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By the end of March 2018 the 14-member Africa Media Online team resident in Alice, Eastern Cape and working in the National Heritage and Cultural Studies Centre (NAHECS) at the University of Fort Hare, had complete the digital capture of all the material assigned to them in the current phases of the ANC Archives digitisation project.

Earlier in the project, Phelelani Ntsikithi, Faith Marango and Sphelele Ntsikithi work on dividing manuscripts into the three workflows.

Early in the project, Phelelani Ntsikithi, Faith Marango and Sphelele Ntsikithi work on dividing manuscripts into the three workflows.

While the overall project actually started in the last quarter of 2011 and continued into 2012, the current phases of the project kicked off in November 2015 and are due to end at the end of April 2018. By then the team will have digitised the contents of 3,576 archival boxes as well as museum objects, posters, banners and other materials. At one time we had five different workflows running concurrently – one to digitise bound manuscripts, another to digitise fragile manuscripts, another to digitise plain paper, another to digitise photographic prints and the final one to digitise slides and negatives. In all we would have captured close to 2 million pages with over 1.3 million being plain paper, over 300,000 being fragile papers and also over 300,000 being bound manuscripts. We also captured almost 82,000 photographic images and over 3,000 museum objects. The team worked exceptionally hard often operating in two shifts and at times in three shifts around the clock to keep to targets. They not only digitised the archive but ordered the archive and documented the archive too.

Kulu Mushaka operating Africa Media Online's modified Atiz machine on-site at NAHECS, University of Fort Hare Alice Campus. The machine is a v-cradle capture device that enables the capture of bound manuscripts. To get a higher quality output from the machine we customised the lights and put Zeiss lenses on the two Canon 5D Mk II cameras. We also added a screen that improved operator comfort.

Kulu Mushaka operating Africa Media Online’s modified Atiz machine on-site at NAHECS, University of Fort Hare Alice Campus. The machine is a v-cradle capture device that enables the capture of bound manuscripts. To get a higher quality output from the machine we customised the lights and put Zeiss lenses on the two Canon 5D Mk II cameras. We also added a screen that improved operator comfort.

Before we could even start digitising the collection, we needed to order the collection down to the item level. The physical archive was well structured with various subcollections and within those subcollections, there are various series. The series are made up of containers (mostly archival boxes) and within the containers are usually folders. Inside each folder are items. The challenge we faced when we arrived to do the digitisation was that the archive had been ordered down to the folder level, but not to the item level. So began the massive task of itemizing the entire collection which meant we did not actually start digitising the collection until 9 months after the start of the project and that itemizing process continued in parallel with digital capture until the end of 2017. In order to do that we had to grow the team after the first nine months from six to 14 members.

Sne Mkhize and Olu Bamigboye operate our Phase One XF camera with Phase One 100 Megapixel digital back. This setup, with Broncolor lights was first used to capture photographic prints at 600 ppi and then we moved on to assisting in the capture of fragile manuscripts.

Sne Mkhize and Olu Bamigboye operate our Phase One XF camera with Phase One 100 Megapixel digital back. This setup, with Broncolor lights was first used to capture photographic prints at 600 ppi and then we moved on to assisting in the capture of fragile manuscripts.

The manuscripts workflow started with the Itemizing Team where four or five team members sat assigning a number to each and every item in the archive. Next, the boxes were shifted to the Dividing Team who went through every folder and assigned each item to one of three workflows – the bound manuscripts workflow where the items were captured on a v-cradle capture device, the fragile papers workflow captured using an overhead camera, and the plain paper workflow captured on form-feed scanner. The boxes then moved across to the Inventory Team who sat capturing onto a spreadsheet for each item: its place in the archive; the number of pages that need to be captured; and the workflow it had been assigned to. In this way, we built up an inventory against which we could check at each subsequent stage of the process. From the Inventory Team, the boxes moved to the Capture Team and the relevant workflow where the items assigned to that particular workflow were captured and returned to the box before the box moved on to the next workflow. Mostly the boxes were returned to their place in the archival storage rooms at NAHECS in between their capture at each workflow station. When all items were captured in a box, the box was returned to the archival store after the items were “de-divided” from the three workflows and recompiled in the right order in their folders and within the box.

Nkanyiso Ngcobo and Phelelani Ntsikithi cleaning the Scamax machine. The belt-driven form-feed scanner is very gentle on paper and so is ideal when used in an archive with mixed manuscripts like the ANC Archive. Operated two shifts a day, this scanner captured over 1.3 million pages in about a year and a half.

Nkanyiso Ngcobo and Phelelani Ntsikithi cleaning the Scamax machine. The belt-driven form-feed scanner is very gentle on paper and so is ideal when used in an archive with mixed manuscripts like the ANC Archive. Operated two shifts a day, this scanner captured over 1.3 million pages in about a year and a half.

To ensure that the digital archive reflected the physical archive in its structure, in Phases 1,2 and 3 back in 2011 and 2012, we had developed a system of digital folders that could represent the arrangement of the physical archive. So when pages were captured using one of the capture devices, they were saved into this folder structure on an external hard drive. These hard drives were then sent up to our head office in Pietermaritzburg (we ended up with close to 70 hard drives of 1, 2, 3 or 4 TB in size that were rotated back and forth between Alice and Pietermaritzburg). There the Processing Team went to work ensuring that each and every digital file was up to standard, was cropped and colour corrected in line with colour targets that were captured with each batch. Files that were rejected were recorded and the information sent back to the Digitisation Team for recapture. Maintaining the same folder structure, these processed files were then saved out from Raw to Tiff format at which point in time the Quality Control Team checked each file and checked the folder path of each file against the inventory or each collection that had been compiled by the Inventory Team.

We used a Nikon D800 with a sharp Nikon 105 mm macro lens to capture negatives and positives which produced higher quality reproductions than the high end scanners we used in the past. We also employed a special workflow to deal with the colour cast on colour negative film.

We used a Nikon D800 with a sharp macro lens to capture negatives and positives which produced higher quality reproductions than high-end scanners we used in the past. We also employed a special workflow to deal with the colour cast on colour negative film.

Currently, the Quality Control Team is working long hours, working sub-collection by sub-collection, to get the entire collection checked, compiled and submitted to the MEMAT Digital Vault. From there the files pass to the domain of the IT Team. They are ingested into the Digital Vault. As part of that, they are processed to a Jpeg2000 format that meets specific archival standards for long-term preservation. Once each page of a manuscript is ingested into the Vault, it is then run through an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) engine to make it searchable and all pages are gathered into a PDF/A. Then the manuscript is made available on the web interface of the ANC Archives Research Website.

Africa Media Online photographer Scott Cronwright assisted Lunga Poni (NAHECS) and Sphelele Ntsikithi (AMO) digitised oversized flat materials including posters and banners. The Phase One XF camera is suspended on the digitisation rig we built. It is set to 150 ppi, the correct setting to be Metamorfoze compliant for this size material.

Africa Media Online photographer Scott Cronwright assisted by Lunga Poni (NAHECS) and Sphelele Ntsikithi (AMO) capture oversized flat materials including posters and banners. The Phase One XF camera is suspended on the digitisation rig we designed and built. The height of the camera is set to 150 ppi, the correct setting to be Metamorfoze compliant for this size material.

