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In the past year, I have had the honour and privilege of presenting some of the achievements we have accomplished here in Africa at some of the World’s leading heritage forums.

IASA International Conference 2018, University of Ghana, Legon, Accra, Ghana

Black Star Gate at Independence Square, Accra, Ghana

Black Star Gate at Independence Square, Accra, Ghana

At the beginning of October last year, I had the privilege of presenting at the 49th international conference of the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives (IASA), the World’s leading association for professionals “concerned with the care, access and long-term preservation of the world’s sound and moving image heritage.” The conference was held at the University of Ghana, Legon, in Accra, and what a wonderful event it was, and the more so because it was held on African soil. I found the engagement with audiovisual archivists from around the World both stimulating, fascinating and stretching. At the conference, I got to present on “Innovation to Enable Access to the ANC Archives.”

The Balme Library at the University of Ghana, Legon campus.

The Balme Library at the University of Ghana, Legon campus.

Conference attendees at the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives (IASA) at its international conference at the University of Ghana, Legon.

Conference attendees at the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives (IASA) at its international conference at the University of Ghana, Legon.

Neil Garner from Training for TV Ltd. running a workshop at the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives (IASA) international conference at the University of Ghana, Legon.

Neil Garner from Training for TV Ltd. running a workshop at the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives (IASA) international conference at the University of Ghana, Legon.

As part of the 49th international conference of the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives (IASA)  held at the University of Ghana, Legon, delegates got to tour various facilities to do with audiovisual archives. I joined in the tour of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation. Here our tour group is introduced to the radio archive.

As part of the 49th international conference of the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives (IASA) held at the University of Ghana, Legon, delegates got to tour various facilities to do with audiovisual archives. I joined in the tour of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation. Here our tour group is introduced to the radio archive.

As part of the 49th international conference of the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives (IASA)  held at the University of Ghana, Legon, delegates got to tour various facilities to do with audiovisual archives. I joined in the tour of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation. Here video casettes are stored on shelves in the video tape and film library. The archivist expressed the urgent need to digitise the library so that the content can be preserved. Many national broadcasters are the custodians of African content that has not yet been digitised and is therefore vulnerable.

As part of the 49th international conference of the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives (IASA) held at the University of Ghana, Legon, delegates got to tour various facilities to do with audiovisual archives. I joined in the tour of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation. Here video casettes are stored on shelves in the video tape and film library. The archivist expressed the urgent need to digitise the library so that the content can be preserved. Many national broadcasters are the custodians of African content that has not yet been digitised and is therefore vulnerable.

Conference attendees at the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives (IASA) at its international conference at the University of Ghana, Legon.

Conference attendees at the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives (IASA) at its international conference at the University of Ghana, Legon.

The Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park and Mausoleum is a significant heritage site in Accra honouring the memory of the man who led Ghana out of colonialism.

The Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park and Mausoleum is a significant heritage site in Accra honouring the memory of the man who led Ghana out of colonialism.

2+3D Photography – Practice and Prophecies 2019 Conference, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Then in May 2019, I presented at what has come to be known as the World’s leading museums photography conference, the 2+3D Photography – Practice and Prophecies 2019 conference at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. I had attended this conference in 2017 and was amazed at the exceptional standard of the presentations from experts from all over the World. The conference has become the bi-annual gathering of the “cutting edge” in the world of heritage digital imaging. The conference is booked up months in advance and attracts leading practitioners from national and private museums, universities and heritage institutions from all over the world including the British Museum, The MET, The Getty, The Tate, The Library of Congress, The Bodleian Library at University of Oxford, National Portrait Gallery of Australia, Harvard Art Museums, Smithsonian Institution, Finnish National Gallery, Victoria and Albert Museum, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Rijksmuseum, National Museum of Science and Technology in Milan, MoMA, Louvre Museum, The Palace Museum in Beijing and many, many more. So it was an amazing privilege to be the first person from Africa to present in this forum. Again it was an ANC Archives related presentation “Digitisation, Preservation and Presentation of the ANC Archives”. Below is the recorded live stream of the session. It is well worth looking at other presentations given at the conference all of which can be found in the 2+3D Photography conference online magazine.

