday was a visit to the university library. The library has a big reading room, notionally air conditioned, with dozens of students sitting around working. There is a circulation desk, and at least in theory students can check books out. The circulating collection is located in a bunch of stacks (with somewhat better air conditioning) behind the reading room. The books on the stacks are, unfortunately, in poor condition and in the US we would have expected better of a middle school library. There are a few important and useful books, a good deal on the history of Africa and of Burkina, as you would expect, but not much at all on the US or Latin America, again as you would expect. There is also a large non-circulating collection, in closed stacks, that I got a chance to look though. These are books that the university acquired before 1985, and there are quite a few very useful books in there. Mostly stuff I read in graduate school, but still useful to introduce ideas to students. I get the impression that the university was better-funded in the past and has not had much money for acquisitions in the last 30 years. Students can have access to the material in the non-circulating collection, but only by request (a day’s notice, in principle) and only for consultation in the reading room. Research libraries in the US work this way – I used the Library of Congress Jefferson Collection like this. Of course, those materials were collected before 1820. They also have a reading room for theses, dissertations, and other special collections, in this case still indexed by a card catalog and stored in cartons by date. The library has a reading room for graduate students and faculty, equipped with computers and wi-fi and nicely air conditioned. The computers were provided by Belgian development assistance, according to the labels on them. When we tried to get one set up so I could use it to peruse the (newly-installed) online catalog, we couldn’t find the password. The person responsible for the computer system is at a training program (to learn how to use the new catalog system) and nobody else could assign me a password.

I introduced myself to the people at the circulation desk, and they took me to see the director. He was very interested to meet me and we talked at some length about how the library works and the sorts of things they are able to do. He invited me to submit a list of works I would like to see them acquire though as I say, I got the impression that library purchases are somewhere down on the list of things the University is able to spend money on. The director of special collections gave me a tour of the library.

And all this time, I was walking around with my camera in my bag and I never thought to take a picture.

The reason I mention the air conditioning over and over again is because we are beginning to enter the short dry season before the harmattan, and it gets mighty warm in the middle of the day. I walked to and from the university, a distance of about two kilometers. By the time I got back, I was completely soaked with sweat. On the way back, I passed an interesting sign:

Planned Parenthood 1

On the upper right is the logo of the International Planned Parenthood Federation. There has been a lot of discussion about Planned Parenthood in the US, with critics accusing it of cynically profiting off abortion services, charging excessive amounts for donated fetal tissue for research, and failing to provide other health services aside from abortion that it is supposed to be delivering under a federal government grant. Here, at least, there is a Planned Parenthood facility that does many things but not abortions. Abortion is legal in Burkina Faso only in order to save the life or health of the mother or in case of fetal abnormality, much as it was in most of the US before 1973. Most abortions (all the elective ones) are performed by traditional midwives, who have poor training and operate clandestinely because of the formal prohibition. Emergency abortions by physicians for health reasons would presumably take place at hospitals where the mothers would be being treated for gestational hypertension or ruptured fallopian pregnancy or what have you. The only abortion service offered here is treatment after abortion; that is, when one of those traditional abortions goes wrong. So I think we can be pretty confident that no unusual profits are being made off abortion services at this clinic, and that its business is, as the sign states, to provide gynecological care, obstetrical care, well-baby care, and contraception.

On the way home, I detoured to the local Catholic parish and found, at last, a French missal. I have been going to mass at St. Camille, but feeling fairly foolish at not being able to make the responses during the prayers. I have been muttering the English responses and feeling rather foolish for three weeks, now I will be able to feel slightly less foolish as the only guy in the whole place with a book to read out of (Catholics, both in the US and in Africa, have the service memorized, unlike Anglicans who can all be seen reading out of the Book of Common Prayer, though in the US Catholic Church since the adoption of new wordings for the prayers a few years ago, some folks can be seen clandestinely looking in the service books).

Along the way to the church, I crossed one of the small urban rivers that pass through Ouagadougou (it goes right through the university campus as well) and it sparked some further thoughts about the difference between Accra and Ouaga. Here is the Burkinabé river:

Urban River

And here is the Accra river:

Nice City

The Accra watercourse is called the Nima Stream, and it runs through a reasonably middle-class neighborhood near the hotel where I was staying. Only a few hundred meters downstream from the place where I took this picture, there was the Paloma Hotel, a very expat-oriented place with pizza and 12-cedi beers (beer at the corner drinking establishment down from the hotel was 4.50). And yet, it is completely choked with trash. Meanwhile, the Ouaga watercourse, similar in water flow and similarly contained by concrete banks, and similarly flowing through a middle-class neighborhood, is reasonably clean. I wouldn’t want to drink the water out of it, but people were washing their clothes, wading across farther upstream, watering their little gardens, and suchlike. We are at the tail end of the rainy season here, so perhaps heightened water flows cleaned most of the crap out, while in Accra it is the end of the short dry season (it rained once while I was there). Still, I think that the pollution speaks to the increased urban problems of Accra. It is a bigger city, but also one with significant issues that one does not find in Ouaga.

One thought on “University of Ouagadougou Library

  1. I wonder if you can help me by providing an email for your registrar. I have a student enrolled at Nyack College NYC campus in our education program. As the chair I would like to be able to recommend several of his courses for transfer credit to the English department, however, to do this we require course descriptions. I would appreciate any help you could provide for us to make our student’s time here prosperous.


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