Endangered archives blog

News about the projects saving vulnerable material from around the world

2 posts from November 2018

14 November 2018

Mandinka Ajami and Arabic Manuscripts of Casamance, Senegal

This a wonderful blog written by Eleni Castro, OpenBU & ETD Program Librarian at Boston University as well as Project Technical Lead for EAP1042.

This October we presented a poster entitled, “Digital Preservation of Mandinka Ajami Materials of Senegal” at FORCE2018 (Montreal, Canada), which is an annual conference on making research and scholarship more broadly and openly available. This poster provided a project overview and update on the work we have been doing for EAP 1042 - an international research collaboration between Boston University, the West African Research Center, and local experts in Senegal, which involves visiting manuscript owners in the Casamance region of Senegal to work with them to digitally preserve and make more broadly available manuscripts written in Arabic and Mandinka Ajami (Mandinka using Arabic script) from their personal libraries.

In January 2018, we gave a three day digital preservation workshop at the West African Research Center (WARC) in Dakar, and shortly thereafter went to Ziguinchor to begin our digitisation field work. Overall, the team is spending 15 months 1) interviewing manuscript owners and digitising rare manuscripts from Ziguinchor, Kolda, and Sédhiou, 2) curating and post-processing over 14,000 digital images, and 3) depositing three independent copies at: WARC in Dakar, the British Library, and Boston University’s African Ajami Library on OpenBU. At the time of writing, we have digitised over 10,000 Arabic and Mandinka Ajami manuscript pages (some bilingual).

Group photograph in front of the West African Research Center in Dakar

Digitisation Workshop team at the West African Research Center in Dakar, Senegal (Jan. 2018)

Dr. Fallou Ngom, looking over manuscripts with manuscript owner, El-hadji Lamine Bayo

Project PI, Dr. Fallou Ngom, looking over manuscripts with manuscript owner, El-hadji Lamine Bayo

Photographing manuscripts from the Abdou Khadre Cisse collection

Ibrahima Ngom (photographer) and Ablaye Diakité (local project manager) photographing manuscripts from the Abdou Khadre Cisse collection (Jan. 2018)

Interviewing manuscript owner Abdou Khadre Cisse

Ibrahima Yaffa interviewing manuscript owner Abdou Khadre Cisse and his brother Cherif Cisse. Filmed by project photographer, Ibrahima Ngom

As we began our digitisation, we noticed that there was a large number of bilingual manuscripts written in both Arabic and Mandinka Ajami, which is very different from the mostly unilingual Wolof Ajami manuscripts digitised in EAP 334. The genres and subject matter found in these works varied widely, from religious to secular topics, such as: astrology, poetry, divination, Islamic education, jurisprudence, Sufism, code of ethics, translations & commentaries of the Quran and Islamic texts from Arabic into Mandinka, stories about Mandinka leaders and important historical figures (including women), records of important local events such as the founding of villages, ancestral traditions, and Mandinka social institutions.

Manuscript page.

Manuscript of a long form poem praising the Prophet Muhammad, written in Arabic with marginalia in Arabic and some Mandinka Ajami (Abdou Khadre Cisse Collection)

Manuscript page.

Mandinka healing document (Abdou Karim Thiam Collection)

Manuscript page held up to the sunlight to reveal the watermarks.

19th Century watermark found in Biniiboo manuscript (Abdou Khadre Cisse Collection)

Since we are working in remote areas, with non-studio conditions, we encountered some technical issues early on. Finding the right lighting has been an ongoing challenge, since our time in the homes of manuscript owners is precious and limited, and so we have had to work with available light and the help of a macro ring flash. Our camera overheats after +1h of continuous use, but we found that by replacing an extra hot battery with a cooler one, helps us resume digitisation much faster. Since we have a geographically dispersed team, we have setup a communication channel via WhatsApp, and upload files on Google Drive for backup and review as soon as a new collection is being worked on. Internet speeds can be quite slow when sending these large raw image files, but a mobile hotspot modem has helped with internet access while working in the field.

While we will be wrapping up digitisation and curation of these manuscripts by April 2019, there is still more work to be done to help researchers more effectively study and explore these materials. We will be looking into using a IIIF image viewer for scholars to better be able to compare various manuscripts and annotate them. Transcription is a longer term goal, since more unicode work is needed to extend Arabic script characters for African Ajami manuscripts to be full-text searchable in their actual languages.

