(The following is a guest post by Eve M. Ferguson, reference librarian for East Africa in the African and Middle Eastern Division.)
As President Barack H. Obama gave his final State of the Union Address last month and this month is African American History Month, there is no better time to recount the birth of a unique collection at the Library of Congress: the Obama Memorabilia from Africa collection housed in the African and Middle Eastern Division (AMED).
Son of Barack Obama Sr., a native of western Kenya, President Obama has long been well-respected by Africans for his unique journey into becoming the first African American president of the United States. The Library of Congress’ Obama Memorabilia from Africa collection was thus born out of the enthusiastic response Africans had to Obama’s election in 2008, resulting in a plethora of ephemera first acquired by the Library’s Nairobi Office – one of the six Library of Congress overseas offices – and then joined by the collection developed by AMED.
The Obama Memorabilia collection did not come together easily. In 2008, on the very day when the Nairobi office staff set off to acquire memorabilia items, the Nairobi City Council initiated a crackdown on unregulated street vendors, which was the main source for such Obama memorabilia. Fortunately, patience and persistence paid off. A few days later, those street vendors reappeared and the Nairobi Office staff was able to quickly complete their acquisition.
At the same time, the Library’s AMED staff in Washington D.C. were planning to acquire any publications available in Africa on the 2008 election. This would not have been achieved without tremendous support from the State Department Information Resources Officers across the African continent. The result of this seamless collaboration was a comprehensive collection of local newspapers and magazines announcing the results of the U.S. presidential election.
Since then, the Obama Memorabilia collection has continued to grow. In addition to the Library’s regular acquisitions channels, a series of displays at the Library between 2009 and 2015 attracted donations from the general public to the Library, which further augment this collection. Today, the Obama Memorabilia collection includes newspapers, electoral buttons, photographs, magazines, textiles and music CDs from various African countries, as well as other parts of the world such as France, Lebanon, United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom. This collection documents not only the historic event in 2008 but also President Obama’s reelection in 2012 and his two visits to Africa in 2013 and 2015.
As President Barack Obama concludes his presidency, he leaves a legacy in ephemera at the Library as a historic record of important research value that documents the enthusiastic responses of African people to his presidency.