Library Philosophy and Practice 2011
Digitization of Archival Collections In Africa For Scholarly Communication: Issues, Strategies, and Challenges
Brendan Eze Asogwa
Experience and observations have revealed that most archives and libraries in Africa today are filled with materials recorded in analogue formats and the traditional or analogue librarians and archivists are those who are still carrying out the tasks of acquiring, organizing, and preserving the print documents and helping the readers in locating the information they need.
In developing countries this picture has rapidly changed due to the influence of advances in computer technology. The physical materials are gradually giving way to electronic print, and online public access catalogue (OPAC) is obliterating the needs for users to physically visit the library or archives buildings to access their collections. Traditionally, librarians and archivists have been analogue information providers for centuries, but today they have the opportunities to use modern technologies to provide quicker, accurate and more sophisticated services to users. Since then, archiving of digital materials as well as creating digital archives is an emerging practice of today’s archival profession. This is made feasible by technological advancement which provides greater opportunities and challenges to librarians, archivists and information professionals. Technology has made information which was traditionally provided in paper prints to be digitized, preserved and made available and accessible to users in electronic format.
The proliferation of electronic information; the dwindling budget for acquisition of library stocks; the desire to access materials in remote locations; the quest for collaboration, partnerships and resource sharing; and the ever increasing cost of preserving analogue materials, and so on , are some of the forces that prompted digitization of archives and records. Omekwu (2009) aptly observed that the transient nature of many web resources calls for practice that ensure that information of instrumental value is accessed, acquired and archived electronically for reference and research purposes. This paradigm shift from traditional medium to electronic format has tasked modern archivists, especially with regard to digital preservation, accessibility, copyrights and the issue of intellectual property rights. In view of this development, for archivists and librarians in Africa to keep afloat with this modern trends, they need to be prepared to embrace the new technology.
Background of Digital Libraries/Archives
It was Scholler (1984) who reveals that Thomas A. Edison that invented phonograph more than 120 years ago, and in 1899the Academy of Science in Vienna founded the phonograph-archives which was the first archives of the world.
Hughes (2004); Mutula & Ojedokun (2008) reports that the foundation of modern archives (the Internet, electronic libraries and archives) was laid in 1945 when Vannevar Bush envisioned an automated system that would store information . Bush articulated a system known as a memex machine which he envisaged would allow a user to view stored information from several different access points and look at several items simultaneously. In 1950 Dauglas Engelbert “hypothesized that computers could be used to automate symbol-handling tasks, and thus help people think faster and better about more complex problems”(Mutula & Ojedokun, 2008).
The idea of Bush and Engelbert inspired and motivated Ted Nelson to coin the term hypertext to describe a system that linked bits of knowledge in ways that people think. Since Bush anticipated the notion of scholars having access to infinite quantities of information at the desktop, “it has led to a sea change in the accessibility, affordability and ease of use of computing and networked digital information” (Hughes, 2004). Right from then, the evolution of digital libraries and archives in the 1990s is tied to hypertext searching and advances in computer technology. Since the evolution, many digital library projects such as that of the Association of Africa Universities(AAU), the Rhodes University in South Africa, the University of Nigeria Nsukka, and the African Digital Library (ADL), are some of the digital library projects being implemented in Africa.
In addition to using technology for administrative and academic purposes, digitized collections can be made accessible in a reformatted/refined way which allows faster browsing simultaneously on the Internet by millions of users in different and remote locations. As is becoming the emerging practice of archivists, electronic preservation, and the best way to make archival resources available and accessible to users, has been the greatest worries of modern archives professionals.,
Contemporary Issues and Problems
Information emanating from governments, institutions, organizations,scholars as well as private individuals are increasingly appearing online and being demanded electronically thereby creating a new environment and challenging to library and archival profession. It is placing greater pressure on information professionals and the urgent needs to be abreast with developments in the global archival environment.
