Aluka is an international, collaborative initiative building an online digital library of scholarly resources from and about Africa. Our name, "Aluka", is derived from a Zulu word meaning "to weave", reflecting Aluka's mission to connect resources and scholars from around the world.  Aluka is now incorporated into JSTOR.

Aluka seeks to attract high-quality scholarly content about Africa from institutions and individuals across the globe. By contributing their collections to the Aluka platform, content owners will have a means of offering access to their collections to an international audience without having to develop and support their own technology platforms. Aluka's web-based platform provides powerful tools for research, teaching, collaboration, and knowledge exchange.

The Aluka website [] includes a wide variety of high-quality scholarly materials contributed by Aluka's partners, ranging from archival documents, periodicals, books, reports, manuscripts, and reference works, to three-dimensional models, maps, oral histories, plant specimens, photographs, and slides. By aggregating these materials online, the Aluka collections link materials that are widely dispersed and difficult to access, opening up new opportunities for research, teaching, and broader public discussion. One of Aluka's primary objectives is to provide African scholars and students with access to scholarly materials originally from Africa, but now out of their reach.

Aluka also works closely with partner organisations in Africa to build capacity in digitisation and the use of online materials for teaching and research. In some cases this includes setting up digital labs and providing technical training in scanning and creating metadata records; in others, Aluka convenes training workshops for librarians, archivists, faculty, and heritage professionals on topics related to digital imaging, preservation, and the use of online tools in the classroom.

To demonstrate the potential of Aluka as a scholarly resource, three content areas are currently under development: African Cultural Heritage Sites and Landscapes, African Plants, and Struggles for Freedom in Southern Africa. New materials are added to the collections on an ongoing basis. In the longer run, our hope is that Aluka's work in Africa will be a model for expanding the initiative to other regions of the developing world.

Aluka is a project of Ithaka [], a not-for-profit organization with a mission to promote innovation in higher education by providing research, strategic services, and infrastructure support to promising new initiatives. Start-up funding for Ithaka and Aluka has been provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and The Stavros Niarchos Foundation.


Aluka's principal audience is the higher education and research community, both in Africa and around the world, including colleges, universities, research and policy centres, and cultural institutions. The materials are selected primarily with undergraduate students and their instructors in mind, but the content is also valuable to graduate students and upper-level secondary students. Certain materials, such as high resolution images of plant specimens and GIS databases, are valuable for specialised research purposes.

Building a Sustainable Resource

Central to Aluka's mission is a commitment to build a permanent and sustainable scholarly resource, that can be reliably accessed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and that will not be obsolescent as soon as the next wave of technological innovations sweeps across the academic landscape. The costs of maintaining and upgrading a resource of this scale involving hundreds of institutions, thousands of users, and multi-terabytes of data are substantial, not to mention the significant expense of developing new content. Aluka is developing a long-term business plan that will spread the costs over a large number of institutions and, over time, generate sufficient revenue to ensure that Aluka is available to future generations of students and scholars. In Africa, Aluka will be made available at no charge to appropriate educational and cultural institutions. Outside of Africa, educational and cultural organisations will be asked to contribute an affordable fee, scaled to the size of the organisation, in order to join the international 'Aluka network'. By joining Aluka they will both gain access to an initial (and growing) set of high-quality collections as well as the opportunity to contribute their own scholarly materials. In the short- or even medium-term, we do not expect these fees to cover all of Aluka's operating costs. To cover the costs of providing subsidized or free access, Aluka will seek additional support from governments, international agencies, and philanthropic institutions. (The cost of developing the initial collections is being funded by external sources, and will not be recovered through participation fees.) For more information, see the Join pages []

History of Aluka

In the mid-1990s, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation launched JSTOR, a not-for-profit organisation providing an online archive containing back issues of leading scholarly journals. JSTOR is now licensed by over 3,000 institutions in more than 100 countries. As JSTOR became available in the developing world, it became clear that there was a great need not only for access to high-quality scholarly resources in those countries, but also widespread interest in finding ways to develop local electronic content that could be made available online.

At the end of 2002, with the support of the Mellon, Hewlett, and Niarchos Foundations, Ithaka, a new not-for-profit organisation, was formed. Ithaka's [] mission is to accelerate the adoption of productive and efficient uses of information technology for the benefit of the worldwide scholarly community. As one of its first projects, Ithaka launched Aluka with the goal of creating an online archive of scholarly resources from the developing world, beginning in Africa. Because it is incubated within Ithaka, Aluka has been able to draw on a wide range of supporting services, including financial, legal, human resource, and technology. Ithaka is affiliated with both JSTOR and ARTstor [].

Work on Aluka began in early 2003. The initial focus was on Struggles for Freedom in Southern Africa, building on earlier work done by the Digital Imaging South Africa (DISA) project based at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, now one of Aluka's partners. With additional support from the Mellon Foundation, the work in South Africa was expanded to four neighboring countries, beginning with Mozambique and subsequently adding Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. The first meeting of the Struggles regional advisory committee, with representatives from all five countries, was held in Johannesburg in March 2004. In 2006 preliminary meetings were held to include Angola as a sixth country.

About the same time the African Plants Initiative began to get under way, holding its first organisational meeting in Addis Ababa in September 2003. That December, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded an initial set of grants to participating institutions. An important milestone was reached in July 2005, when Aluka presented a working prototype of the African Plants database at the International Botanical Congress in Vienna. New partners have continued to join the initiative each year. In February 2007, the digital library was formally launched in conjunction with the XVIII Congress of the Association for the Taxonomic Study of the Flora of Tropical Africa (AETFAT) held in Yound, Cameroon.

In mid-2004, after a series of discussions with Professor Heinz Rüther at the University of Cape Town's Geomatics department, a partnership was formed between Aluka and UCT to use the latest techniques in laser scanning, photogrammetry, and digital photography as a means of documenting African cultural heritage sites. This was the start of Aluka's third content area, African Cultural Heritage Sites and Landscapes. Professor Rüther and his team began field work in Tanzania in the fall of 2004, continuing on to Mali, Ghana, and Ethiopia in 2005. Partnerships with the Trust for African Rock Art (Nairobi) and the Rock Art Research Institute (University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg) also took shape in 2005, again building on earlier projects supported by the Mellon Foundation.

Aluka's informational website was launched in June 2006. The first release of the digital library took place in February 2007, beginning with content from the African Plants content area and adding materials from the other two content areas in stages during the first half of the year. In collaboration with JSTOR, a free preview of the digital library was made available to all JSTOR participating institutions. Participation fees and terms were announced in June 2007.