The work of aligning the folder path of the digital file with the structure of the physical archive and the record of the structure of the physical archive in the inventory spreadsheet, has also been supplemented by the team going beyond the call of duty to update the ANC Archive finding aids such that all four match each other.

At the end of 2017 as part of our Christmas celebration, the team from NAHECS, the Africa Media Online team and representatives from the ANC and the funder had the privilege of engaging in a team building exercise in the Hogsback. Here Zalisile Victor Cakucaku abseils off a tower watched by an adventure guide. Bra Z, as he was affectionately called, tragically passed away from an infection in his leg in October 2017. He was greatly missed.

At the end of 2017 as part of our Christmas celebration, the team from NAHECS, the Africa Media Online team and representatives from the ANC and the funder had the privilege of engaging in a team building exercise in the Hogsback. Here NAHECS employee who faithfully provided security for the project, Zalisile Victor Cakucaku, abseils off a tower watched by an adventure guide. Bra Z, as he was affectionately called, tragically passed away from an infection in his leg in October 2017. He is sorely missed.

The one aspect of the project that will be continuing in the coming months is the capturing of metadata, particularly against photographic images. That involves both a local team capturing information off the back of photographs and an experienced remote team that takes that information and fills out various metadata fields.

The completed material is already in the process of being ingested into the Digital Vault, passing through the OCR process and starting to show online. One step of that process takes 5 seconds per file which is the current bottleneck. The amount of data is so great that at that rate running 24 hours a day non-stop it will take between 4 and 5 months for all the material to appear online!

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A New Age of Culture cover

A recent global report has shown that while both Kenya and South Africa are shown to be “progressing” in terms of the assessment of the websites of some of their top heritage institutions, both countries are lagging behind severely in comparison to other nations when it comes to digitisation and making their digital archives accessible and even more surprisingly South Africa is lagging behind Kenya in this regard.

The report, entitled A New Age of Culture, provides a fascinating insight into the progress in digitisation and the adoption of digital technologies by cultural heritage institutions across the World and the disparities evident between various countries. Commissioned by Google and created by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), the 2017 report on global trends in digital engagement by cultural heritage institutions in 22 countries around the World featured two African countries, Kenya and South Africa. The report assessed 243 institutions across four groups (museums, archives, performing arts institutions and heritage sites) in each of the 22 countries on 45 indicators to produce a Cultural Digitisation Scorecard. The 45 indicators were grouped into five categories that assessed:

  • Website evaluation
  • Social media presence
  • Interactive experience by users
  • Digital access to archives
  • Digital educational initiatives

Both Kenya and South Africa had 11 leading institutions assessed. The assessment included both qualitative and quantitative measures. In addition to the scorecard, the EIU surveyed 2,200 “consumers” of culture across the 22 countries and conducted 25 in-depth interviews with professionals in the heritage sector to understand their experience with digitisation in these nations.

I had the privilege of being one of the 25 interviewed. The interviews did not affect the country score but provided commentary and case studies for the final report. Africa Media Online’s Heritage Digital Campus was drawn on as one of the case studies (page 34 of the White Paper).

Below are Kenya and South Africa’s position out of 22 in each category as well as the percentile in which they fell. A score was given out of 100 in each category. If the country fell into the 71-100 range, they were considered Advanced. If they fell into the 51-70 range, then they were considered Progressing and if into the 31-50 range, as Emerging. And finally, if they fell into the 0-30 range, they were considered as no more than Nascent.

Category Kenya South Africa
Website Evaluation 20 Progressing 15 Progressing
Social Media Presence 22 Nascent 10 Emerging
Interactive Experience 21 Nascent 12 Emerging
Digital Access to Archives 21 Nascent 20 Nascent
Digital Educational Initiatives 16 Nascent 7 Emerging

While most nations assessed were found to have a Progressing or Advanced website evaluation, and Kenya and South Africa did not disappoint in this area, Kenya was found to be Nascent in four of the five categories, which is cause for concern. South Africa was found to be strong in the Digital Educational Initiatives category, where 15 of the 22 nations fell into the Nascent range and South Africa fell into the Emerging range.

South Africa’s real weakness, however, was in the Digital Access to Archives. This area is assessed in four sub-categories:

  1. the digitisation of archives
  2. the accessibility of digital repositories
  3. the quality of content and
  4. the preservation of archives

In three important measures here, South Africa trails Kenya. In terms of the digitisation of archives, South Africa is in 18th position to Kenya’s 17th. In the accessibility of digital repositories, South Africa comes in in 21st place to Kenya’s 20th. And in quality of content, South Africa is once again in 21st position and Kenya 20th. The only measure where South Africa is doing better than Kenya in terms of the “Digital Access to Archives” is in terms of the preservation of archives where it is very much better, coming in 8th position overall to Kenya’s 22nd position.

So South Africa is good at keeping its archives, but not at taking the measures required to give access to them. For the most advanced economy on the African continent and one of the most democratic, that is a real indictment and one that surely needs speedy correction. Kenya, on the other hand, needs to work hard on both digitisation and engaging the technologies required to present its digital collections to its people and to interested users from all over the World.

View A New Age of Culture: The Digitisation of Arts and Heritage Around the World online summary and download the White Paper.

 

 

The Digitise Africa Trust is looking to recruit retired teachers, historians, archivists, journalists, librarians, archaeologists, museologists and other researchers to join our growing community of volunteer metadata capturers.

Africa has rich heritage resources that showcase its history and culture. These are spread throughout our continent in memory institutions such as libraries, museums and archives and in the hands of private collectors. Digitisation is a wonderful way of making the wealth of these collections available to an African and global audience. Capturing the collections in digital form, however, is only half of what is needed to really make them available. If they are to be useful to researchers, students, scholars and other users, they have to be findable. And that is where we need your help!

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Metadata for Africa is a community of skilled people who are passionate about contributing to Africans telling Africa’s story – enabling the best of African historical, cultural and natural collections to get to an African and global audience. We are looking for people who believe in enabling the African story to be heard from an African perspective. So much of Africa’s story is told by those outside of Africa. We are contributing to changing that, to making primary material about our history, culture and natural resources available to the World. We do this by adding information to digital files such as photographs, audio, video and manuscripts – information that can be used to search for and find these digital files. For instance, we might add a caption to a photograph, that explains what is in the photograph and we may add keywords that highlight the main subject matter of the photograph. Often there is some information associated with the files and we are able to bring order to that information. At other times we need to do some research to add useful information to the file. Mostly we do this from the comfort of our own home, working on our own computers with an internet connection.

So if you have a broad general knowledge and the ability to research and have a passion to contribute some of the wealth of what you have gained over the years towards making Africa’s primary memory resources available for current and future generations, please let us know by signing up here. Some of our projects have sponsors and so work is paid for. One such project that we are currently busy with is the ANC Archives Metadata Project for which we need a large team of enthusiastic and skilled people. If you are interested or you know anyone who would be, please sign up or contact us.

Spring in Amsterdam. Crowds gather around the "I Am Amsterdam" monument outside the Rijksmuseum.

Spring in Amsterdam. Crowds gather around the “I Am Amsterdam” monument outside the Rijksmuseum.