The issue is that as Witten & Bainbridge, (2003) correctly observed “new strategic vision and economic models are emerging” and modern archivists are operating in a context of new social, political, economic, and technological milieu which impact on institutions, administrators, archivists, librarians, genealogists, historians, lawyers, and scholars’ needs and the uses they make of archives. This therefore, changes the mission of the archivists and their priorities for service delivery. It touches on the economy of archival institutions and changed or brings about changes associated with the context and nature of the resources that librarians and archivists have in their collections and therefore, affects their attitudes and priorities for collection development, storage and use. It changes the technology of the archival institutions which simultaneously changes the tools and systems with which archivists work with and, therefore impinge on the frameworks and tools by which their services are delivered. The political change which links together all the above process of making choice about policy, priorities, and resource allocation, is not left out either.
The implications are that all the forces for change in the politics and government in Africa, are influencing the internal management dynamic of museum, archives and their parent’s institutions. As the information future of technology is abysmally unpredictable, it affects the way and manner information is created, managed, processed, archived and made accessible for scholarly communication.
In view of this shift in paradigms, the use of “technology has become a fundamental part of the institutional mission of archives, museums and libraries” (McKay,2003). Technology and its impacts on archives and libraries is one example of the rapid and pervasive changes that has affected work, life and scholarly communications today. It is making computer-based archiving system an imperative for many operations in memory institutions (Smith, 2000). In addition to the use of technology for administrative purposes and scholarly communications, more institutions are developing digitization initiative, and hundreds of libraries, museums, history, and archives have launched projects designed to digitize their collections and place them on the web (University of Illinois Library 2001).
Purpose of the Study
This paper examines and discusses
1. How information technology answers the questions of what, why, how and the gains of digitization project in Africa.
2. The rules or principles and basic approaches Africa should know about digitalization of their archival collections.
3. The gains or reasons why cultural institutions in African and the developing world should digitize and preserve their archival collections in digital formats.
4. And the challenges facing African archivists in their efforts to digitize their cultural heritage collections.
Literature review of current issues and developments in archives, archiving, preservation, and digitization was carried. This made the author to have an added insight into some of the basic concepts, issues, and techniques that might have made a better comprehension of the paper ambiguous. The ideas and knowledge obtained from reviewing the literature was used in discussing the concepts, issues, strategies and challenges of digitalization in the archival profession.
Digitization is “the process by which analogue contents is converted into a sequence of 1s (ones) and 0s (zeros) and put into a binary code to be readable by computer” (Hughes, 2004). It is the transformation of analogue information from whatever form and from whatever support to digital code using computer technologies. This may “include electronic snapshots taken of a scene or photographs, films, manuscripts, printed texts and artworks scanned from documents” (Cornell University Library, 2001). Digitization process converts archival materials from formats that can be read by people (analogue) to a format that can be read only with the help of machines (digital). It is a process of taking a physical object (analogue contents), and taking photographs of or scanning the item and transferring the photographs into a digital medium. It is also a process of archiving born digitals into the institutions collections.
The concept of digital archives may therefore be referred to as both collections of electronic resources consisting of ‘born digital’(i.e. archival materials which originally was not intended to have analogue equivalent) and, ‘made digital’ (i.e. creating digital files of archival collections by conversion or scanning the analogue materials such as texts, audio, visual, graphics, animations and other documents) generated in the day-to-day administration of an institution that are made accessible through the aid of digital technologies. One great advantage digital archives has over analogue collection is that digital files may be read, reformatted, compressed, transferred and retrieved over computer networks. It is made accessible and viewed on computer monitors. It can be accessed over the Internet simultaneously by millions of users in different locations in Africa and beyond without degradation of the contents, and can also be copied limitless times with just a click of the computer mouse.
Principles of Digitization
For archivists undertaking digitization initiative of their collections, the following principles which had been confirmed by the preservation Committee of the Canadian Council of Archives (2001), should never be ignored.