Prince Contantijn van Oranje gave the opening keynote address at the 2+3D Photography 2019 conference in the auditorium at the Rijksmuseum. Starting with video clips of the burning Notre Dame cathedral, the Prince went on to speak about devastations to numerous heritage sites of international importance including the destruction of the University Library of Mosal by ISIS in 2016 and to speak about the Cultural Emergency Response programme of the Prinse Claus Fund that ensures rapid intervention anywhere in the World when cultural heritage is under severe threat. Where possible, digitisation is an important part of such interventions.

Prince Contantijn van Oranje gave the opening keynote address at the 2+3D Photography 2019 conference in the auditorium at the Rijksmuseum. Starting with video clips of the burning Notre Dame cathedral, the Prince went on to speak about devastations to numerous heritage sites of international importance including the destruction of the University Library of Mosal by ISIS in 2016 and to speak about the Cultural Emergency Response programme of the Prinse Claus Fund that ensures rapid intervention anywhere in the World when cultural heritage is under severe threat. Where possible, digitisation is an important part of such interventions.

Fellow presenter from the Majority World, Millard Schisler, former Director of Preservation of the Cinemateca Brasileira (Brazilian Film Institute) spoke about the challenge of developing a cost-effective digitisation kit for heritage institutions in Brazil. It is the kind of intervention needed for community museums across our continent.

Fellow presenter from the Majority World, Millard Schisler, former Director of Preservation of the Cinemateca Brasileira (Brazilian Film Institute) spoke about the challenge of developing a cost-effective digitisation kit for heritage institutions in Brazil. It is the kind of intervention needed for community museums across our continent.

Me (David Larsen) presenting at the 2+3D Photography conference at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

Me (David Larsen) presenting at the 2+3D Photography conference at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

Vince Rossi, Jon Bundell and Ralph Wiedemeier presented a workshop at the 2+3D Photography conference at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam on the Open Source 3D pipeline they have been developing at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC, USA.

Vince Rossi, Jon Bundell and Ralph Wiedemeier presented a workshop at the 2+3D Photography conference at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam on the Open Source 3D pipeline they have been developing at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC, USA.

Phase One was present at the 2+3D Photography conference and took the opportunity to run a parallel session in a hotel close to the Rijksmuseum where they showcased their new Multispectral Photography kit using the Phase One iXG camera. Multispectral photography has significant benefits for Art Museums in terms of the conservation and restoration of artworks.

Phase One was present at the 2+3D Photography conference and took the opportunity to run a parallel session in a hotel close to the Rijksmuseum where they showcased their new Multispectral Photography kit using the Phase One iXG camera. Multispectral photography has significant benefits for Art Museums in terms of the conservation and restoration of artworks.

IIIF Internatonal Conference 2019, University of Göttingen, Germany

Finally, at the end of June, I was at the University of Göttingen at the 2019 International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) conference. Once again I had the privilege of interacting with innovators from many of the world’s leading universities and heritage institutions. Like in 2018, I was the only African presenting at the conference, but at least I met a fellow African there who is currently based in Belgium. My 7-minute lightning talk was on “Building IIIF Capability into a Digital Asset Management System”. While we are still at the outset of our IIIF journey, we have made some strides over the past year in making IIIF capabilites native to the MEMAT 4 Presentation Layer (PL). More recently we have been developing what we call the Curation Layer to MEMAT 4 with the development of a number of features that allow for the curation of material from a digital archive. Many of these features will have IIIF functionality at their core.

We are thrilled to be hosting Africa’s first IIIF event later this month at the University of KwaZulu-Natal during our Heritage Digital Campus 2019. Don’t miss out on being brought up to speed with the revolution that is happening on the interface between heritage and technology.

CEO of Europeana, Harry Verwayen, gave the opening keynote address at the 2019 IIIF international conference at the University of Göttingen, Germany. He gave a fascinating talk on the future of digital culture.

