Digitization of library, archival and other legacy resources is frequently associated with the concept of collections. Materials collected by a single scholar or enthusiast are attractive candidates for capture in electronic form because they offer the promise of creating a resource that is much more than the sum of its parts, a resource that reflects and, to some extent, recreates the knowledge of the collector and the context in which he or she worked. The resulting product also has a certain aesthetic integrity that appeals to people: it tells a story, often a colourful or dramatic one, enriched by personal anecdote, documentation and images from the period.Digitization projects that attempt to capture this rich combination of original materials and cultural context are, however, resource intensive exercises that require a high level of focus, dedication and know-how as well a significant investment in technology. While it is not difficult to obtain funding for this type of project – mainly because the work can be expressed as a project with a finite lifespan – it is a challenge to embed the work in a cultural institution so that existing staff gain capacity without crippling current operations. There is also often a political challenge with this type of approach that is common in the African context. Many such collections were created in the colonial period, or in a post colonial environment where collectors still came from the educated or leisure class. Focusing attention on these people and their codified work, while the knowledge resources of a still predominately oral society go unsung, sometimes causes resentment and obscures the very real value of the content of the collections.The University of Botswana’s Library Services has been testing both approaches to digitization over the past three years. The Library’s Botswana Collection is being incrementally digitized and linked to the library catalogue, based on demand for single documents, while project-funded digitization of small, whole collections is being carried out at the University’s Harry Oppenheimer Okavango Research Centre.One alternative to digitizing entire collections as a project is the selective capture of resources based on demand expressed by users and researchers. Justification is clear, as there is a direct and immediate need for the material, and the institutional effort involved is much less as it is spread over time and can be fit into the institution’s ongoing work. Digital collections are thus built up incrementally, growing in what might be described as a more organic way in line with the interests of the research community. Additional funding for this approach is, however, more difficult to obtain, as it is perceived to be part of the institution’s ongoing activities.
The Government of Botswana’s Okavango Delta Management Plan Project supported expansion of HOORC’s Library as a repository of information to us in planning for the Delta. In 2006, a new portacabin was supplied and furnished by the Project. Here a local cultural group is singing and dancing to celebrate the new library facility.
HOORC’s Library is housed in two portacabins, with space at a premium. As well as serving the Centre’s multidisciplinary academic staff of around 30 that routinely works collaboratively with external researchers, the Library receives more than 1000 external visitors a year, many of whom are international researchers working on issues related to the Delta’s environment. The Library also has a mandate from the Government of Botswana to collect, preserve and provide access to materials related to the Okavango Delta Management Plan. Maun is 1000 kilometres north of Botswana’s capital city, Gaborone, and the University’s Main Campus. All these factors have resulted in high demand for access to local materials in electronic form.The Library’s current staff of five has been hard won – the Centre’s remote location and the region’s shortage of amenities make it difficult to recruit and retain trained people. This is especially true for the areas of cataloguing, indexing and technical skills related to the management of electronic materials. In short, with perhaps the exception that it is relatively well funded, HOORC’s Library is a good example of the challenges faced by many libraries in Africa: short on appropriate space, experienced staff and technological support, and long on unprocessed collections of high local relevance as well as of high interest to external researchers.
Users of the HOORC Library come from a cross section of the Okavango community, including primary and secondary school students, teachers, distance learners, travel industry workers, government officials, NGO staff and consultants. Here Richard Randall, guide and owner of a Maun-based mobile safari company, consults with assistant librarian OlebogengSuwe.
Several factors contributed to development of digitization strategies at UN Library Services.
Demand among HOORC based researchers for materials in the Main Campus Library’s Botswana (BDSC) collections, and by Main Campus researchers for similar materials in HOORC’s Library led in 2005 to an agreement between the two libraries’ interlibrary loan teams to scan these materials on request, and link them to the catalogue shared by all UB libraries. This would remove the need to send documents by post or courier – risking loss or damage – , providing them to the requesting researchers and at the same time building up a collection of digital versions of local materials that would then be more widely available. This arrangement has worked well, albeit slowly in terms of building a digital collection. Connectivity issues and lack of scanning equipment limited the HOORC Library’s participation in the arrangement for some time, so that most of the work has been carried out at the University’s Main Campus There are now approximately 500 digital versions of local documents saved on the Library Services catalogue server. Access to the full text is at present restricted to members of the UB library system.