Amsterdam is beautiful in the Springtime! In May I had the wonderful privilege of cycling around the city to and from conference sessions at the Rijksmuseum. I was there to attend the 2+3D Photography – Practice and Prophecies 2017 conference. This is the second time that the Rijksmuseum has hosted the conference and already it has become the premier World event in terms of the digitisation of museum objects and heritage resources.

Amsterdam by bicycle. Biking is the best way to see Amsterdam. My Air BnB had a spare bike and I took the most of the opportunity to see the city.

I discovered that biking is the best way to see Amsterdam. My Air BnB had a spare bike and I took the most of the opportunity to see the city. Texting while riding seems to be common practice!

One thing about being involved in such a specialist field as the digitisation of museums and archives is that one can easily become isolated. It was wonderful, then, to rub shoulders with the leading institutions and personalities in the World. Apart from it being a thoroughly enriching experience, the conference both confirmed decisions we at Africa Media Online have made in the past and gave us clear direction for the future.

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has been one of the World's leading institutions in terms of the adopting of digitial technologies to grant access to their extensive collections.

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has been one of the World’s leading institutions in terms of the adopting of digital technologies to grant access to their extensive collections.

Firstly, the conference confirmed our decision a few years ago to move away from scanner technology to camera technology. It was clear, some years ago, that global investment in CMOS sensor technology was fast outstripping developments in CCD technology. It was also clear to me, that with my background as a professional photographer, that investing in the right cameras could not only give us significantly more versatility in terms of the variety of material that we are able to capture, but that they can also do so at the very highest standard complying to the new international digitisation standards that were emerging at that time. Initially we invested in full frame Canon and Nikon cameras, which we still use for a number of applications. More recently we have taken the significant leap of investing in Phase One medium format technology. After looking around at the major medium format systems we felt that Phase One was leading the pack in terms of innovation and the interplay of its hardware an software. Tahnee Cracchiola is Lead Photographer, Villa Imaging Studios at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California, USA. After carefully looking at the technology available, she and her colleagues came to the same conclusions that we did in terms of investing in Phase One digital backs and Broncolor lights.

Cecile van der Harten, Head Image Department, Rijksmuseum, is the mover and shaker behind the 2+3D Photography: Practice and Prophecies conference. The 2017 conference was the second. The first was held in 2015.

Cecile van der Harten, Head Image Department, Rijksmuseum, is the mover and shaker behind the 2+3D Photography: Practice and Prophecies conference. The 2017 conference was the second. The first was held in 2015.

Secondly, the conference was a great encouragement to us to keep innovating. Chris Strasbaugh, Ditigal Library archivist and Curator in the Knowlton School of Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and City and Regional Planning at The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, USA presented a paper on a digitisation rig he built with electrical tubing and a lightweight camera. Digitisation presents so may unique challenges and it was wonderful to see how colleagues all over the World are meeting those challenges through innovation. It has encouraged us that we too can keep innovating as we have done in building our own digitisation rigs that really do work. On the workshop day at the end of the conference I had the privilege of seeing similar innovations that the Rijksmuseum have created at their digitisation centres which has sparked a whole string of ideas that bit by bit we are turning into reality.

Conference delegates also got to see the city by boat. Robert Erdmann, Senior Scientist, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands (centre) is seen here interacting with colleagues during a boat cruise around the canals of Amsterdam. Robert presented a paper on "Pushing the Boundaries of Image Processing and Visualization for Cultural Heritage at the 2+3D Photography - Practice and Prophecies conference held at the Rijksmuseum in May 2017.

Conference delegates also got to see the city by boat. Robert Erdmann, Senior Scientist, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands (centre) is seen here interacting with colleagues during a boat cruise around the canals of Amsterdam. Robert presented a paper on “Pushing the Boundaries of Image Processing and Visualization for Cultural Heritage at the 2+3D Photography – Practice and Prophecies conference held at the Rijksmuseum in May 2017.

Thirdly, the conference helped to affirm and fine-tune things that we are already doing. Martina Hoffmann, Senior Production Manager for Digitization at the National Library of the Netherlands in The Hague, The Netherlands presented an excellent paper on quality assurance workflows in mass digitisation projects. I was able to chat with her for some time about the large-scale digitisation projects we are undertaking at present.

Digital imaging specialist, Hans van Dormolen, founder of Hans van Dormolen Imaging & Preservation Imaging (HIP) presents his new innovation, a 3D imaging target for the capture of 3D objects, at the 2+3D Photography Practice and Prophecies at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Digital imaging specialist, Hans van Dormolen, founder of Hans van Dormolen Imaging & Preservation Imaging (HIP) presents his new innovation, a 3D imaging target for the capture of 3D objects, at the 2+3D Photography Practice and Prophecies at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Finally, the conference gave us some clear direction for the future. It was wonderful to get an insight into the innovations that are coming down the line in terms of colour management, photogrammetry and 3D imaging. Hans van Dormolen, who wrote the Metamorfoze standard, presented a new 3D target he has developed. Don Williams of Image Science Associates, who create the colour targets we use, conducted a workshop on colour management together with Roy Berns. And Robert Erdmann, resident Senior Scientist at the Rijksmuseum gave us a brief but startling glimpse into the future of visualization of cultural heritage.

Maciej Pawlikowski, Head of Digital Content Unit at University of Cambridge (left) speaks to Roy Berns, Professor, Center for Imaging Science, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, New York during a workshop conducted by Roy and Don Williams (seated centre) of Image Science Associates, Williamson, New York, USA. The workshop at the 2+3D Photography - Practice and Prophecies conference at the Rijksmuseum was on FADGI and Metamorfoze compliance.

Maciej Pawlikowski, Head of Digital Content Unit at University of Cambridge (left) speaks to Roy Berns, Professor, Center for Imaging Science, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, New York during a workshop conducted by Roy and Don Williams (seated centre) of Image Science Associates, Williamson, New York, USA. The workshop at the 2+3D Photography – Practice and Prophecies conference at the Rijksmuseum was on FADGI and Metamorfoze compliance.

If it had done nothing else, the conference certainly galvanised decision making at Africa Media Online. We have invested in a Phase One IQ 150 digital back as a workhorse alongside our IQ3 100 back. We have also invested in another Broncolor lighting system that will give us more flexibility when capturing museum collections. Both of those are being used 16 hours a day at the moment digitising fragile manuscripts of the ANC Archives at the University of Fort Hare. We have also increased our efforts in the documentation of all that we do and have invested in new colour targets to ensure quality assurance in all of our workflows. And we have been incorporating new innovations into our MEMAT archival digital repository system, innovations which we hope to unveil in the not too distant future.

Broncolor lights on a digitisation rig at the Rijksmuseum store at Lelystad in The Netherlands. The workshop, conducted by the Rijksmuseum's Rik Klein Gotink looked at systems for capturing large flat objects in sections and using software to accurately stitch the tiles together.

Broncolor lights on a digitisation rig at the Rijksmuseum store at Lelystad in The Netherlands. The workshop, conducted by the Rijksmuseum’s Rik Klein Gotink looked at systems for capturing large flat objects in sections and using software to accurately stitch the tiles together.