As part of an access strategy, the process of digitization must not place original records at risk of damage from handling or use. This means that establishment of digitization service must strive to preserve the authenticity and integrity of the original information and not violate the physical or intellectual rights (property rights, copyright or privacy) of persons (Zulu, 2008). During digitization, digital enhancements may be performed on copies to improve access, but unaltered version, the original analogue document or a digital version must always be kept. Archival institutions in Africa must define clearly the objectives such as access or a combination of access and preservation, before implementing a digitization programme. Records to be digitizes should be chosen only after a careful selection process and the technological approach to digitization must satisfy project objectives and must accommodate the characteristics of the records, such as the principle provenance or the sanctity of the original order. In addition, search tools are an essential part of a digitization project, and must meet the needs of users.
Since digital information is at the risk of loss due to technological obsolescence (physical supports, logical formats, as well as software for searching and displaying the information), institutions in Africa embarking on a programme for long-term preservation of digital records must be aware of these archival digitization principles, the dangers, the complexity of such a program, and the costs that are implied. These institutions must not neglect other activities when allocating resources for the establishment and maintenance of a digitization service. Realizing the costs and complexities inherent in the development of a digitization program, archival institutions in Africa should try to share resources (financial, material, human) and collaborate with others, where possible.
The Why of Digitalization
Cultural institutions in many parts of the world are investing on digital projects for several reasons which may include; providing access, reduction of over-handling of materials, and assisting in promoting the collections and visibility of the institutions. In an answer to the question ‘Why digitize (archival collections in Africa), Trevor Jones, project coordinator, Illinois Digitization Institute (2003) writes that digitization enhances access and improves preservation. By digitizing their collections, cultural heritage institutions in Africa can make information that was previously available to only selected localized group of researchers accessible to many. Digitization of inactive but valuable documents allow users in Africa and beyond to search collections rapidly and comprehensively from anywhere at any time of the day. Some institutions in advanced countries ( example, the National Gallery in London, www.nationalgallery.org.uk/ , and the British Library, www.bl.uk/) have created an electronic images of every item in their collections and place them on their websites. Another example is the Making of American Website (http://www.hti.umic.edu/m/mao.new/) where entire books about the continent can be searched for specific information. Another example is the Library of Congress’s American Memory Page (http://memory.1oc,ov/ammem/edhtml/edsndhm.html) where one can listen to recordings made by Thomas Edison. These allow simultaneous and speedy access to institutional collections and reduces loss rates by theft, and so on.
Digital files are suitable for improving access and usability, and for reducing handling of original materials. The creation of digital/online archives enables creation of new space, significant changes in the delivery of scholarly contents and shifts in the relationships between content creators and users (Deegam & Tanner, 2002). Digitization also help to preserve precious materials, make high quality digital images available electronically and can reduce wears and tears on fragile items (Jones, 2001). In an archival environment digitized materials can be linked to other materials to create multimedia. It can be stored and delivered in a variety of ways; and can be browsed easily and speedily and be searched or accessed simultaneously in different locations. Mutula & Ojedokun, (2008) write that digitization makes libraries to have global reach through international networks such as the Internet. Using web access makes it possible to search the OPACs of many world libraries and to utilize a number of their online resources. Digital archives are ubiquitous, meaning that digital archives are accessible any time from anywhere subject to the availability of enablement.
Gains of Digitization of Archival Collections in Africa
Developing a digital surrogate of rare and fragile archival materials in Africa prevents the original from damage by handling. Creating digital archives and use reduces wears and tiers in handling of the old or fragile materials and hopefully extending the life of the original (De Stenfano, 2000; Jones, 2001). Instead of using the physical documents, the digitized version are used, thereby reducing the rate of physical consultation and deterioration.
