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As the National Archives of Zimbabwe go digital - Challenges which they may face in Digitizing Indigenous Knowledge

06 Jan 2016 at 18:42hrs | Views
Information professionals are now embracing digitization techniques in the management of information. Just recently the Director of the National Archives of Zimbabwe appeared on ZTV announcing that the National Archives of Zimbabwe is in the process of digitizing its archives.  Due to archival digitization advantages such as wider accessibility, preservation purposes, office space serving digital libraries and archives are becoming popular nowadays. In this paper, the author is going to identify challenges faced by African archivists in digitizing indigenous knowledge.


The author will define the words the terms indigenous knowledge and digitization first. Greaves [1996] as quoted in Chisita[2011:4] defines indigenous knowledge as  '…something more than matter of fact-information. Rather it is invested with a sacred quality and systematic quality, supplying the foundation on which the members of a traditional community sense their commutes, personal identity, and ancestral anchorage…' Mugabe [ibid] defines indigenous knowledge as knowledge that is held and made use of by people who regard themselves indigenous to a particular place.' On the other hand Lee S.D.[2001:3] defines digitization as "the conversion of an analogue signal or code into a digital signal or code.' He also said digitization means the conversion of any analogue material into electronic storage, including sound and video.

There are legal challenges which can be faced by African archivists in documenting indigenous knowledge such as issues to do with intellectual property rights. Eke [2011] says information professionals need to take precautions on the issue to do with copyrights before digitizing any piece of information. Kuny is quoted as saying: "…if libraries do begin to systematically collect digital information on a large scale, the provision of effective access could be questionable. In fact, copyright could end preventing libraries from providing open access to the digital information they collect. Questions of copyright must be managed so that digital information can be created and distributed throughout "digital libraries" in a manner that is equitable for both information producers and information customers. Copyright could become an insurmountable barrier to the development of digital collections." To avoid the copyright problems there is need for archivists to agree with copyright owners that may mean paying continuous subscriptions and royalties to authors. Since Africa is a developing continent archivists may fail to get funding to pay copyright fees and royalties hampering the digitization of indigenous knowledge.

Borgholf et al [2010] talks of challenges related to what he call the rendition system. He defines the rendition system as the hardware, system software and the presentation software. He says the hardware consists of the CPU, memory and bus connection-also some required and desired addenda like graphics card and monitor, secondary storage devices etcetera. The system software consisting of the operating system and the driver programs together constitutes a layer of programs that allow human users to concentrates on the so-called "logical" attributes of the computer and to abstract from the less relevant, physical attributes of the hardware. Preservation software consists of text editors, painting software, web browsers etcetera.

Borgholf et al [2010] says there is pressure to upgrade the rendition system quit often. The presentation programs and all other components of these systems have to be replaced regularly by new ones: all the time new and ‘better' devices and variants are being developed. In order to use them new software components are needed. That increases the challenges of digitization of African indigenous knowledge because challenges in one component of the rendition system cause changes in the other components. Since African institutions are poorly funded they may fail to upgrade the rendition system often which may endanger the accessibility of the digitized indigenous knowledge.

African archivists may face a selection dilemma. There is a lot of documentation on indigenous knowledge needing digitization and archivists may find it difficult to choose the best document to digitize Borgholf et al [2010].Libraries and archives need precise criteria on what is to be considered valuable and, therefore, should be conserved. Because of the wealth of available materials and because of the high costs involved African archivists may face difficulty in choosing the best documents to digitize.

Exorbitant costs maybe also another challenge faced by African archivists as they digitize indigenous knowledge. Costs may range from the ICTs and expert personnel. It may be expensive to buy computers, scanners and electricity costs needed to run the computers. As explained above copyright costs must be put into consideration. All the above are costs to put into consideration which African institution may fail to sustain.

Sigauke D.T & Nengomasha Dr [2011] said, for example, the National Archives of Zimbabwe has a depreciated staff establishment which needs further staff development and exposure to modern digitization technologies. They also said the NAZ lacks a digitization policy  which hinders the digitization of the indigenous knowledge. The above problems observed by Sigauke D.T & Nengomasha Dr[2011] may be uniform throughout all African information institutions, that is, lack sufficient and skilled personnel capable of running the digitization programs.

Eke H.N.[2011] says developing countries may have limited bandwidth an important requirement for a digitization program. Poor connectivity has always affected the rate at which files are uploaded. It was noted [Eke H.N.2011] that poor connectivity has been a big challenge for accessing and downloading information especially large files and then become a challenge for African archivists in digitizing indigenous knowledge.
The other challenge faced by African archivists in digitizing indigenous knowledge is the difficulty in digitizing some materials and the strenuous work of editing of works digitized. Most academic staff supplies their bio data and scholarly publications on a CD. At times the CD_ROM drive of computers used for scanning is faulty. Some cases have occurred where the drives could not open, nor read the CDs provided. As a result, a section was created for dumping of such CDs and they were tagged ‘problematic documents.' The scanning also requires considerable editing to conform to the standard set for such materials. The information professionals involved in appending digital signatures on the scanned documents must have to edit the work by first checking the spellings, looking out for bookmarks to ensure it is properly done. The laborious work can be problematic to the digitization of African indigenous knowledge.
The author had cited the legal aspect of the digitization of the indigenous knowledge, copyright protection, costs and lack of funding by African government for digitization projects, poor policing by African information institutions, material selection challenges, poor training in digitization and under-staffing as some of the challenges faced by African archivists in the digitization of indigenous knowledge.However,the author wishes good luck to the Director of the National Archives of Zimbabwe in his project of digitizing the National Heritage.
EKE H.N, 2011, Digitizing Resources for University of Nigeria: Process and Challenges, Webology,8[1]Article 85.Available at:
SIGAUKE & NENGOMASHA DR,2011,Challenges and Prospects Facing the Digitization of Historical Records for their Preservation Within the National Archives of Zimbabwe ,University of Witwaterand 2nd International Conference on African Digital Libraries and Archives [ICADLA],SOUTH AFRICA
BORGHOLF al, 2010, Long-Term Preservation of Digital Documents Principles and Practices, Springer, UK
Lee S.D, 2001, Digital Imaging A practical Handbook, Library Association, London,UK
CHISITA C.T., 2011, Indigenous Knowledge Systems, ZOU, Harare, ZIMBABWE
Lesk  .M, 2005,Understanding Digital Libraries, Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, an Francisco, USA

Etiwel Mutero is records management consultant,an archivist and President of a non-profit organization named Records & Archives Management Society of Zimbawe, he holds  a Bachelor of Science Honours Degree in Records and Archives Management. For Records management bookings and consultancy you can contact him on +263773614293,+263970466

Source - Etiwel Mutero
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