CEO of Europeana, Harry Verwayen, gave the opening keynote address at the 2019 IIIF international conference at the University of Göttingen, Germany. He gave a fascinating talk on the future of digital culture.

Jeff Steward, Director of Digital Infrastructure and Emerging Technology at Harvard Art Museums (right) and Edward Silverton Co-Founder and Developer at Mnemoscene during a tour of some of the fascinating history of Göttingen. Edward was the developer of the Universal Viewer that Africa Media Online uses as part of its MEMAT 4 system.

Jeff Steward, Director of Digital Infrastructure and Emerging Technology at Harvard Art Museums (right) and Edward Silverton Co-Founder and Developer at Mnemoscene during a tour of some of the fascinating history of Göttingen. Edward was the developer of the Universal Viewer that Africa Media Online uses as part of its MEMAT 4 system.

The central square at the University of Göttingen.

The central square at the University of Göttingen.

The picturesque university town of Göttingen in Lower Saxony, Germany.

The picturesque university town of Göttingen in Lower Saxony, Germany.

Launching MEMAT 4

It has been several years in the making, but MEMAT 4 has finally been launched. Soft-launched to MEMAT 3 clients a year ago, there has been a significant amount of work to debug and to add a growing list of features.

MEMAT 4 is the latest iteration of Africa Media Online’s archival digital repository system. It involves a complete rewrite of the Presentation Layer (PL) which is the web interface of the MEMAT system. The MEMAT 3 web interface was a custom web interface that had been written in Ruby on Rails (RoR) in the late 2000s and it was becoming somewhat long-in-the-tooth. To update it would require a complete rewrite on updated versions of RoR. So we looked around at the available technologies and decided not to go for RoR again since RoR skills are scarce in South Africa, but rather to use two main technologies for rewriting the PL, WordPress, which is written in the PHP programming language and IIIF, which is primarily written in the Python programming language.

The MEMAT 4 Presentation Layer (PL) can be customised to take on your branding.

The MEMAT 4 Presentation Layer (PL) can be customised to take on your branding.

In considering which technologies to use to build the new MEMAT PL we looked carefully at a number of Content Management Systems (CMS’s) including Drupal and Joomla. In the end we decided to go for WordPress because:

  • We did not believe it wise to build another custom presentation layer when there are large Open Source CMS’ out there with large communities of developers. It seemed pointless inventing something from scratch when we could be building on top of systems that were really mature and free
  • We wanted a user interface, particularly in the backend of our PL that was potentially familiar to our clients. Sustaining client engagement is one of the key elements of success in Software as a Service (SaaS) systems, and this realisation drove us toward WordPress over systems like Drupal and Joomla because WordPress is used in building close to 30% of the websites on the internet and close to 60% of all the CMS based websites. We found that many of our clients were already familiar with WordPress
  • We were aware of Drupal’s reputation of being a highly extensible and secure system used by many heritage and academic organisations. The South African Government builds with Drupal for this reason. Yet we also know that the core of WordPress is just as secure as Drupal. WordPress’ vulnerability is particularly related to user error and vulnerabilities relating to plugins. We believed we could ensure the security of the system and have all the functionality it needed and keep the advantage of familiarity with our users
  • We also saw in WordPress a far bigger community of developers creating new WordPress functionality than any other system and we believed that this would both make it faster to roll out new developments and also make it less expensive since there are so many developers to choose from
The MEMAT 4 PL is fully responsive in its presentation working well on screens of various sizes, from mobile to television. The search results also display dynamically filling the space provided.

The MEMAT 4 PL is fully responsive in its presentation working well on screens of various sizes, from mobile to television. The search results also display dynamically filling the space provided. Here is the display on a mobile screen.

