African Studies Librarian Emilie Songolo and UW-Madison Libraries

The African Studies Program and African Studies Librarian Emilie Songolo invite you to UW-Madison Libraries, where you can book an appointment to view an array of source materials about and from the African continent.

Emilie is the Senior Librarian for African, Global, and Francophone Studies, as well as the Head of International and Area Studies for libraries. She is the chair of the Africana Librarian’s Council Title 6 group and the curator of an extensive collection of African commemorative fabrics, which includes more than 500 physical hundred pieces.

Emilie was born and spent her life, until early adulthood, in Cameroon. She moved to the United States after college there and in the UK. In her early intellectual career, Emilie was passionate about translation but later realized that at the root of this interest was a desire to connect people with knowledge. As part of her undergraduate program at the University of Yaoundé, Emilie spent time at the University College Cardiff in Whales, where she fell in love with libraries.

“I grew up without libraries,” Emilie said. By her early 20s, she realized that libraries existed for more than materials and services. They are “a very important place” that we “need to design and care for with intentionality.” This commitment stuck with Emilie throughout her career, driving her to ask questions about how library staff design these spaces so that students can use them as a haven “to go to and accomplish their scholarly goals.” To Emilie, the library provides a safe and quiet space for students who may not live in conditions that are conducive to thinking and studying. It also gives protection from problems and responsibilities at home.

After her Foreign Fellowship at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, Emilie moved to Irvine, California, where she worked at UC Irvine’s Main library while commuting to UCLA for the Master’s program in Library and Information Science. She worked and studied under the mentorship of librarians and scholars such as Dr. Mary Niles Maack, Joan Ariel, and Dr. Ellen Broidy. With this experience, Emilie moved to Madison, Wisconsin, to work for the UW-Madison libraries in 1991 and has been here ever since.

For over 30 years, Emilie’s core passion as a librarian and bibliographer has remained the same: to help people find access to information. She has witnessed the UW libraries’ transition from an institution with few computers to one with an abundance of information technology, teaching students (and particularly students of color and international students), along the way, to develop their capacity to find knowledge. Emilie reflects, “it is important to know where information is produced, who generates it, and how to access it. It is equally important to know whether a piece of information is ‘fake news,’ or objective, and how to document it.” Students can make an appointment with her to discuss these questions further, as well as to talk about their research needs. Emilie has virtual drop-in hours, while UW learning remains hybrid. You can find her on Wednesdays from 1-3 after Africa at Noon, or contact her via email to set up an appointment or to schedule an instructional session for your course.

Emilie stresses that she does not want students to have a truncated understanding of what information is available in campus libraries about Africa and Africans. In her collections, there are books, but also non-book materials. The library also has periodicals, cartoons, DVDs, newspapers, maps, government documents from Africa, funeral programs, and non-print collections, such as her fabrics. Emilie has prioritized gaining access to ephemera because her goal is to “make sure we capture and preserve the voices of Africans because they are the ones who are telling their authentic story by explaining who they are, where they are, how they live, and what matters to them” through these materials. The library also has maps, government documents, DVDs, streamed and non-streamed videos, music, manuscripts, special collections, journals, magazines, cartoneras, databases and digital collections. In appointments with Emilie, researchers can learn how to approach their information seeking on a topic, what materials are available online and what materials are available in print and require in-person use, such as the funeral programs (that will not be digitized). Appointments are also available for students, faculty, and staff to pick up books and other circulating materials.

Ultimately, Emilie has spent her career challenging the colonization of information. She says, “it is a gift and an honor to work in an institution like UW-Madison that is one of the leading centers in African Studies with a library that provides opportunities to enhance collections and services that my predecessors started. Connecting faculty, students and the general public to these collections is no longer a job but a pleasure.” Despite reorienting her career away from translation, Emilie sees the crux of her work in libraries as similar to her early adulthood goals. “Information is the greatest arm you can have to navigate life” she says.

You may find a list of new and noteworthy library acquisitions here.

By Carly Lucas