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July 30, 2014

Making African Academic Resources Accessible

Audiovisual preservation is a global concern. Yes, there is very much a local or personal flavor to it, with the widespread existence of regional archives, historical societies, institutional collections, and oral histories or homes movies well beyond large research repositories. However, when we look at the scale of the work to be done and the resources needed, we have to be equally concerned with efforts in other parts of the world. The fabric and depth of our own personal or cultural history is shallow and monotone without the reflection and input of other people, cultures, and nations.

Much to this end, the Audiovisual Preservation Exchange (APEX) was founded by the Moving Image Archiving & Preservation Program at NYU to support preservation efforts in other countries, most notably in Africa and Central/South America. Along with MIAP Associate Director, Mona Jimenez, AVPreserve’s Chris Lacinak and Kara Van Malssen have been involved in several APEX projects in Ghana since 2008. This summer, with Seth Paris, they are at the Institute of African Studies (IAS) at the University of Ghana – Legon as part of the new MAARA initiative: Making African Academic Resources Accessible. IAS holds a massive audiovisual collection dating back to the 1950s — the beginning of independence in Ghana — which documents the visual and oral culture of the region, including dance, music, history, and more.

This is one of the most significant research collections of Ghanaian and African cultural heritage in existence, but due the age of the materials, the formats, and the high temperatures and humidity in Ghana, much of the collection is inaccessible or at a heightened risk for decay. As part of MAARA, the APEX team is in Legon this week and next to set up an audio digitization lab, and to train IAS staff on digitizing materials, collecting metadata, and maintenance of the the new equipment — much of which was hauled in by the team on the plane because the type of hardware necessary was not easily available in or near Ghana.

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As part of the project the IAS staff and the APEX team are documenting the lab installation, training, and digitization efforts through a new blog site at http://www.apexghana.org/. The first post describing the project is already up, and more will follow, including a post by AVPreserve consultant Rebecca Chandler (who helped design the lab and sourced the equipment) discussing the challenge of electricity voltage and different plug types when dealing with conflicting international standards.

This is a really great project and important as a potential model for other archives on the continent that may be struggling with similar needs. We encourage you to watch the progress of the the project on the blog and let IAS know how valuable their work is.

Joshua Ranger

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