In thinking about building the new MEMAT 4 PL, we were also determined to build an engaging system. We had been impressed by a number of systems that were showcasing heritage content on the internet. Some years ago we worked with Google Arts & Culture to curate stories of South African history. We got to engage with their system in that project and later when capturing collections for Iziko Museums and building the online exhibits: Fabric, Fashion and Identity – The story of IsiShweshwe, Beadwork from Southern Africa, Tobacco Bags from the Eastern Cape, and Kalahari Skin Bags. When capturing a collection of the Gordon Papers from the Brenthurst Library for the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam we also had exposure to what they were doing with collections on the internet in setting up a special website to showcase the Gordon Papers and Paintings, and in what they were doing to showcase their digitised collection in what they call the Rijksstudio. When I visited the Rijksmuseum in March 2017 I got to meet and interview members of the marketing department in charge of the web development and discuss the technology they were using. We were also having some interaction at that stage with a French company called i2S from whom we purchased production software and it was from them that we heard about IIIF. A month or two later I was at the Rijksmuseum again for the 2+3D Photography Conference 2017 and was able to attend a IIIF workshop with Stuart Snydman Associate Director for Digital Strategy, Stanford University Libraries. After that we were convinced that IIIF was the way forward for us.

The display of the same search results on a computer screen.

The display of the same search results on a computer screen.

IIIF stands for International Image Interoperability Framework. It is a community of many of the leading academic and heritage institutions in the World who have got together to develop agreed upon ways of exposing digital collections to a World-wide audience through the internet. What is critical in the World of research and academic pursuits is the ability to share with one another because at its best academia is a collaborative enterprise. It is what has driven the academic World to create IIIF and why it is seeing broad uptake. Because these are widely agreed upon and adopted standards, anyone using the standards is able to share their collections with anyone else using the standards. That leads to interoperability – the ability to pull content from many institutions together and compare and contrast. So an art historian may be able to pull digitised images of Monet paintings from multiple institutions together to aid her research. Or a scientist may be able to compare digitised specimens in a number of institutions against the type specimen in his own institution, and all without having to exchange high resolution digital files between institutional repositories because the benefits of having the high resolution file on hand is available through the web interface.

Previews load with associated metadata within the search results.

Previews load with associated metadata within the search results.

Africa Media Online was the first organisation in Africa to adopt IIIF and we have done so by building the standard into our MEMAT 4 PL providing amazing capabilities for engagement with digitised collections from deep zoom to intra document search. Together WordPress and IIIF have given us a new platform upon which we are able to do rapid development of features allowing us to keep close to the cutting edge of technology development on an ongoing basis. The past few years have been about establhing the base of MEMAT 4, replicating the functionality we had in MEMAT 3. In recent months, however, we have begun to surpass MEMAT 3 with the development of elements of our Curation Layer.

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When one is logged in as a user to a MEMAT system, IIIF functionality enables deep zoom of images.

When one is logged in as a user to a MEMAT system, IIIF functionality enables deep zoom of images.

The Curation Layer will allow system administrators and curators to curate content from the digital archive placing select material in galleries, on timelines, on a calendar and other curation platforms. This is what is so thrilling about the system. Not only does MEMAT 4 continue in the tradition of MEMAT 3 of preserving digital files in a highly secure manner, but it also allows radical innovation to enable our clients to engage their audiences with the wonder of the collections under their care.

Probably the most significant improvement of MEMAT 4 over MEMAT 3 is what we call our IntraDoc Search functionality. The new search engine we are using, Elasticsearch gives the ability to search across all items in the archive and have results returned, a capability we had in MEMAT 3. But IntraDoc Search, then, enables the search term to be applied within each document and to return highlighted results.

Probably the most significant improvement of MEMAT 4 over MEMAT 3 is what we call our IntraDoc Search functionality. The new search engine we are using, Elasticsearch gives the ability to search across all items in the archive and have results returned, a capability we had in MEMAT 3. But IntraDoc Search, then, enables the search term to be applied within each document and to return highlighted results.

Find out more about MEMAT 4
Visit existing MEMAT 4 systems

View a 52-sec demo of deep zooming into an image in MEMAT 4.

View a 45-sec demo of MEMAT 4′s IntraDoc Search capability.

MEMAT 4 IntraDoc Search from Africa Media Online on Vimeo.

The first International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) event in Africa will be held on Thursday, September 26 and Friday, September 27, at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Pietermaritzburg Campus. IIIF is the new international standard for placing archival, museum and special collections online.

