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August Debut

Issue 2; October/November


Andrew Martin


Andrew Martin

Andrew Martin is Bibliographer/ Literary Researcher at the National English Literary Museum in Grahamstown, South Africa. email: a.martin@ru.ac.za

 The National English Literary Museum

The National English Museum (NELM) in Grahamstown, South Africa is a precious national institution whose function is to collect, preserve and promote the literature of its country. Founded as a collection of indigenous manuscripts in the 1960s by Professor Guy Butler of Rhodes University, NELM now has the world's largest dedicated collection of South African literature in  English. Our collection includes all genres of literature - poems, short stories, novels, plays, autobiographies, travel writing and children's literature, both published and in manuscript form and an equally impressive collection of related literary criticism, theses and scholarly works. The Museum also collects English literature and literary criticism from all South Africa's neighbouring states - Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho and Swaziland, so we  also have a very strong southern African focus. Although we collect only writing in English, we are currently in discussion with South African government departments with a view to establishing similar collections or museums for the literatures of the country’s indigenous African languages.

NELM has three core collections - books, pressclippings, and manuscripts, all of which are growing extremely rapidly.

Our library has over 22 000 volumes, including an extensive and ever-expanding collection of journals and theses, all housed on our premises.

Our press-clippings collection fills 37 filing cabinets. All news reports relating to local writers, theatrical events, literary awards and books are identified, clipped, pasted and filed in the collection. The list of published local authors and playwrights on whom we collect clippings totals nearly 7000. Press-cuttings include biographical pieces, literary works (including theatre), articles and reviews by writers and reviews of their works, etc. We also maintain files and databases of press-clippings on subjects such as literary awards, film, censorship and arts administration.

NELM’s huge manuscripts collection comprises authors’ manuscripts, printers’ proofs, diaries, correspondence, publishers’ archives, photographs, posters, theatre programmes, audio-visual materials and ephemera. In the past 5 years, NELM has boosted its holdings of South African drama through significant donations: the number of playscripts now tops 4000.

NELM functions not only as an archive and a library but also as a research institute of world class. A key function is to provide literary scholars with maximum accessibility to current and topical research materials. This is achieved in three ways.

Firstly, NELM has a strongly pro-active collection policy. At NELM we are constantly upgrading our collections. We order and receive material on a daily basis, from numerous sources - publishers’ catalogues, websites, word-of-mouth, published reviews, radio interviews, e-mail newsgroups and donations from friends worldwide. We are also in regular contact with authors, who often donate manuscripts and copies of their books. NELM does not collect only “old” material.

Secondly, every item received at NELM is carefully curated and preserved for future use and its details recorded on databases. Except for a few manuscripts which have restrictions placed on their accessibility, every item is available for research purposes. We have five major databases: the “Main” (= book) catalogue has nearly 21 000 records; the “Creative” and “Collection” databases listing all the creative writing indexed have over 188 000 records; the “Critical” database of articles, reviews, interviews, essays and autobiographical writing numbers over 36 000 records. Our archival holdings currently exceeds 47 000 records. Because all critical articles are comprehensively indexed, a search by key words yields focused lists of relevant items, which enables NELM to provide specific information on a whole range of subjects or combinations of subjects: articles on censorship, short stories by women writers of Indian origin, poems about prison, works by Mozambican writers in English or articles about nature and landscape in literature, these are provided swiftly.

Thirdly, NELM has a research department whose staff assists with the many queries received on all aspects of southern African literature, as well as with visiting researchers from all over the world. NELM offers visitors a relaxed, quiet and non-intrusive space for conducting research into NELM's collections. Telephonic and written queries and requests for material and database searches are accepted from all parts of the world. Postal queries are now less frequent than e-mailed or faxed queries which allow for faster and easier communication. All our services are provided at reasonable rates. Details of charges and payment options are available on request at addresses given below.

In addition to handling queries, the research staff assist in many other ways including publicity, writing book reviews, indexing critical materials and compiling bibliographies.

As a Museum, NELM would not be itself without its lively and vibrant Educational Outreach programme. Outreach organises a popular set of camps for school pupils at various locations in the surrounding areas which combine literature with environmental education. The staff, with the help of the research department and archives, prepare exhibitions which are mounted and transported to locations all over South Africa. They also manage our two satellite museums, the Eastern Star Printing Gallery, containing 19th-century printing presses, and a  house in which the South African author Olive Schreiner lived in Cradock. NELM also has two specialist bookshops.

Located at 87 Beaufort Street in Grahamstown, NELM is well worth a visit. We are open on weekdays from 8.30 am-1pm and 2pm - 430.pm General enquiries can be directed to our director Malcolm Hacksley - m.hacksley@ru.ac.za or sent to NELM, Private Bag 1019, Grahamstown 6140. Telephone  (+27) 046 622 7042 / Fax (+27) 046 622 2582 

Children on a visit
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