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Earlier this year we were presented with a significant challenge by Simon Vines of Community Mural Projects in Durban. Simon asked us to capture a Dereck Nxumalo painting at archival quality. Capturing paintings at a level that conforms to international digitisation standards is doable for us with our specialised equipment, we have done that on a number of occasions before. This project, however, presented some additional challenges. Dereck’s painting is 1.5 m high and 9 m long and Simon wanted it captured at 300 dpi!

Mco Hlabe, a digitisation assistant at Africa Media Online looks on as we capture a Dereck Nxumalo painting at the Natal Society of Arts (NSA) Gallery in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Africa Media Online was commissioned to capture the painting by Community Mural Projects in Durban. The 9 m long and 1.5 m high painting was captured in 33 overlapping tiles at 300 dpi and then stitched together to produce the finished digital file. The image was made with Africa Media Online's Alpa 12 FPS camera with a Rodenstock HR Digaron-S 60 mm f/4 lens and our Phase One IQ3 100 megapixel camera.

Mco Hlabe, a digitisation assistant at Africa Media Online looks on as we capture a Dereck Nxumalo painting at the Natal Society of Arts (NSA) Gallery in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Africa Media Online was commissioned to capture the painting by Community Mural Projects in Durban. The 9 m long and 1.5 m high painting was captured in 33 overlapping tiles at 300 dpi and then stitched together to produce the finished digital file. The image was made with Africa Media Online’s Alpa 12 FPS camera with a Rodenstock HR Digaron-S 60 mm f/4 lens and our Phase One IQ3 100 megapixel camera.

We had to do some thinking before taking on this project. We knew we had the camera for the job, our Alpa 12 FPS with our Rodenstock HR Digaron-S 60 mm f/4 and our Phase One 100 Megapixel digital back. That together with Capture One CH, Phase One’s specialist cultural heritage software meant that we knew we could capture the painting’s colours exactly as they are at this point in time. But the size of the painting meant we needed to make some adaptations to our capture rig. The bearing sliders we were using up to that point did not give us enough space to reach right across the breadth of the painting, so I went shopping around. Fortunately, the guys at Broadcast Lighting in Pinetown were able to fish out a discontinued mechanism that we managed to jury-rig and incorporate into our digitisation rig.

Our new bearing slider suspends our Alpa 12 FPS camera above a Dereck Nxumalo painting that we were digitising at the Natal Society of Arts (NSA) Gallery in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

Our new bearing slider suspends our Alpa 12 FPS camera above a Dereck Nxumalo painting that we were digitising at the Natal Society of Arts (NSA) Gallery in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

The next challenge was the challenge of space. With a painting this long, we imagined we needed a lot of space – not just for the painting but for the rig and lights etc. etc. The problem was solved when Simon managed to get the NSA Gallery on board who graciously allowed us to use their main space one morning. And so off we shot to Durban assembled the rig and got to work capturing the painting in 33 overlapping tiles.

Africa Media Online's Alpa 12 FPS camera with a Rodenstock HR Digaron-S 60 mm f/4 lens and our Phase One IQ3 100 megapixel camera suspended above a Dereck Nxumalo painting at the NSA Gallery in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

Africa Media Online’s Alpa 12 FPS camera with a Rodenstock HR Digaron-S 60 mm f/4 lens and our Phase One IQ3 100 megapixel camera suspended above a Dereck Nxumalo painting at the NSA Gallery in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

Next was the challenge was to stitch it all together. After much trial and error we managed to get Photoshop to produce an enormous stitched file. With each tile being 600 MB in size in its original 16-bit capture, the resulting stitched tiff file needed to be compressed with lossless LZW compress as it greatly exceeded the 4 GB limit that computer systems put on a single image file. This became our archival master compiled file. It preserved every crease and dent and nick of the original image.

One of 33 tiles that were captured and then stitched together to as part of the process of digitising a 9 m long by 1.5 m wide Dereck Nxumalo painting.

One of 33 tiles that were captured and then stitched together to as part of the process of digitising a 9 m long by 1.5 m wide Dereck Nxumalo painting.

Then, because the intended purpose is for reproduction at the size of the original, we then spent many hours retouching the image. Dereck Nxumalo had painted the image on multiple sheets of paper that had been glued together. The creases showed in our archival master just as they do in the original. For reproduction purposes, however, we needed to remove these and also fix the numerous chips in the original paint.

The output is a digital file of phenomenal detail which I believe does justice to the incredible talent of Dereck Nxumalo in producing such an exceptional work of art.

The image at less than 1% zoom in Photoshop

The image at less than 1% zoom in Photoshop.

The image at 1% zoom in Photoshop

The image at 1% zoom in Photoshop.

The image at 4% zoom in Photoshop.

The image at 4% zoom in Photoshop.

The image at 6% zoom in Photoshop.

The image at 6% zoom in Photoshop.

The image at 12% zoom in Photoshop.

The image at 12% zoom in Photoshop.

The image at 25% zoom in Photoshop.

The image at 25% zoom in Photoshop.

The image at 66% zoom in Photoshop

The image at 66% zoom in Photoshop

More About Dereck Nxumalo

Derrick Vusumuzi Nxumalo is a largely self-taught artist. He was born on the 12/12/1962 in Dumisa, Umzinto, KwaZulu-Natal and his education was at Phindavele High School achieving Std. 8. In 1985, Derrick went up to the Northern Transvaal to work on an Anglo American Corporation mine for 4 months, but returned home to Umzinto in KwaZulu-Natal. He started selling his paintings through the African Art Centre in 1985. In 1988 Derrick started working as a part-time artist.

Derrick has served his community over the past 12 years. As Chairperson for the School Governing Board (S.G.B.) for 12 years, on the Community Policy Forum 9C.P.F.) for 2 years, Community Development Project for 2 years and Ward Counsellor for the local Vulamehlo Municipality for 5 years and currently serving.

Exhibitions :
1988 Cape Town Triennial
1989 Elizabeth Gordon Gallery/100 Artists for Life
1992 Standard Bank Arts Festival – Art meets Science – flowers as images
1990 Oxford, England, Zabalaza Art Festival/Art from South Africa
1990 “Vulamehlo – Open Eyes – Durban Art Gallery/Alliance Francalse sponsor
1991 Italy, 11 Sud Del Mondo, L’Altra Contemporanea/The South of the World
1993 Linda Goodman, solo show
1994 Durban Art Gallery/” Artlstsinvlte Artists”
1996 The Arnolfi Gallery, London, U.K.
1997 Gallery on Tyrone, Johannesburg
1997 African Art Centre/Alliance Francaise sponsor, exhibited with Raphael Magwaza &
Njabulo Hlongwane
2000 Abelumbi, Untold Tales of Magic, Durban Art Gallery

Collections:
Anglo Vaal Corporation, Pietersburg
South African Breweries
University of Witwatersrand
University of Cape Town
Tatham Art Gallery, Pietermarltzburg
Durban Art Gallery
The Campbell Collections, Durban
Paul Mikula & Associates, Durban
Peter Rlche, Johannesburg
Bill Wright, New York, U.S.A.
David Elllot, London
Gavin Younge, Cape Town
Gencor Art Collection, Johannesburg
S.A. Reserve Bank Pretoria
The Carnegie Art Gallery, Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal
HSBC Bank, Johannesburg

Representation:
The African Art Centre
94 Florida Road, Durban 0313123804/5
www.afriart.org.za

Simon Vines says that Derrick “is being supported by the Community Murals Project in this instance as we intend, in conjunction with the Phansi Museum, to promote his exciting vision for a future of Durban as an African city. Community Murals has been involved in many street and rural art projects in Durban and SA during the 1990′s and early 21st century. These embraced the period that our country changed to a democratic state, and the liberal outpouring of new art that accompanied it. This was an incredibly dynamic time in South Africa, hopefully one that we can aspire to again in the future.”