Josh Hadro, Managing Director of IIIF, presenting the vision of IIIF at the IIIF 2019 international conference in Göttingen, Germany. The vision represents significant interoperability for digital collections between institutions all over the World.

Josh Hadro, Managing Director of IIIF, presenting the vision of IIIF at the IIIF 2019 international conference in Göttingen, Germany. The vision represents significant interoperability for digital collections between institutions all over the World.

Below is a short video from the recent IIIF international conference in at the University of Göttingen in Germany showcasing some of the wonderfully fun things that can be done with heritage in the digital world using IIIF. You can see why it is so revolutionary!

The IIIF Workshop forms part of Africa Media Online’s Heritage Digital Campus 2019 (HDC 2019) which is itself built around the Preservation Conservation Conference 2019 conference being run by UKZN Special Collections. Together these events present a unique opportunity to learn physical and digital archiving skills.

David Larsen of Africa Media Online and Nikiwe Momoti former Head Archivist at Western Cape Archives and Chairperson of the South African Society of Archivists (SASA) at the end of a day-long workshop on digital archiving conducted as part of the SASA national conference 2019. Together with members of the Africa Media Online team, David will be teaching a comprehensive two-day masterclass on Digital Archiving at HDC 2019

Me (David Larsen) and Nikiwe Momoti former Head Archivist at Western Cape Archives and Chairperson of the South African Society of Archivists (SASA) at the end of a day-long workshop on digital archiving conducted as part of the SASA national conference 2019. Together with members of the Africa Media Online team, I will be teaching a comprehensive two-day masterclass on Digital Archiving at HDC 2019

Bookings for the HDC 2019 can be made online by clicking on this link. Due to close on the 15th, bookings have been extended to midnight on Wednesday, 18 September 2019. You can find out more about HDC 2019 and the Preservation Conservation Conference 2019 by clicking on this link.

Bandile Sizani conducts a workshop on MEMAT 4 at St Andrew's College, Grahamstown (now Makhanda). Africa Media Online has been running workshops around South Africa as part of its roll out plan for MEMAT 4. At this workshop were archivists from NAHECS at the University of Fort Hare, ILAM and SAIAB at Rhodes University, St Andrew's College and Kingswood College.

Bandile Sizani conducts a workshop on MEMAT 4 at St Andrew’s College, Grahamstown (now Makhanda). Africa Media Online has been running workshops around South Africa as part of its roll out plan for MEMAT 4. At this workshop were archivists from NAHECS at the University of Fort Hare, ILAM and SAIAB at Rhodes University, St Andrew’s College and Kingswood College.

HDC 2019 comes on the back of training in digital archiving and in using and administrating MEMAT 4 taking off around the country. My colleague, Bandile Sizani, and I ran MEMAT 4 training events in Grahamstown (now Makhanda), Johannesburg and Pietermaritzburg. The Western Cape arm of the South African Museums Association (SAMA WC) got me to teach a day on Digital Archiving at the West Coast Fossil Park in May and Bandile and I presented a one-day workshop on digital archiving for the South African Society of Archivists (SASA) at their national conference in Ekurhuleni in July. The Forum for School Museums and Archives got me to run a workshop on digital workflow in June and we ran a free workshop for small museums in digital imaging in August.

Participants at the SAMA Western Cape workshop on digital archiving in April 2019.

Participants at the SAMA Western Cape workshop on digital archiving in April 2019.

It’s been a long time coming, but it is finally here – the MEMAT Metadata App. We wanted to develop an online metadata application that could allow us to draw on experts all over South Africa and indeed, all over the World, to capture of metadata against digital files. The MEMAT Metadata App, which has been built into MEMAT 4, is a game-changer for the capture of metadata for digital archives.

Logged in as an Administrator on the Metadata App, a metadata administrator can browse the structure of an archive, select a portion of the archive, perhaps a series or box or folder, and hand that material to a metadata capturer or a subject expert.

Logged in as an Administrator on the Metadata App, a metadata administrator can browse the structure of an archive, select a portion of the archive, perhaps a series or box or folder, and hand that material to a metadata capturer or a subject expert.