HOORC Library’s digitization work might well have continued with this slow, incremental, low cost and politically uncontroversial approach if it had not been for the launch at HOORC in 2006 of the Global Environment Facility funded project, Building Capacity for Biodiversity Conservation in the Okavango Delta (BIOKAVANGO). BIOKAVANGO included in its knowledge management goals the strengthening of HOORC as a repository and conduit for data and information that would improve the Okavango community’s understanding of conservation issues and increased capacity for monitoring the state of the Okavango’s environment. Improved access to the HOORC Library’s legacy resources fit into a package of activities to support these aims.Researchers and community members involved in the tourism industry had expressed interest in the content of the three legacy collections held by the library, but especially in the Peter Smith Collection. A full inventory and a finding aid for the Pete Smith Collection made with the assistance of the Main Campus Library’s Archives unit the previous year had identified, among the collection’s unique original materials, 43 1:50,0000 scale maps annotated by Smith on his trips into the Delta in the 1970s and 80s. The combination of limited size, high interest value and opportunity for partnership with the University archives and HOORC’s GIS Laboratory made the annotated maps the logical choice for the Library’s first digitization project.
Starting digitization work without assistance from a trained archives team would have been difficult. The archivists – led from 2005 to 2007 by Gemma Bentley in the centre of this picture – inventory, process and create finding aids for the collections, allowing us to identify subsets of materials to select for digitization. Here the team is re-packaging colour slides from the Pete Smith Collection in acid-free boxes purchased through the BIOKAVANGO Project.
The HOORC Library’s choice of legacy materials to include in the project’s work was influenced by several factors, including need for experience, limited timeframe, processing state, level of community interest, uniqueness of materials, and opportunity for institutional partnerships. HOORC’s Library had no previous experience with digitization of entire collections, so we wanted to start small and to learn as we went along. The BIOKAVANGO project had a five year lifespan and digitization work could only begin work more than a year into the project, as recruitment of contract staff and procurement of equipment were time consuming processes. Researchers and community members involved in the tourism industry had expressed interest in the content of the three legacy collections held by the library, but especially in the Peter Smith Collection. A full inventory and a finding aid for the Pete Smith Collection made with the assistance of the Main Campus Library’s Archives unit the previous year had identified, among the collection’s unique original materials, 43 1:50,0000 scale maps annotated by Smith on his trips into the Delta in the 1970s and 80s. The combination of limited size, high interest value and opportunity for partnership with the University archives and HOORC’s GIS Laboratory made the annotated maps the logical choice for the Library’s first digitization project.The nature of the materials made a partnership with the GIS Laboratory an obvious and easy choice. The UB Library Services Archives team was on board from the beginning. Involving HOORC’s academic staff and associate researchers came later when it became clear that checking of annotation transcriptions was necessary. The commemorative events involved the Natural Collections team with the opportunity to launch the new herbarium facility provided by BIOKAVANGO.
Pete Smith’s annotated maps combine rich biodiversity content with a high level of community interest.
The web based product allows searching and browsing by the entire content of the approximately 4000 annotations plus 20,000 metadata items added by the digitization team. Search results can be displayed using both a Google maps satellite image and a composite display of the scanned annotated maps. The content management system allows for addition of comments by the site’s viewers.
By far the greatest number of annotations represent botanical finds, followed by local place names.
The exhibition, held in the village to launch the web based annotated maps product, included reproductions of legacy photographs from members of the community as well as photos and maps from the Pete Smith collection.
