Academic journal article Library Philosophy and Practice

Digitization of Archival Collections in Africa for Scholarly Communication: Issues, Strategies, and Challenges

Academic journal article Library Philosophy and Practice

Digitization of Archival Collections in Africa for Scholarly Communication: Issues, Strategies, and Challenges

Article excerpt


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. …

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