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By Digitizing Archives, Can Libraries Literally Save History?

By Edward Nawotka, Editor-in-Chief

library computersToday’s feature story discusses Yale University Press’ massive project digitizing Stalin’s personal archives. The project would have have been deemed unimaginable without the assistance of advanced technology. But what’s more important is the question of “why” Yale is undertaking such an enormous task. To the service of future scholars, of course. “The sudden mass of information available to scholars has completely revolutionized the world of soviet studies, and the ramifications are still being digested,” says Vadim Staklo, who is leading the project.

Libraries have taken upon themselves the responsibility of preserving fragile documents. Sometimes, this means documents; increasingly, this also means preserving digital media materials themselves. One project which I’ve personally supported is the University of Texas’ Human Rights Documentation Initiative. The project began several years ago as a collaboration between the University and the Kigali Memorial Center in Rwanda, as an effort to digitize and preserve the video, audio, and documentary testimonies of victims and perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide. The project was inspired, in part, by the need to circumvent the constant physical threat to the fragile materials from people who would likely to see those testimonials destroyed.

More recently, the project has expanded to include the digitization of archives from the Guatemalan National Police describing many human rights violations during the country’s civil war. Other projects include working with the archives of the Burma Free Rangers, the Texas After Violence project, and more.

In this way, the library is literally saving history from the threat, not only of time, but people who might rather see evidence of their wrongdoings destroyed.

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One Comment

  1. Posted June 22, 2012 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    So, are the Rwandan and Guatemalan records being made available open access, not by subscription, as the Yale archive will be, limiting its use only to people affiliated with a major research university?

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