08 November 2018

EAP's first webinar - Completing a Successful Preliminary Application

The Endangered Archives Programme held its first webinar on 02 November 2018 where we invited potential grant applicants to join us for a brief presentation, followed by an opportunity for them to ask questions to both EAP staff members and former grant holders. This gave participants the chance to find out about all aspects of the application process to determine whether they may like to apply for a grant, either for this round (Deadline: 19th November. Still time to apply!) or the future. We were very pleased to welcome over 40 people from 24 different countries to this seminar. We are planning to hold more webinars in the future, please watch this space!

Black and white photograph showing an attentive audience.

EAP Webinar: Completing a Successful Preliminary Application

Live webinar recorded Friday 2nd November 2018. Introductory presentation by Adam Farquhar, EAP Director

Q&A Session

  1. Do endangered archives of film (i.e. motion-picture) reels qualify under EAP? These are 20th-century artefacts, and some even from second half of 20th century, but under threat of destruction and spoilage.

You should consider copyright issues - this can be quite complicated for film. Do also consider Documenting Global Voices, another Arcadia project. Their call will be announced on 1 December. You must also think how unique the material is and whether there are copies elsewhere.

  1. How small is a small digitization project to be considered for a pilot project? (e.g. we want to digitize about 10.000 lyrics = 10.000 tiff files. is that too big to be considered as a pilot project?!)

It depends on time and budget. This seems a rather large amount of material, but could fit within the Pilot project budget depending on circumstances. Pilots are generally given for projects that last under a year and cost less than £15,000 - if you think you would need more time or money, apply for a Major grant. You may also apply for a Major grant with a smaller budget.

  1. We are working with archaeological records, some of which are unpublished surveys of sites. The publication of this raises some questions, most significantly, the possibility of leading potential looters to unsecured sites. While we’d like all the material to be open, but is there a way keep these records private?"

All EAP material would need to be made available online - I recommend you contact the other Arcadia funded project based in Oxford – EAMENA – as they focus on archaeology.

Black and white photograph showing a man standing by a stone wall, cacti grow along the upper ledge.

  1. What is the policy/EAP recommendations for copyright of orphan works? Are there any concerns especially for non-commercial source material?

The grant holder needs to do the research into copyright of the physical material. We ask for Creative Commons, Non-Commercial licenses for all material.

For orphan works, the grant of permission form should be signed by the person who owns the material.

  1. If you’re an independent researcher what type of experience are you looking for in regards to applying?

It is possible to do a project as an independent researcher – the experience that would help towards a successful project would be digitization experience, preferably in the field, as well as project management, language ability, understanding of the material, and good budgeting skills.

There are, however, several disadvantages – working with a trusted respected partner organisation can benefit the project by providing an institutional framework for project support and administration.

  1. I am keen for technical assistance to help preserve and digitise my very large collection on the Holy Land

Do have a look at Remote Capture (https://www.openbookpublishers.com/product/747) as this is a publication to help. It is free to download from Open Book Publishers. I would also suggest that if you are applying you do not attempt to digitise the whole amount focus on one aspect. You can also budget for training within the grant application.

I'd add that the pilot project stage offers the opportunity to trial your digitisation method, perhaps making adjustments/improvements during the major grant stage. During my St Helena pilot project, I digitised a relatively small volume of material, but rather I trialled the photography on a variety of document types, to see what worked well with my camera set-up, and what didn't.

  1. What if some of the documents are considered sensitive material by the authorities in the country where the archive is located (in this case Egypt) - for example maps? Could these be exempt from being put online?

You would need to get the appropriate permissions. If these are state archives, then you would need governmental permissions. We only fund material that can go online.

A caravan of camels in front of one of the pyramids in Egypt.

  1. Having located endangered material in private collections across a region, can one independently initiate and carry out a project without recourse to a team at an institution? (Provided all the material is indeed deposited at a relevant local institution, in addition to BL, once it is digitised?)

Please refer to question #6. In addition, you really would need to have significant experience in digitisation and metadata to be able to handle the workload by yourself.

  1. If an independent researcher is partnering with the country archive or museum, whose experience do you detail in the application?

The independent researcher’s experience is what the panel will be assessing.

  1. Do you pay for travel costs of person teaching how to digitise and can you confirm if the equipment stays with the local archive?

Yes, we will pay those costs, as long as they have been detailed in the application and approved by the panel. The equipment does remains in the country for further use.