From the point of view of the research and broader communities, including politically sensitive African archivists and librarians, was it the right choice? In 2007 I presented a paper in Malawi about our planned digitization of materials from the Pete Smith, Heinz and Bell collections at the third meeting of AFRIAMSLIC, a group of African aquatic science librarians and researchers . A young government fisheries researcher asked the question, “Why are you choosing to work on the materials of these white men instead of with the knowledge of our own people?” My response was, of course that the material was there, clearly of scientific value, in codified form, and in demand by researchers. But the question stuck with me over the following year as we progressed with arrangements for the digitization work. As we approached completion of annotated maps digitization work, we decided to publicize the work through a community event. May of this year was the 10th anniversary of Pete Smith’s death and HOORC’s commitment to recognizing his contribution to Okavango Delta knowledge with a permanent memorial became an opportunity for letting the community know about the new resource. The Library organized an exhibition of reproductions of the maps and photographs from Smith’s collections to display with on-site access to the new digital resource, and, at the end of the week long exhibition, unveiled a sculpted memorial at Smith’s burial site. The events were happy ones and, from the point of view of inclusiveness, a success, with representation from the entire Maun community and participation by retired Batswana colleagues of Smith who attested to his willingness to share his knowledge and to interact with local community members. There were, however, more questions from some of HOORC’s own academic researchers about the appropriateness of focusing resources on a white man who, in the end, was not a trained researcher, instead of on Batswana who had also made valuable contributions. Parallel to the annotated maps digitization work, the Library had launched other activities to help the surrounding community understand HOORC’s research activities and understand the value of legacy materials in the library’s collections. Among these was weekly serialization in the local newspaper of book content from early explorers’ accounts of travel in the Kalahari region. The question was raised by some academic staff members, Was this an appropriate use of resources when the language used and attitudes expressed by the writers was so clearly racist?ROI: Recruitment and training of two young Batswana, experience and knowledge of digitization technology, development of partnerships, engagement of community, a unique research resource.
The HOORC Library’s foray into digitization has raised questions that are no doubt being confronted by libraries and other cultural institutions across the continent. If it is more appropriate to focus on knowledge embodied in oral traditions, do we ignore the data and insights recorded by colonial and expatriate participants in African history? Our experience with both incremental and collection based approaches has demonstrated that it is possible to capture and share this type of resource while engaging the local community in an inclusive way. We cannot ignore or even avoid the legacy of colonialism with its attendant emotions, but, if we face it, making practical decisions based on an understanding of both the materials we steward and of the communities that have created them, we can build a sense of African ownership of African resources.
Digitization Strategies for Legacy Resources in Africa: Incremental or Collection Based Approaches? Experience from the University of Botswana
Digitization Strategies for Legacy Resources in Africa: Incremental or Collection Based Approaches? Experience from the University of Botswana<br />ICADLA-1: Connecting Africans to their Own Resources: Developing Policies and Strategies for Africa’s Digital Future, 1-3 July 2009, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia<br />Monica Morrison, HOORC, July 2009<br />
Digitization in the African context<br />Collection approach<br />Large, undigitized legacy document collections<br />Selection of interesting collection subsets<br />Complete digitization of subset, in context<br />Higher discovery value<br />More attractive to funders<br />More political issues<br />Incremental approach<br />Large, undigitized legacy document collections<br />Demand for single documents<br />Scanning and linking to catalogue in lieu of ILL<br />Loss of context<br />Lower discovery value<br />Fewer political issues<br />
HOORC and its community<br />Research focused, but<br />Functional role in development process<br />Explanation and interpretation a priority<br />Library a focal point for outreach through ODMP<br />BIOKAVANGO Project <br />
HOORC’s Library<br />Founded through donation of a special collection<br />Part of UB Libraries network<br />“Satellite” Botswana Collection materials<br />Growth and success a stimulus for further donations<br />Support for both academic research and community learning <br />
Development of digitization strategies<br />Demand for Botswana documents<br />Development of UB Main Campus archives team<br />Increasing pressure to house, preserve and provide access to unique local collections at HOORC<br />
The incremental approach<br />ILL: 2005 Main Campus-HOORC agreement to scan and link instead of sending hard copy<br />Slow but sure – now 500 digital versions of Botswana documents<br />Technical issues limited HOORC’s involvement<br />Every document represents a request or inquiry<br />
The collection approach<br />Recognition of, and demand for, content of legacy collections<br />Organization of legacy materials with help from Main Campus<br />BIOKAVANGO mandate for knowledge management<br />Manageable subsets for beginners<br />
Digitization work<br />Selection of collection and materials<br />Creating the team: a multi-organization partnership<br />Figuring it out: equipment and technical processes<br />Working to deadlines<br />Engaging the community<br />
What we learned<br />Both approaches need to be based on user needs / interest<br />Incremental approach easy, useful and a practical must-do<br />Collection-based approach challenging but with higher rewards: capacity building, profile, opportunities for partnerships, community engagement and support<br />