At the end of June, the Africa Media Online team was hard at work moving offices. We are still in Pietermaritzburg, but have moved up to the top of a hill overlooking the city to Hilltops Office Park in Clarendon. Apart from the view, what attracted me to the site was the ideal conditions for building a digital repository.

Block D, Hilltops Office Park in Clarendon, Pietermaritzburg is the new home for Africa Media Online.

Block D, Hilltops Office Park in Clarendon, Pietermaritzburg is the new home for Africa Media Online.

 

In January 2017 I was in The Netherlands at the Winterschool for Audiovisual Archiving held at the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision in Hilversum. It was a real privilege to interact with colleagues from all over Europe and lecturers from Europe and the US gaining an insight into what it takes to build a Trusted Digital Repository.

The fabulous mulitcoloured glass structure of Beeld en Geluid, The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision. Every day the Institute digitally archives all of The Netherland's public television and radio stations as well as a number of private stations. In the bowels of the building over 10 Petabytes of data are stored on LTO6 tape which is backed up to a similar facility in another building about a mile away.

The fabulous mulitcoloured glass structure of Beeld en Geluid, The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision. Every day the Institute digitally archives all of The Netherland’s public television and radio stations as well as a number of private stations. In the bowels of the building over 10 Petabytes of data are stored on LTO6 tape which is backed up to a similar facility in another building about a mile away.

 

Kara Van Malssen, a partner and senior consultant at AVPreserve, lecturing at The Winterschool for Digital Archiving 2017, which was held in the fabulous mulitcoloured glass structure of Beeld en Geluid, The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision. Kara is flanked by the other two lecturers in the Winterschool, Peter Bubestinger-Steindl (far) a project lead and developer in the field of digital archiving and Erwin Verbruggen, who works in The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision's department for research and development and headed up the Winterschool. Every day the Institute digitally archives all of The Netherland's public television and radio stations as well as a number of private stations. In the bowels of the building over 10 Petabytes of data are stored on LTO6 tape which is backed up to a similar facility in another building about a mile away.

Kara Van Malssen, a partner and senior consultant at AVPreserve, lecturing at The Winterschool for Audiovisual Archiving 2017, which was held in the mulitcoloured glass structure of Beeld en Geluid, The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision. Kara is flanked by the other two lecturers in the Winterschool, Peter Bubestinger-Steindl (far), a project lead and developer in the field of digital archiving and Erwin Verbruggen (near), who works in The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision’s department for research and development. Erwin headed up the Winterschool.

 

A Trusted Digital Repository is a term used to designate a digital repository that has everything in place to pass an independent audit and become accredited in terms of the International Standards Organisation standard ISO 16363. Gaining such accreditation is no small matter. The standard looks at the big picture of what is needed in order to sustain a digital repository for the long term. One not only needs a state of the art digital asset management system in place with documented processes to run such systems reliably in a manner that satisfies the independent auditors, but one also needs proven sustainability as an organisation including such elements as staff training and long-term financial plans that are regularly reviewed.

David Larsen, Managing Director of Africa Media Online participating in The Winterschool for Digital Archiving 2017 run by The Netherlands Institute of Sound and Vision. The School was held in the fabulous mulitcoloured glass structure of Beeld en Geluid, The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision. Every day the Institute digitally archives all of The Netherland's public television and radio stations as well as a number of private stations. In the bowels of the building over 10 Petabytes of data are stored on LTO6 tape which is backed up to a similar facility in another building about a mile away.

Me participating in The Winterschool for Audiovisual Archiving 2017 run by The Netherlands Institute of Sound and Vision. It was a real privilege to attend the school and interact with so many others who are on the same journey to building trusted digital repositories. PHOTO: Sebastiaan ter Burg, Creative Commons BY

 

Participants in the Winterschool for Digital Archiving on a tour of the audio digitisation facility at Beeld en Geluid, The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision. Every day the Institute digitally archives all of The Netherland's public television and radio stations as well as a number of private stations. In the bowels of the building over 10 Petabytes of data are stored on LTO6 tape which is backed up to a similar facility in another building about a mile away.

Participants in the Winterschool for Audiovisual Archiving on a tour of the audio digitisation facility at Beeld en Geluid, The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision.

In the First World, organisations that tend to gain such accreditation tend to be large government institutions with long institutional memory and clear systems and processes that ensure that knowledge and capacity are passed down the generations. In many parts of the Majority World, however, such longevity of institutional memory in government institutions cannot be taken for granted. This provides an opportunity for private service providers, particularly those that have a broad footprint in the market, serving a range of sectors. Such organisation are often better placed to take on the critical role of digital preservation behalf of public institutions, businesses and community organisations. This is especially true of social enterprises that exist for a higher cause than simply bottom line profits. With our foundational purpose as “Africans telling Africa’s Story” we believe that we at Africa Media Online are well placed to be part of playing that role here in Africa. For this reason we are working hard toward the goal of gaining accreditation as a Trusted Digital Repository. There is certainly no quick way of accomplishing this – it is very much a journey.

 

Participants in The Winterschool for Digital Archiving 2017 run by The Netherlands Institute of Sound and Vision. The School was held in the fabulous mulitcoloured glass structure of Beeld en Geluid, The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision. Every day the Institute digitally archives all of The Netherland's public television and radio stations as well as a number of private stations. In the bowels of the building over 10 Petabytes of data are stored on LTO6 tape which is backed up to a similar facility in another building about a mile away.

Participants in The Winterschool for Audiovisual Archiving 2017 run by The Netherlands Institute of Sound and Vision. The School was held in the Beeld en Geluid, The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision. PHOTO: Sebastiaan ter Burg, Creative Commons BY

 

 

The fabulous mulitcoloured glass structure of Beeld en Geluid, The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision. Every day the Institute digitally archives all of The Netherland's public television and radio stations as well as a number of private stations. In the bowels of the building over 10 Petabytes of data are stored on LTO6 tape which is backed up to a similar facility in another building about a mile away.

The interior of the fabulous mulitcoloured glass structure of Beeld en Geluid, The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision.

An important next step in that journey, however, has been taken simply by moving offices and the opportunities it has presented us. What I saw at Hilltops, was not just a far more conducive working environment for our team, and a more pleasant environment for clients to come to, but also the ability to have an off-site server room in a secure environment. Our main office is now in one building and our server room in a physically removed separate building. We have put a lot of investment into the server room environment, sealing it to deal with dust, putting in airconditioning, and installing an alarm system. We have also just commissioned an automated fire-suppression system. We are also looking to extend our power backup system linking it to solar power generation.