If you don’t know what metadata is, you are not alone. It tends to inhabit the techie world of programmers and digital archivists. In a nutshell, though, metadata is “information about information.” Take a photograph, for instance, a caption or keywords that allow the photograph to be searched for, are examples of metadata. When your digital camera records the shutter speed and the f-stop you used to capture a shot, that is also metadata.

When logged in as a metadata capturer to the Metadata App, a subject expert doing the capture can see the material that has been assigned to them and then click on an item or several items at a time and associate information with the selected file or files.

When logged in as a metadata capturer to the Metadata App, a subject expert doing the capture can see the material that has been assigned to them and then click on an item or several items at a time and associate information with the selected file or files.

Metadata, then, is information that allows one to access and categorise other information. And it tends to be captured in an ordered way using “fields” that are part of agreed standards. Such standards mean that the metadata can be shared with others using the same standard. When we were developing the MEMAT Metadata App, we knew it had to use standards used all over the World. The problem is, there are so many, and there are fields in different standards (called schemas) that overlap with one another. So when we first started to develop the App in about 2008, we used the concept of cross-matching fields where we could map different fields across different schemas so if, for instance, you capture the Title of an image in one schema it will automatically be added to the Title field in another schema.

Once a file or several files are selected, the metadata capturer can add metadata against the file using a number of metadata schemas including IPTC, IPTC Extended and Dublin Core. For science collections Darwin Core has been built in and there are plans to build in a number of other schemas including VRA and ISAD(G).

Once a file or several files are selected, the metadata capturer can add metadata against the file using a number of metadata schemas including IPTC, IPTC Extended and Dublin Core. For science collections Darwin Core has been built in and there are plans to build in a number of other schemas including VRA and ISAD(G).

That early App was developed as a desktop application because the internet was just not up to capturing metadata online. That had some real weaknesses, one being that every time we wanted to take on a new metadata capturer, we had to find a way of installing the App on their desktop computer that needed to have a particular operating system etc. etc. So when we began to revisit the development of the App about four years ago, we knew we wanted to create an online app that could run in an internet browser like Chrome or Firefox. If we could develop an online metadata capture app that was fast enough and that could access the original files, allowing the capturers to get enough of a view of the content, then we knew that would be a real game-changer in terms of getting the right people interacting with the right collections. The expert could be anywhere in the World and as long as they had a good internet connection, they could add metadata to the digitised or born-digital files.

Common fields in various schemas have been cross-mapped enabling one to fill in the metadata in one of those fields and it will automatically appear in the equivalent field in another schema.

Common fields in various schemas have been cross-mapped enabling one to fill in the metadata in one of those fields and it will automatically appear in the equivalent field in another schema.

It’s taken us four years and a very significant investment to make that vision a reality, but we are finally there. The App allows administrators to hand out work to specific metadata capturers and then to quality control their work before approving it. It is developed in such a way that we could have literally hundreds of capturers working on a large project at once and, as long as we had sufficient administrators, we could manage the project well. And that is precisely what we have built it for. The first project we are using the App on is the ANC Archives Metadata Project where we are working with the Digitise Africa Trust’s “Metadata for Africa” community to add metadata to hundreds of thousands of images, manuscripts and other digital files. To get through that work in time we are going to grow that community substantially. Now, however, it is possible to draw on retired archivists in Cape Town or masters students at a university in Nairobi or New York.

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The IIIF enabled viewer is available to metadata capturers so that they can zoom in or, it was a document, search media files.

The IIIF enabled viewer is available to metadata capturers so that they can zoom in or, it was a document, search media files.

We have significant plans for the App in terms of adding capabilities to not only add metadata at the item level, but at a more granular level such as editing the OCR text of a typed document page or transcribing a hand-written page, or adding metadata at points on the timeline of a video file or an audio file.

