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Cultural institutions preserving heritage in digitization era

Cultural institutions preserving heritage in digitization era

Culture forms the backbone of each place and its people are identified by their cultural uniqueness. Some great thinkers started preserving it over the time to keep it alive even after thousands and thousands of years.

Today, each country or community has so much heritage of such great value, it is unimaginable. There is audiovisual history, artifacts, material objects, paper preserves, books and the list of items goes on. This heritage is only adding up with each passing day. Museums, libraries, galleries, cultural institutions are full of priceless content.

When it all started off, no one must have ever thought of the challenges humankind will face to take care of them and keep them alive for generations and generations to come. But slowly and gradually, these institutions started facing issues as far as the quality of these preserves was concerned. With changing times and depleting environmental conditions, it became very difficult to upkeep with the quality of each heritage. The need to secure these valuables became such a worrisome issue and needed a permanent and a highly durable solution to it.

WORLD OF DIGITIZATION AND ITS CHALLENGES

A lot of research went into it and Digitization provided the one-stop solution to all problems these institutions were facing. It brought new life to the ever-diminishing rich cultural heritage of our very existence. But it was just a start. With the onset of digitization journey, cropped up, many challenges.

What to Digitize & How to Store

Not everything could be digitized or preserved. There were various forms in which our history existed and that too in varied conditions. Selecting a thing which was possible to revive and then deciding on how to preserve it became the first and foremost task of digitization specialists. The content had to be selective, holds significance with the motive of preservation and be in a revival condition.

Another concern for the custodians of these historical assets is storing the items once a digital copy has been created. It is a speculated decision of investing resources to store old physical items, such as obsolete audio-video material, or frail paper items or let them go after they have been archived digitally.

The Copyright Issue

Another major issue which affected many digitization projects was The Copyright Issue which had to go through a lot of clearances. In such cases, there was the high risk of content being frail or sub judice. Google Books Library Project is a well-known example for when it started digitizing books of US libraries in 2002, never had they thought what lay ahead. In 2005, members of Association of American Publishers and Authors’ Guild brought proceedings of copyright infringement against Google. It was only after a long battle that in late 2013, Google’s activities were protected as fair use.

Money Matters

Cost is another major issue. Any digitization project – audio, video, or manuscript etc. – involves a huge investment in terms of technology and highly skilled manpower. A fair amount of budget needs to be allocated which depends largely on the content, in its present analog form and how will it be converted digitally. Initially, the main purpose to digitize content was to create a repository. Further commercial use was not something high on agenda. But, over the period of time, its future viability became a major deciding factor before undertaking any project.

SOME OF THE SUCCESSFUL DIGITIZATION PROJECTS

Overcoming all hindrances and obstacles, many digitization projects were undertaken and accomplished the feat.

To name a few, The Star East Asian Library at Columbia University holds a unique collection of over 200 Chinese “paper gods” which were conserved and digitized.

Digitizing history of Australian Museum and South Australian Museum in 2010 is another example wherein digitizing workstations were built to reduce cost and increase productivity. They also enjoyed the luxury of increased budgets from time to time seeing the outcome.

In 2015, a major digitization project was undertaken by University of Michigan Biological Collections to digitize close to 50,000 natural history specimens.

Many libraries namely Library of Congress, The British Library, Australian Islamic Library, South Carolina State Library, German National Library of Medicine, National Library of Indonesia, National Library of Whales are few of the names who have successfully preserved their rich heritage. Furthermore, world-class universities also went the digital way to not only preserve their assets but also made them available for references.

THE IMPACT & ROAD AHEAD

Consistent and sustainable efforts showed positive results and slowly and gradually, all institutions started adopting digitization or digital archiving to save and preserve their assets. Now, it has become a worldwide phenomenon and every place, big or small, has adopted technology to give a new life to their collection.

It is even envisaged that in years to come, the word ‘Digital’ would have no meaning of its own. It would actually mean ‘Default’. Digital libraries and repositories have helped our cultural organizations in not only preserving the vast history but has also aided in its accessibility to a wider audience thus by satisfying its commercial viability as well.

Digitization seems to be the need of present and future to preserve our glory and pass it on to our coming generations for them to understand their roots, their forefathers’ journey of life and evolvement of the human brain. It helps in beautifully integrating the past into the present and together advance towards the future.

Content at Risk: Heritage and Culture Lost in Natural Calamities

Content at Risk: Heritage and Culture Lost in Natural Calamities

“When I open them, most of the books have the smell of an earlier time leaking out between the pages – a special odor of the knowledge and emotions that for ages have been calmly resting between the covers.”

– Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

Smell of the past, the history that shapes mankind – our culture and existence. Libraries, over centuries, have been a storehouse of all these and more. As Doris Lessing rightly said, a public library is the most democratic thing in the world.

However, these storehouses of knowledge is not free from risk. Natural calamities, be it earthquakes, fires and power outages, floods, heavy rains, or hurricanes and tsunamis have destroyed libraries over the centuries, resulting in the loss of valuable content.

Looking back, we have witnessed libraries being subjected to fire outrages sporadically over the centuries – be it destruction of Library of Nalanda in India, the accidental burning of the Duchess Anna Amalia Library in Weimar, the Library of Alexandria, or the recent outrage at the Delhi Museum of Natural History. The loss from such natural disasters is immeasurable – because there are no absolute numbers of how it affects the readers.

How we can secure this valuable content – you may ask! The only viable solution is digitization. Digitization has many advantages. Not only does it speed up search methods and broaden access for academics and scholars, but it also makes it possible for content to be accessed anytime, anywhere. Sharing it online also gives it global access and helps in research.

Institutions like public and private museums, libraries, and historical society archives can benefit immensely from digitization. It lets them make their collection public and preserves their collections in a modern reusable format.

Digital asset managers are working overtime to digitize the content and manuscripts to save it from the wrath of nature. Not only are they digitizing the content, but new features are also being developed that allow researchers to view networks of relationships across collections, enabling researchers to track an individual name across multiple collections. As Ben Vershbow, Director of NYPL Labs foresees, such networks tying millions of documents together will allow curators and researchers to identify new relationships.

With digitization, the volume of archival collections available electronically have increased manifold. As libraries collaborate with each other to create comprehensive digital repositories, digitization reduces the risk of theft and wear and tear of the original copy. Therefore, in spite of the high cost involved, the preservation opportunities is worth the manpower and expenses involved.

Libraries like Vatican, New York Public Library, and some libraries in Japan have already started digitizing content to safe keep the archives. So in near future, if you are a researcher of history, it’s not difficult to access rare manuscripts and important resources from the comfort of your home. All you need is an online membership, which may be in another country or continent.