 

The automated fire suppression system installed by FireDotCom in Africa Media Online's server room. The system has smoke detectors that will set off an alarm and then release fire suppressant gas into the server room when a fire is detected.

The automated fire suppression system installed by FireDotCom in Africa Media Online’s server room. The system has smoke detectors that will set off an alarm and then release fire suppressant gas into the server room when a fire is detected.

What is really exciting for me about having a physically removed server room, however, is that we can run offsite backups automatically. We have installed a fibre link from the server room to a secure Backup Room in our main office. What that means is that all backups are automatically off-site backups. Of course we will not leave it at that, as I plan to also have a whole set of backup tapes housed 20 km away in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. Soon we will also be announcing another innovation in terms of secure backups which will be added to our system which we believe will be a first for a digital collection in Africa.

None of this comes cheap. We believe, however, that the investment will be worth it in the long-run, both in terms of caring for the collections that have been entrusted to us, and in terms of the long-term sustainability of what we hope will be, in the not too distant future, an ISO accredited Trusted Digital Repository.

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Earlier this year I had the privilege of digitising a fabulous collection from The Slave Lodge at Iziko Museums of Cape Town for the Google Cultural Institute. IsiShweshwe has come to be identified with high-brow indigenous South African fashion. The pattered cloth has been used for centuries in southern Africa at every level of society and a wide variety of applications. Yet the tradition of the cloth has its origins in East Asia and came to Africa via Europe as part of the colonial project. The story of isiShweshwe then, is the story of cultural cooption, adaptation and innovation – of remixing and remaking.

Student curator, Sarah Schäfer, assists with the setup of the digitisation of Iziko Museum's Isishweshwe collection.

Photographer and digital curation student, Sarah Schäfer, assists with the setup of the digitisation of Iziko Museum’s Isishweshwe collection.

Ohorokweva onde (dress) worn by Hereo women. Windhoek, Namibia, 2005. Fabric: Chaka Chaka, producer unknown. Juliette Leeb-du Toit Collection, Iziko Soc Hist. 16

Ohorokweva onde (dress) worn by Hereo women. Windhoek, Namibia, 2005. Fabric: Chaka Chaka, producer unknown. Juliette Leeb-du Toit Collection, Iziko Soc Hist. 16

It was a privilege to be approached by the Google Cultural Institute to take on this task. We had worked together in the past when African Media Online became the only non-not-for-profit partner in the Google History Project (which says something about our status as a social enterprise) creating galleries of content to showcase significant moments in South African history. We had been in discussion over some years about various potential digitisation projects, but nothing had ever materialized until this.

Dress of Indian chintz, probably made at the Cape. Note the use of the indigo in some of the floral sprigs. Coromandel Coast, India, c.1775. The Indian method of applying designs on to cotton was complicated, and included the application of various coats of resist paste (in this case, beeswax) and mordants, alternated with dippings into madder red or indigo blue dyebaths, and a final  direct application of yellow dye where needed. Presented by Marianne Pfeiffer, Iziko Soc Hist. L67/153

Dress of Indian chintz, probably made at the Cape. Note the use of the indigo in some of the floral sprigs. Coromandel Coast, India, c.1775. The Indian method of applying designs on to cotton was complicated, and included the application of various coats of resist paste (in this case, beeswax) and mordants, alternated with dippings into madder red or indigo blue dyebaths, and a final direct application of yellow dye where needed. Presented by Marianne Pfeiffer, Iziko Soc Hist. L67/153

It was not an insignificant undertaking. I needed to be on-site in Cape Town. Fortunately I did not need to ship all my equipment as Cine Photo Tools, from whom we purchase our Broncolor lights, was just around the corner and was able to provide the lights, stands and backdrops I needed. It also involved quite a team of Iziko staff to organise ahead of time and assist with bringing the materials to me in the Slave Lodge. The Iziko staff also had to assist with metadata post shoot. Fortunately I knew Paul Tichmann from his time at the Luthuli Museum here in KZN and I knew Tessa Davids from her time at Western Cape Museum Services with whom we had worked to do a digitisation project some years ago. It also took a team from the Google Cultural Institute itself, particularly in getting the project going and when it came to getting the content online and curated online.

Jacket and trousers. Made and purchased in Johannesburg, Gauteng, 2009. Fabrics include Da Gama 'Three Leopards' and 'Six Star Toto.' Juliette Leeb-du Toit Collection, Iziko Soc Hist. 38

Jacket and trousers. Made and purchased in Johannesburg, Gauteng, 2009. Fabrics include Da Gama ‘Three Leopards’ and ‘Six Star Toto.’ Juliette Leeb-du Toit Collection, Iziko Soc Hist. 38

It also involved significant creativity to capture a range of materials in a way that would showcase the range and quality of the collection on the Google Arts & Culture digital platform. As it turned out it was not just the isiShweshwe collection, but we ended up capturing aspects of four distinct cultural collections. Fortunately I had help from photographer and digital curation student Sarah Schäfer who had been referred by Google. It was a pleasure to work with someone so enthusiastic.

Dress of Indian chintz on loan from Iziko Museums of Cape Town in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam as part of their Goede Hoop: South Africa and The Netherlands from 1600 exhibition. Soon after I captured the dress, it was shipped off to Amsterdam. It was wonderful to come across it while I was there in May at a conference at the Rijksmuseum.

Dress of Indian chintz on loan from Iziko Museums of Cape Town in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam as part of their Goede Hoop: South Africa and The Netherlands from 1600 exhibition. Soon after I captured the dress, it was shipped off to Amsterdam. It was wonderful to come across it while I was there in May at a conference at the Rijksmuseum.

In the end the hard work all paid off. The four collections have been curated in four exhibits as part of the wider We Wear Culture project. And the client was thrilled. When she received the pictures Agata Wieczorowska, Cultural Institute Coordinator, Google Cultural Institute said: “I absolutely loved the pictures! From the artistic point of view, the pictures are amazing and the artifacts themselves are really unique!” So that was a plus for both our work and for Iziko’s work in collecting and curating the material. And our Phase One IQ3 100 digital sensor with XF Camera and Broncolor lights produced outstanding results. Agata was blown away by how much detail was in the full size images.

A member of staff at Iziko Museums places beadwork on the table to be digitised as part of the We Wear Culture project.

A member of staff at Iziko Museums places beadwork on the table to be digitised as part of the We Wear Culture project.

And the wonderful thing is that you can take a look yourself and zoom right in to that fine detail (by clicking on the links below, and then as you scroll through by double clicking on the images):

Fabric, Fashion and Identity – The Story of IsiShweshwe
Kalahari Skin Bags
Tobacco Bags from the Eastern Cape
Beadwork from Southern Africa

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In January 2017 I spent an afternoon at the Rijksmuseum with Duncan Bull, Cecile van der Harten and Peter Gorgels. A South African who has lived in The Netherlands for some decades, Duncan is heading up the curation of the Robert Jacob Gordon Collection as part of the Goede Hoop: South Africa and The Netherlands from 1600 exhibition that opened on February 17. Cecile is the Head of the Image Department at the Rijksmuseum and gave me a personal tour of the museum’s digitization facilities. And Peter manages the Rijksmuseum’s digital communication.