  1. Could you please confirm if archival material on microfilm (dating from the late 1800s to 1900s) qualify?

Digitising microfilm is quite complicated (the BL outsources this) so look at the feasibility and the uniqueness of the content on the microfilm.

  1. Do EAP grants cover the undertaking of an oral history project that is focused on gathering and recording new material?

Sadly we do not pay for interviewing as the main part of a project. We have digitised oral histories that are on a format that is at risk, such as cylinders and tapes.

  1. Does a photographic archive deriving from film reels (especially damaged or partially spoiled ones) qualify for deposit in digital form? i.e. Does it have to be full reels/films for digitisation or parts/excerpts are admissible?

We have not had experience with this to date. If you are applying, you would need to detail the percentage of recoverable material in the application.

  1. When does "pre-modern" period end?

This doesn’t have a single global answer! It will vary with the history and context of different regions. There are two good rules of thumb: The year of independence for countries that were formerly colonies; material that is out of copyright. However, as in the case of photographs, the format can be considered modern but the images refer to a pre-modern period.

If you have an questions, please contact the EAP team with information about the collection that you have in mind.

  1. Is a music collection produced in the 20th century qualify, if it’s endangered?

If it is unique and on a problematic format. Think of the other criteria when applying. I suggest that you have a look at the Indian recording labels and Syliphone archive that we have funded.

Record sleeve and label for Young india

  1. Do you have suggestions for other funds which might work with endangered 20th century materials?

Yes, a new programme is being set up at UCLA also funded by Arcadia. It is called Documenting Global Voices. Their call will go out on 1 December 2018.

  1. At the preliminary stage, what kind of evidence of permissions from collection owners/curators should be included? There is a box for that on the application, but what precisely should appear there?

I would say that submitting formal documentation would only be required at the detailed application stage, but in the preliminary application we want applicants to be aware that the material will go online and it is their responsibility to seek the appropriate permissions.

  1. Is making materials available to scholars the same as making them available to the public? Some archives depend on search fees for funding.

The goal of the EAP is to save endangered archival material and make them open available for research. This focus means that some projects, while otherwise excellent, may not be a good fit for the programme. The British Library will make the outputs of projects openly available for research by scholars and others. This is a key requirement. It does not, however, mean that the local archive cannot provide a priced service that includes access to the content or is driven by its metadata. Such services exist in many domains.

  1. On the project team: Should we be concerned if the largest part of our budget turns out to be salaries for a team (in my case, around 10 people, for example)?

I can certainly say that for my EAP project based on Nevis, which used two local staff, that salaries formed the largest single element of the grant.

In the past, the panel have asked applicants to re-budget if they felt that the costs were prohibitive. Also, we should make you aware that if the archive is housed at the host institution, we expect some contribution in-kind. Often this means the salaries of existing permanent staff employed by the host institution.

  1. It says in the application instructions that you do not allow costs for conservation. What if you have documents that require conservation before digitization?

We cover preservation (archival boxing, Melinex sleeves, dehumidifiers, etc.) to prevent further deterioration, but sadly not conservation. I think if the material needs work of this sort, I suggest you look for other funding before applying to EAP.


  1. When you say that detailed cataloguing should not be part of the project, does this also include database recording for the documents?

You must submit metadata as part of your project outputs. There is a template of the spreadsheet that we use available on the website. The level of description depends on the type of material being digitised, for example, with manuscripts we would expect a description at volume level (file level) and not at page level, but for photographs we would expect a description for each photograph (item level). We plan on introducing webinars for current grant holders regarding cataloguing standards.

  1. Could you please elucidate what differentiates an Area from a Major grant in terms of the amount of material that needs to be digitised? (Reference to paper-based archival material)

There is a considerable range of the amount of material that is digitised in Major grants. We have seen successful Major grants that have produced a few tens of thousands up through nearly a million. In recent years, the average amount of content is about 60K images per project year with 50% of projects delivering between 20K and 120K images per project year (i.e., a 2-year project might deliver between 40K and 240K images). The variation partly due to the difficult of local conditions, access, and nature of materials. For example, good quality bound ledgers can be processed quickly and efficiently. Crumbling damaged manuscripts must be handled with great care. That being said, we would expect an Area grant to produce material roughly in proportion to a Major grant, and perhaps derive some economies of scale. So perhaps 60K – 360K images per project year would be likely.