Approaches in Digitizing Archival Collection in Africa
The success of digital projects in Africa hinges not on expensive technology, but rather on sound project planning. Technology should not drive digital projects, rather the goals should be determined first, and only then should appropriate technology be selected. There are certain factors that must be considered when digitization projects are to be embarked on in developing countries and these include;
Planning: It is the best to ask series of questions before embarking on a digital initiative because the objectives of the digitization must be clearly identified and spell out. Some of these pertinent questions include: Are the archival materials to be digitized frequently consulted?. A high demand for records may justify a digitization as a means of preventive measure because use of surrogates prevents the originals from unnecessary handling and risks. Can the records/archival materials selected for digitization be safely digitized?; How could archival collections in an institutions repository or digital environment/e-environment be provided in electronic format? What are the strategies or steps for digitization? What are the things to be considered before embarking on digitization of archives? What are the gains? Resources are useless unless they are accessible and for this reason, if an institution is to embark on a digital conversion project, sufficient thought, planning, risk management and correct infrastructure must go into the process or the project will fall short of intended goals. Libraries, archives and museums hold disparate collections accumulated by judicious selection policies over the institutions history in variety of media. Therefore, in developing collection policies, institutions must take into account many factors such as suitability of materials to an institutions mission, the value of the materials in comparison to other materials in the collection, the demand of users or researches for such material, restrictions resulting from the legal status of part of the collections, and accessibility and availability of collections. Similar considerations will inform the selection of collection for digitization because it is not possible to digitize every thing in the collections.
Setting Goals: First, the project objectives should be clearly identified as well as obtaining the technology and resources necessary to achieve the project goals; Secondly, the long-term costs of a digitization capacity must be maintained and supported by the institution and its parent organization and other stakeholders in the project. African institutions that wish to embark on preservation of archival information in digital form must also commit to a substantial investment in keeping up with technology. Though, the international standards address physical formats for digital information, this is not the case for software components, and logical formats where a certain level of risk management is unavoidable.
Develop Digitalization Policies: Policies for selection of new materials for digitization should be developed, and digitization policies will make it possible to identify collections that add value to these goals. In developing institutional policies on selection of materials for digitization, some of these questions which borders on: whether the materials have sufficient value to ensure interest in digitization; digitization will enhance access or increase use; the rights and permissions for electronic distribution secureable; the goals that will be met by digitization; the institution have sufficient expertise in digitization project management; and organizational and technical infrastructure adequate need some answers.
Legal/Copyright Issues. Who owns it? Selection of archival materials for digitization should first be based on a clear understanding of copyright law and rights of ownership (de Stefano, 2000; Tennant, 2000). Does physical ownership mean rights of reproduction? Physical ownership does not mean that an institution owns the rights to reproduce it. One of the most important selection criteria for digitization will be the copyright status of the original materials. Will it be possible to obtain permission to digitize? After digitization, will the institution be able to protect the digital assets by managing the rights to their use? If the institution does not have the rights to digitize, or the means to manage the digital assets, then digital project should not embarked on.
Selection Criteria: In developing selection criteria for digitization, the process of selecting specific item to be digitized will employ such standard library selection criteria such as value, significance to the overall collections, user demand and interest, availability and fragility of the original. The UNESCO, IFLA, and ICA Guidelines for Digitization Project (2002) suggest that digitization projects should be user driven or based on high demand for access. In order words, unless archivists are trying to encourage consultation of certain documents or restricting the circulation of the originals, it is not advisable to digitize records that are not in demand by patrons; Opportunity driven, (i.e. When enablement is available An inadequate level of human, financial, material, and technological resources may lead to abandonment of the project along the way.); Preservation driven or the need to protect fragile materials. This means that a high demand for archival material may justify digitization as a measure to preserve the original as use of surrogates protects the original from unnecessary handling.
