Archives and Digitalisation, Windhoek 2006

21-23 November 2006, Windhoek, Namibia

The Documentation project at the Nordic Africa Institute has been collaborating with the National Archives of Namibia and Swapo Party Archives and Research Centre (SPARC) since 2004 and hence decided to jointly host a workshop on archival related matters.

Conference participants. From left: Rena Chitombo, Pekka Peltola, Birger Stenskiöld, Carin Norberg and Libolly Haufiku. Photo by Narek Krehla.

Participants from ten different countries shared experiences and discussed issues of legality, accessibility and digitalisation. Within the legal framework, the common denomination was the one on copyright. This particularly referred to photographs. Ownership of documents and letters, as well as matters of confidentiality all faces different national legal challenges. It was agreed on however that private ownership for commercial use of archival matters should be prevented and that open and free access promotes transparency and democracy. The issue of accessibility not only refers to the physical availability of documents in an archive for the public. Herein also comes the questions of costs―can anyone afford to access archival data? Resources―do the archival institutions have the capacity to serve the public? Sensitivity―how do we determine, and who determines, what material can be accessed and what needs to be restricted for the general public? It is important to have open access to archives in order to prevent rumours, keeping knowledge within the elite of a country, and safe guard history. But, how do you balance open access, giving information to everyone in the name of democracy so that we all have the same opportunities to get the information and, at the same time, safeguarding the intimacy of individuals?

The participating organisations and institutions were at various stages when it came to the issue of digitalisation. One problem is the capacity to migrate data when new technology is continuously updated. Digitised documents demand high quality storage facilities and well functioning databases to be usable. The lack of funding and lack of resources for maintaining this is today problem for everyone, not only institutions in Africa.

This was an opportunity to get together in order to discuss where we are today, what remains to be done, and how to come together in joint practices and presentations. It is important to make archives and material available and to put it into context in the history writing that is taking place today in many countries in southern Africa.

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Updated 25 February 2010, 12:37