  1. Is it typically in the range of a pilot project to create a project website that serves the local community (in the local language, mobile-first, designed to be accessible with patchy internet connections)?

Typically not for a pilot project. In cases that it is considered particularly important, a modest contribution could be made toward it. We look to the local archival partner to do much of this though.

  1. Is any training support offered to applicants as a part of this grant?

Look at our website to see if there has been a recent project near to where your proposal is based. The EAP office may be able to put you in touch with someone with local experience which may be useful.

We also plan on having future webinars covering various topics.

The handbook Remote Capture is also a good resource.

  1. Is EAP giving any legal support against illicit traffic of archival materials? Is there any guidance?

Sadly, this is not within the scope of EAP. Our ethos is that the material stays in the country of origin and that is why the digitisation is done in situ.

  1. On the preliminary application under ‘Project People and Organisations’, if applying through a host institution, there is no space to describe the experience and past achievements of the principal applicant or team? How do you gauge if the principal investigators have the experience to carry out the project? Is it okay for the principal applicant to complete Q10c and Q10d even if applying through the applicants host institution?

This is dealt with in more depth at the detailed application stage. In the preliminary application, if you are employed by the Host Institution, you only have to answer Question 9.

  1. I thought to apply for a pilot project for
  2. getting permissions from three archives I am in touch with
  3. evaluating the volume and character (hand-written/lithographs/etc.) of the manuscripts applicable for the major project
  4. locating more archives - public and private - that I know are there
  5. putting up the team of technicians and scholars to work for a major project

Does that make sense? Should I include portable scanner to digitize sample texts?

This is a classic pilot project. Since you mentioned you are looking at manuscripts, a portable scanner would not be appropriate, you would need a camera and portable tripod.

Look at the Digital Appendices for Remote Capture, which suggests model types.

Book illustration showing a procession carrying  the Virgin Mary to her grave.

  1. Is there any limitation as to the country of main applicant?

No, the important thing is where the material is located.

  1. What is the required form of indicating consent/ permission from foreign partners? A written and signed letter of consent in their language and then a translation? Will you honour informal translations or does it have to be a legally binding translation?

As part of the detailed application, we have Grant of Permission forms which you are most welcome to translate when showing them to foreign partners, but the English version would need to be signed and returned to the EAP office.

  1. What type of organisations/archival partners do not qualify as local institutions? For example: does a local non-profit with a collection of relevant material qualify?

It must be a non-commercial institution, it sounds as if the organization you have in mind would qualify.

  1. I am interested about how to discern what kind of project for which to apply. We have a website partially constructed. We are a local archive in Serowe, but our internet access is tenuous. We would probably need help make the archival material available from Serowe.

Please refer to Question 23.

  1. Thank you for your helpful advice.... Unfortunately I don't think my archive is eligible for the EAP. Does the British library have a service or a contact I can approach for advice on rehoming a modern archive?

Feel free to contact me at [email protected], also take a look at the Documenting Global Voices programme.

  1. Can we email individual panellists? We are working in Antigua and would love to talk to Andy.

I'm sure that Andy would be glad to provide help. Please email [email protected] and we'll pass your request on to him.

  1. Among the accepted applications, is there a typical ratio - are the grants equally distributed among pilot, major and area, or is there a typical distribution in the rate of success?

This is the first time we are offering the area grant. The distribution varies year to year. To date we have had 220 major projects and 130 pilot projects.

  1. I have a question relating specifically to a collection of amateur films (travelogues and documentaries). This is the only surviving collection in the country of origin, so it will be quite valuable to researchers because it will dispel myths about pre-industrial filmmaking in this country. The owner transferred the rights to a team of filmmakers before passing away, but they do not have a way to properly store and digitize them. My question, more specifically, is whether I can submit an application to rescue these films, even though I don’t reside in the country of origin? I should add that this country doesn’t have the institutional framework or infrastructure to pursue this. The team has tried to find a way forward unsuccessfully, but I am able to bring this to fruition from Canada.

We have had several projects where the applicant is outside the country of origin, but it would be important for at least one of the rights owners to be a co-applicant. If you are invited to the detailed application, you would be strongly advised to include the grant of permission forms signed by all of the team members (copyright owners).

  1. In the country of origin there is no institutional framework that can administer the type of collection that needs to be rescued/digitized (all options have been exhausted). Can it be administered from a different country, and then share the digitized archives with the country of origin?

Please refer to question 35.