Verifications: Having selected materials for digitization, the next thing to do is to verify or ascertain whether digital copies of such materials already exist. Duplication of efforts is not necessary. Conventional development policies always try to avoid the purchase o copies whose editions already exist in the collection (Ayris, 1999). However, re-digitization is necessary if the electronic resources created were carried out using older technologies. In addition, if the copyright permission to digitize resources was not in the public domain (i.e. if it was for internal use only) and if the material or the institution concerned wish to embark on a wider area network such as the Internet or world wide web, there is the need to re-digitize the materials. In the past it was thought that when a scholarly production was transferred to an institution the legal rights to reproduce the material are automatically made. Today institutions can no longer count on the fact that legal rights are transferable (Beamsley, 1999). For this reason, institutions must be assured that project objectives are attained within the context of the Copyrights Act
Metadata: Metadata simply means information about information that describes digital objects and enables users to find, manage and use digital objects. It represents the total historic record of the digital object and the totality of information about the object. For developing countries good metadata is a key component of developing digital archives that are usable and useful for long term. Good metadata makes it possible to catalogue and effectively present digital information to the public (Jones, 2001). Metadata helps to identify the work, who creates it, migrated or reformatted it, and other descriptive information; it provides unique identifying information about the organization's, files, and databases that have detailed information about the digital contents; describes the technical environment in which the digital files were created, equipment, used, the software, operating systems and other things. Typically, metadata describes how the image was digitized, its format, ownership and copyright information. The justification for digitization and provision of metadata is to enable it in future for without metadata there is no access and when there is no access, it would be difficult to for users to learn from the past in terms of their successes and failure. These are the key issues African Archivists should bear in mind whenever they are planning for digitization of their collections.
Challenges of Digitization of Archives in Africa
Despite every thing that digitization can accomplish, there are some good reasons librarians and archivists in developing countries may regret embarking on such project. Not every thing in the collection is worthy of digitizing because the idea of an entire archives or library being digitized is a long way process. Successful digital project are the result of careful planning and evaluation of collections and the digitization of only those items that will provide the greatest benefits to the users. Below are some of impediments to digitization project for African archivists in the electronic environment.
Information is an intangible but invaluable resources for institutions, organizations and individuals, and they will benefit from using it more efficiently if they are properly organized and permanently preserved. The goal of digitization initiatives for Africa is to develop interoperable and sustainable resources which can be regarded as institutional assets. One important aspect of digitization initiative for Africa is a plan to ensure a long-term preservation and continued access to the digitized materials. Therefore, if valid archival records in Africa are not properly kept and managed by African archivists, not only will the archival resources be lost to future generations, but the institutions also face a number of risks associated with failure to produce evidence of their past. If access to archival information is not to be restricted to scholars in African environment, if archivists in Africa are to escape from the negative biases associated with traditional archival services, and if the archival profession in this 21st century are not to be shortchanged, they must set priorities concerning how archives and records in their repositories can best be preserved and utilized to benefit the institutions and the users in this electronic age.
Technology is usually ahead of the law, and the Internet creates added pressures for new legislation to be made in order to protect digital materials. There are many proactive measures institutions should apply to protect their digital collections.
One of them is listing full copyright information with the images on the websites. Controlled access to the collections may be provided when digital images are marked correctly with ownership.
Technical feasibility and a long-term commitment to infrastructure must be evaluated before embarking on a digital conversion projects. System analysts must understand the changing software and hardware and make collaboration and migration a crucial element of digitization projects.
The stakeholders and key-players (librarians, archivists, administrators, systems analysts, programmers, scholars and end-users) must work together to make the intellectual control of digitized collection very important in their institutions. Powerful technology allows electronic materials to be easily manipulated and end-users must be educated on the importance of authenticating the object. For this reason, every effort must be made to educate end-users about the inherent problems associated with digital medium due to the fact that hardware, software and network infrastructures change rapidly to the extent that it is often difficult to anticipate or forecast how the data of today will be viewed and accessed tomorrow.
Metadata should be the first line of defence to protect digital information and contents. By providing detailed metadata, institutions may minimize the risks of digital resources becoming inaccessible in the future. In metadata, important technical information such as scanning specifications, operating systems, software versions, and decompression schemes, must be captured. In addition to institutional administrative data, it is important to maintain the digital integrity of the files.
The best way for Africa to ensure longevity and long-term access to their digital data is to use standard formats and open system, such as open archives information systems (OAIS), and to have a permanent and sustainable strategy for the project. To be able to do this, a long-term costs of digitization of archival resources should be maintained and supported by the host institution; the institution should make a commitment to the long-term maintenance of digital data. Therefore, institutions which commit to preserving information in digital formats must also commit to a substantial investment in keeping pace with technology because the way information is appearing and accessed has fundamentally changed making the society and modern archivists to be what Anunobi and Nwabueze (2010) described as “being digitally charged”.
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