THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Digital scholarship blog

20 August 2019

Reflections from the First Sub-Saharan African Workshop on Digital Innovation Labs in Cultural Heritage Institutions

Guest posting by Milena Dobreva-McPherson, Associate Professor Library and Information Studies UCL Qatar with contributions from Tuesday Bwalya, Lecturer, Library and Information Science Department, The University of Zambia (UNZA) and Fidelity Phiri, Visiting Researcher, UCL Qatar.

Recently UCL Qatar joined forces with the National Museums Board of Zambia to deliver a day-long workshop on Innovation Labs in Cultural Heritage Institutions which was hosted on 1 August, 2019 by the Livingstone Museum, Zambia. This workshop was the first of its kind in Sub Saharan Africa and was made possible with the support of the Africa and the Middle East Teaching Fund of the UCL Global Engagement Office. Initially planned for 15 professionals from the cultural heritage sector, it attracted 27 participants (see Fig. 1) coming from six towns located in four out of the ten provinces in Zambia (see map).

Fig. 1.  Participants by sector and gender in the First Sub Saharan Workshop on Innovation Labs in Cultural Heritage Institutions in Zambia, 1‌ August 2019
Fig. 1.  Participants by sector and gender in the First Sub Saharan Workshop on Innovation Labs in Cultural Heritage Institutions in Zambia, 1‌ August 2019

After two vibrant events about Digital Innovation Labs in Cultural Heritage organisations, this was the first event bringing together a higher proportion of participants from museums and archives in addition to the libraries represented. The Building Library Labs event was the first of its kind ever held at the British Library in September 2018, followed by a second workshop in Copenhagen (March, 2019); both attracted mostly library professionals though there were a few attendees from Archives, Galleries and Museums.  

The Innovation Labs emerged as specialised library units supporting a variety of users in experimenting with digital content in the mid 2000s. However, engaging users with digital content is equally important for museums, archives and galleries. And the exchange of institutional experience across the digital cultural heritage sector is essential for professionals who work there, especially when the number of Innovation Labs around the world is growing steadily. The presenters at the event in Zambia included Milena Dobreva-McPherson, UCL Qatar, Fidelity Phiri, Mr Tuesday Bwalya, University of Zambia, Mr Fred Nyambe (Registrar of Collections, Livingstone Museum) and Mr Brian Mwale, (Chief Librarian, National Archives of Zambia). Fiona Clancy (Digitisation Workflow Manager, British Library), Mahendra Mahey (BL Labs Manager, British Library), and Somia Salim, who is an MA student in Library and Information Studies at UCL Qatar, also contributed online (see full programme with links to some of the presentations).

The call for innovation in the heritage sector was clearly communicated in the welcome address delivered on behalf of the Livingstone district acting commissioner Harriet Kawina; this had been duly reported in several publications in Zambian national newspapers (see for an example Fig.2).

Fig. 2. Article on the event in the MAST independent newspaper, 5.08.2019
Fig. 2. Article on the event in the MAST independent newspaper, 5 August 2019

The mixture of presentations discussing the current trends in user engagement with digital content and local examples of digitisation projects and how it works in reality, created a great opportunity to discuss the stumbling blocks in opening content for wider access and use. For some Zambian institutions, the main issue is a lack of a coherent and systematic digitisation efforts, and there was a shared feeling amongst attendees that there needed to be more guidance and clear policies about digitisation for them to follow, which are still not currently in place. Other institutions accumulated digital content and keep it available only internally, not looking into or even considering access and use to external audiences using online platforms on a systematic basis. 

The workshop discussions were lively and engaged; they identified that there is definitely a larger scope to learn from each other locally. In addition, there was a growing realisation amongst organisations that opening their digital content for use by an external audience is now the next step on the agenda of those who have already accumulated it. The feedback of one of the participants, which perhaps summarised this the most clearly, suggested what needs to happen after this workshop in three-steps: 

  • Put the knowledge acquired in the workshop to use ASAP.
  • Conduct a follow up workshop to determine progress in the innovation labs created.
  • Organise a massive awareness campaign to introduce potential users to the innovation labs created.

The workshop participants also experienced the traditional scheduled power outage for the day which explains why the photo illustrating the presentation of certificates is a bit dark (but hey, in the digital world we can easily fix such glitches!)

Fig.3. Participant receiving a certificate from Assoc. Prof. Milena Dobreva
Fig.3. Participant receiving a certificate from Associate Professor Milena Dobreva

Bringing for the first time to the Sub Saharan region the knowledge about innovation labs, fostering dialogue between representatives of different cultural heritage institutions, and discussing the issue of improving access to digital content is just a humble first step in what we hope will help local institutions to improve user engagement and overcome the current digital divide which keeps available digital content hidden from the world.  Read more about Innovation Labs and the digital divide.

Dr Milena Dobreva-McPherson, Associate Professor Library and Information Studies at UCL Qatar Dr Milena Dobreva-McPherson, is Associate Professor Library and Information Studies at UCL Qatar with international experience of working in Bulgaria, Scotland and Malta. Since graduating M.Sc. (Hons) in Informatics in 1991, Milena specialized in digital humanities and digital cultural heritage in the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, where she earned her PhD in 1999 in Informatics and Applied Mathematics and served as the Founding Head of the first Digitisation Centre in Bulgaria (2004); she was also a member of the Executive Board of the National Commission of UNESCO. Milena’s research interests are in the areas of innovation diffusion in the cultural heritage sector; citizen science; and users of digital libraries. Milena is a member of the editorial board of the IFLA Journal - Sage, and of the International Journal on Digital Libraries (IJDL) - Springer and a member of the steering committed of the three biggest conference series in digital libraries, IJDL, TPDL and ICADL. Consultant of the Europeana Task Force on Research Requirements.  

 

Mr Tuesday Bwalya, Lecturer, Library and Information Science Department, The University of Zambia (UNZA) Mr Tuesday Bwalya, Lecturer, Library and Information Science Department, The University of Zambia (UNZA). He holds a Master’s Degree in Information Science from China. In addition, Mr. Bwalya has received training in India and Belgium in Library Automation with Free and Open Source Library Management Systems such as Koha and ABCD. His research interests include free and open source library management systems; open access publishing; database systems; web development; records management; cataloguing and classification.

 

Fidelity Phiri, Librarian at Moto Moto Museum and a visiting researcher at UCL Qatar Fidelity Phiri is currently employed as Librarian at Moto Moto Museum and a visiting researcher at UCL Qatar. He has worked for National Museums Board of Zambia since 2001. He  holds a Bachelor's degree in Library and Information Science from the University of Zambia. Fidelity  also graduated in April 2019 from UCL Qatar and  is a holder of a Master’s degree in Library and Information studies. His research interests are in bibliometrics studies and digital humanities/units  that provide access to digital collections.

Acknowledgements: We would like to thank Fred Nyambe for the photos and Dania Jalees for the infographic and the editing.