I was invited to meet with Duncan and Cecile because Africa Media Online had digitized the document collection of the Robert Jacob Gordon Collection for The Brenthurst Library in Johannesburg. Robert Jacob Gordon was the last Dutch governor of the Cape Colony and The Brenthurst Library have his writings as part of their collection whilst the Rijksmuseum hold his sketches, maps and paintings. Digitising the collections held at both institutions enabled the possibility of presenting the complete collection for the first time.

A print screen of the front page of Rijksmuseum's Robert Jacob Gordon Collection website showing one of the Brenthurst Library's Gordon Collection manuscripts that Africa Media Online digitised

A print screen of the front page of Rijksmuseum’s Robert Jacob Gordon Collection website showing one of the Brenthurst Library’s Gordon Collection manuscripts that Africa Media Online digitised

Duncan emailed me recently to alert me to the fact that they have just launched the Robert Jacob Gordon Collection website that brings together both the manuscript and the artworks collections. They really have done a beautiful job of enabling one to get a close look at items in the collection. If you click on the Writings and Drawings section you can get a really close up view of the materials from the Brenthurst Library that we digitised. When he received the images Duncan emailed to say, “Thank you very much indeed for the excellent work you did scanning the Brenthurst MSS. They are exactly what we wanted, and are an enormous help.” And his colleague, Geoffrey Badenhorst, also of South African extraction, emailed to say, “It must have been an immense task to digitalising all the manuscripts. We are ever so pleased with the result.” That response was certainly very satisfying, meeting the expectations of an institution World-reknowned for its exacting standards in the digitisation area.

I spent time with Cecile looking at the technology the Rijksmuseum is using to capture artifacts and rare manuscripts. It confirmed to me that we have pursued the right course in shifting across from scanners to medium format digital cameras. They too use Broncolor lights but went the Hasselblad camera and digital back at a time when Phase One had not started to develop systems specifically for the digitisation of heritage collections. Staff Photographer Henni van Beek showed me the specialised copy table that they had manufactured for the digitisation of rare books and I got to see a number of their studios digitising various types of artifacts. The image department is at the heart of the Rijksmuseum’s open access strategy. By 2020 they hope to have digitised 1.1 million artworks!

Cecile van der Harten Head of the Image Department at the Rijksmuseum (left) in one of the studios with Staff Photographer Henni van Beek demonstrating the capture of a rare manuscript

Cecile van der Harten Head of the Image Department at the Rijksmuseum (left) in one of the studios with Staff Photographer Henni van Beek (at the computer on the right) with their setup to capture rare manuscripts

Peter Gorgels has overseen the development of the Rijksmuseum’s award-winning website. “We only have 8,000 artworks on display at the museum, yet we have 1.1 million artworks in storage. So digitization is a way to create accessibility,” he said.

Peter and his department created the concept of the Rijksstudio where over 100,000 images of artworks from the museum are made available in high resolution (2,500 pixels x 2,500 pixels) for download and for re-use. “In the past, we were really high-brow and stuffy”, Peter said. The museum spent some years doing a complete renovation and so had a lot of time to digitise their collections. “When we reopened we wanted to make our collections really accessible.”

“The collections belongs to everyone,” he said, “The artworks become ambassadors for the museum. Making them open access is in line with the mission of the museum.” The artworks are all out-of-copyright works and the museum runs an open access policy where they believe that the public have the right to access the artworks and create derivative works.

“In the first year that we launched Rijksstudio use of the images was restricted to private use. We then discovered that the profit from selling images was very little. So then we decided to open it up completely fitting in with the thinking of Creative Commons and Wikkicommons. We found the line between commercial and non-commercial is very thin so in the end we went for simplicity. It is actually hard work to make money from licensing and so it was easier just to make it all open.” Peter and his team run a competition every year called the Rijksstudio Award where designers are encouraged to make creative derivative works inspired by works presented on the Rijksstudio. “That people can recreate and use the artworks for commercial use makes them relevant for now. We do, however, ask for credit and people are not allowed to use Rijksmuseum logo because brand value is very high. The value of the digital images, on the other hand, is low.”

Even the architecture of the revamped Rijksmuseum speaks of openness, accessibility and simplicity, values they have carried through to all of their interactions with the public, including their online presence. This area including their coffee shop and bookshop is open to the public without a ticket

Even the architecture of the revamped Rijksmuseum speaks of openness, accessibility and simplicity, values they have carried through to all of their interactions with the public, including their online presence. This area including their coffee shop and bookshop is open to the public without a ticket

Within the Rijksstudio website, users can curate their own collections, much like on Pinterest and share them across social media. Users can even upload the derivative works they may have created. Certainly, the strategy seems to have worked. “The number of visitors greatly increased,” said Peter. He admits, however, “It is hard to tell if people who are coming to the website also come through the door. The average number of visitors per day since we reopened has doubled.”

“A lot of people are afraid to make their collections available online thinking that people won’t come back to the museum, but the opposite has happened. Seeing the real art is different to seeing it online. A museum visit is also a social thing.”

“When we launched it there was an immediate success that we did not expect. Now after four years later we are still being invited to give lectures to other museums and institutions around the world. This has grown our global brand significantly.”

The Rijksmuseum does have significant public funding, a vast collection and a strong global brand which together has created a “perfect storm” of bringing vast numbers of visitors through their doors. They are also situated in a city with other globally significant museums. Amazingly, the strategy of the relaunched Rijksmuseum has had an amazing impact on the whole city. “The number of tourists in Amsterdam as a whole has increased and housing prices have gone up dramatically. It has been acknowledged that the new golden age of Amsterdam started with the launch of the new Rijksmuseum.” Visitor numbers at the Van Gogh Museum in the same area of the city have also doubled.

The splash page of the Rijksmuseum website showcasing the new "Goede Hoop: South Africa and the Netherlands from 1600" exhibition. The Rijksmuseum website is purposefully picture driven with large pictures that show close detail

The splash page of the Rijksmuseum website showcasing the new “Goede Hoop: South Africa and the Netherlands from 1600″ exhibition. The Rijksmuseum website is purposefully picture driven with large pictures that show close detail

While this strategy has been a wonderful success for the Rijksmuseum and for Amsterdam as a whole, it does not necessarily translate directly to smaller institutions that need to create income streams to survive. At the CEPIC Congress last year I heard Jeff Cowton of the Wordsworth Trust Museum in the UK speak alongside Sandra Powlette of the British Library about their need to license material as a small museum acknowledging their differing circumstance to a large publically funded institution such as the British Library. As Cecile van der Harten said to me at the Rijksmuseum when I asked her about them giving away the high-resolution images of their artworks, “Of course, we can afford it!”

Here is an interview with Peter covering much of what we spoke about when I visited him.

In the first half of 2016, Africa Media Online took delivery of our first InoTec Scamax machine. As an organization we specialize in helping historic or archival organizations build digital collections. In our work, we have often come across collections where there is a large volume of material (read kilometers of shelving in some cases). Normally such volume would be captured using a high-speed form-feed scanner. But the collections we work with are historic and archival and so by their nature they contain a mix of material including fragile material, such as old letters and telegrams that risk being damaged if sent through a form-feed scanner. While there are many form-feed scanners on the market, many of which can do hundreds of pages a minute, few are gentle enough to allow us to be confident to use with irreplaceable archival materials. For over a decade now clients have entrusted rare, fragile and often irreplaceable material to our care. We have been determined not to betray that trust and have invested in systems that ensure we do not damage materials as far as it depends on us. So we avoided looking at high-speed scanners not believing any were up to the task of dealing with the materials we need to deal with.

Africa Media Online team members, Nkanyiso Ngcobo and Francis Ntsikithi work as a team on the Inotec Scamax machine. The machine operates differently to the standard form feed scanners. It is belt driven, which makes it very gentle on aged paper

Africa Media Online team members, Nkanyiso Ngcobo and Francis Ntsikithi work as a team on the Inotec Scamax machine. The machine operates differently to the standard form feed scanners. It is belt driven, which makes it very gentle on aged paper

That changed, however, when Grant Stott of First Coast Technologies introduced me to the Scamax machine at an ICADLA Conference at Wits. Scamax is manufactured by German company InoTec and true to the German reputation for high-quality engineering, the Scamax machines are not only incredibly robust and therefore long-lasting, but they use a unique belt-driven technology that is wonderfully gentle on pages. It is also surprisingly versatile managing the widely mixed materials in terms of paper quality and size that is par for the course in an archival collection. I did my homework, researching a number of leading high-speed systems, but I kept coming back to the Scamax as the only real contender for the kind of work we do.

Scamax has a reputation of being the “Rolls Royce” of form-feed scanners and it carries a price tag to match, so we have had to wait a number of years for a project to come along that was large enough to merit the investment. That project arrived for us when a further phase of the digitization of the ANC Archives at the University of Fort Hare in Alice was approved. Our team has been on-site in Alice for over a year now and is digitizing over 2,500 pages a day. In high-speed scanning terms, that is not huge volume, but we are not simply dealing with plain paper, but with a complex archive of very mixed materials. So that is a really good pace.

Africa Media Online team member, Steven Ntsikithi, prepares a folder of items dividing various items into one of three workflows - rare and fragile manuscripts are captured by an overhead camera, bound manuscripts by a v-cradle capture device, and plain paper by the Scamax machine

Africa Media Online team member, Steven Ntsikithi, prepares a folder of items dividing various items into one of three workflows – rare and fragile manuscripts are captured by an overhead camera, bound manuscripts by a v-cradle capture device, and plain paper by the Scamax machine

Preparing the collection for digitization has been no small task. When we started the project no one really knew the number of pages in the archive because the collection had only been itemized down to the folder level and not the item level. To prepare it for digestion, however, we had to undertake the enormous task of creating an inventory of the archive down to the item level, assigning an accession number to each item, removing duplicates in the process, and then arranging each folder into items that will go through the Scamax machine, bound items that need to go through a V-Cradle capture device, and very fragile or unusual items that need to be captured by an overhead camera. In undertaking this task over the past year we have discovered that what we thought would be an archive of 840,000 pages is actually an archive of over 1.9 million pages!

By the time the project ends we expect to have captured over 1.4 million archival pages on the Scamax machine so its robustness and gentleness will have been fully put to the test. With close to 450,000 pages captured to date – so far, so good!

Kingswood College is the first school in Africa to benefit from Africa Media Online’s 100 Megapixel Phase One digital camera. The Africa Media Online team was on site at Kingswood College in Grahamstown for two weeks in June 2016 to capture over 4,700 photographic prints, paintings and building plans. A significant number of the photographic prints were framed prints hanging on the walls of the school. Kingswood provided a team of assistants to remove the pictures from the walls all around the school and transport them to the museum where they were captured using our Alpa 12 FPS technical camera together with the Phase One IQ3 100 digital sensor.

The team loading framed prints onto the table beneath our digitization rig in the Kingswood College Museum

The team loading framed prints onto the table beneath our digitization rig in the Kingswood College Museum

Kingswood College suffered a fire in one of its main buildings some years ago and so are highly aware of the risk of losing the irreplaceable historic record contained in the historic photographs spread around the school and gathered in the school Museum. If you lose such history, a significant element of the value of the perceived value of such an institution is lost which has significant implications for the marketability of the school to say nothing of the intrinsic value of preserving the record of the thousands of scholars and staff that have passed through the school gates since its founding in 1894. With this in mind, Kingswood College’s Business Manager, Steve Gardner, was insistent from the start of the process of looking at the digitisation of the school’s heritage, that the digitisation of the school’s photographs and the building plans were of the highest priority.

The Alpa 12 FPS camera with a Rodenstock lens and Phase One IQ3 100 digital back suspended on our digitization rig above a framed print

The Alpa 12 FPS camera with a Rodenstock lens and Phase One IQ3 100 digital back suspended on our digitization rig above a framed print

The Phase One digital back with the Alpa camera made the rapid capture of large paintings, plans, framed photographs and loose photographic prints all possible. We had given ourselves two weeks to have the task done and although we had to work to midnight on the final evening, we managed to capture every framed print in the school along with all their plans, all the large paintings of their headmasters and over 1,000 loose prints. In fact over 1,000 loose prints were all captured in the last 12 hours. That just would not have been possible if we were still operating on the scanner technology that we used to work with.

Our Broncolor lights were set at 45% to the glass. This together with the high ceiling in the Museum meant we were able to avoid reflections

Our Broncolor lights were set at 45% to the glass. This together with the high ceiling in the Museum meant we were able to avoid reflections

We were somewhat concerned about the quality we would be able to achieve having to shoot the framed prints through the frames. It just was not economically viable for Kingswood College to have thousands of photographs, mostly with associated printed names, unmounted. So the decision was made to simply capture them as they are. With that in mind, as we began to capture, what was thrilling was to see the quality of capture that we were able to achieve, even through the glass of the frames. Having our Broncolor lights at the right angle and the height of the museum ceiling meant we got almost no reflection in the glass. The camera captures in full 16-bit per colour channel and the specially designed Rodenstock lenses meant there is no need to correct for lens distortion at all. It was only when there was dust or moisture behind the glass that we could not get brilliant quality out of an image. Even in those cases, however, we were often able to unmount the images and reshoot it. For the vast majority, though, we were able to simply clean the outside of the glass and shoot them as they were.

Timothy Zuma and I with Kingswood College Archivist, Shirley Fletcher and her team of assistants at a tea Shirley organized for us to say thank you on the last day of capture

Timothy Zuma and I with Kingswood College Archivist, Shirley Fletcher and her team of assistants at a tea Shirley organized for us to say thank you on the last day of capture

As with most projects, the capture of the images was the smaller part of the task. The greater task, which has taken many months, has been the capture of all the associated metadata with each image. For thousands of images it meant capturing literally every name of every person in a team photograph or a photograph of the school staff or school band. Although we harnessed Optical Character Recognition (OCR) where we could, it was still a mammoth undertaking, one which we have only completed recently. Yet for a school like Kingswood College, that wants to engage their past pupils, it is absolutely essential, because it means an old boy or old girl can go on to the school’s digital archive, search for their name and every image with them in it will be returned in the search results – a powerful means of engaging interest from past pupils. And it is the engagement of past pupils that is so often the key to future developments in any school.

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