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This has been a long time coming. For over half a decade we have been wanting to overhaul our website and make it more representative of the totality of Africa Media Online. In the past, our website was dominated by the media library side of our enterprise and the digital trade route side of the business very much took a back seat in terms of prominence. While the picture library is still front and centre on the home page of the new site, all our other products and services also feature strongly too. This will hopefully give a more balanced picture of who we are and what we are up to.
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What we call the “digital trade route” side of our business includes all that we do to assist institutions, organisations and individuals to get their collections (of photographs, manuscripts, audio and video content) from their cupboard (or wherever it is stored) to the audience they want to reach. This “trade route”, then, includes consulting, training, digitisation services and the provision of digital asset management services. And where appropriate, that is extended to licensing content on behalf of organisations. That is where the media library side of the business comes in.
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On the Digital Trade Route side of the business, we speak to clients not just about digitisation, but more significantly about building a digital archive, because ultimately that is what we help clients build. Digitisation in itself is only one step toward building a digital archive. And if your collections are born digital, then digitisation is not needed, rather digital processing is. But at the end of the day, you want all those digital files to end up on a digital archive where they are not only preserved for generations to come, but they are also made available in a secure and engaging manner to your community or your audience. For this reason we have included a whole section on the new website about digital archiving, seeking to give real answers to the reason for building a digital archive and the challenges faced in doing so as well as the solutions we have developed.

We would welcome any feedback you may have on our website. Feel free to email me on editor@africamediaonline.com.

Creating a secure and fail-proof hosting environment for digital heritage is the problem we have been working to solve for years. In this past year, however, we have been able to take significant strides in this regard. We are now celebrating with the launch of what we are calling our Preservation Cloud.

Dell servers with disk arrays in the AMO Server Room. The room is temperature controlled, has biometric access and 24-hour monitoring, has a full fire suppressant system and has backup power and backup internet and the data is automatically backed up to an off-site location.

Dell servers with disk arrays in the AMO Server Room. The room is temperature controlled, has biometric access and 24-hour monitoring, has a full fire suppressant system and has backup power and backup internet and the data is automatically backed up to an off-site location.

Everyone speaks about “The Cloud” or “Cloud-based computing” but many of us don’t know exactly what that is. All we know is that our data is out there in the ether somewhere and not on our own computer. While that is certainly true, what we often fail to understand is that every bit and byte of data needs to reside on some computer somewhere and the computers have to have a physical location. Most commonly “Clouds” are made up of servers connected to disk arrays that sit in a data centre somewhere are then made accessible on the internet. That data may be synchronised across a number of servers sitting in data centres in different parts of the World.

The automated fire suppressant system can be seen in the background and the back of one of the server racks in the foreground

The automated fire suppressant system can be seen in the background and the back of one of the server racks in the foreground

The challenge we had at Africa Media Online is how do we build a “cloud” where data is never deleted. For most cloud-based computing, data is not kept for the long term. Like a desktop computer, one is constantly creating files and often changing them or deleting them. It tends to grow over time, but there is no requirement for the files to be secured and maintained exactly as they are for generations to come. That, however, is the challenge of digital archiving. To archive a digital file one wants to know that it will be maintained exactly as it is for the foreseeable future and migrated at the appropriate time to keep with new standards. Keeping every file exactly as it is when first loaded means that storage capacity has to grow and grow and grow… There is no end to its growth. And one needs to know that the files are not being corrupted in any way or overwritten or deleted or catch a virus or fall prey to ransomware or become obsolete.

So over the past year, we have taken our core of servers and disk arrays and we have grown the infrastructure around it ensuring there is backup power, backup internet, and multiple backups of the data. We have also established an external web server and in time that will be synchronised with our existing internal web server to ensure seamless uninterrupted service. Right now this is what our Preservation Cloud looks like with our MEMAT digital asset management system running on top of it.

Preservation Cloud 7

What we call the Infrastructure Layer in this diagram is the Preservation Cloud. The first column shows our external web server that resides in a data centre in Midrand, Gauteng. This is the server that is browsed when one is on a MEMAT site. The second column refers to what is in the Africa Media Online Server Room. This resides in a separate building separated by a road from the Backup Room (see the third column) which is in our main offices. These rooms are connected by a fibre cable. Backups then, are automatically offsite. The Server Room is fitted with biometric access and monitoring, fire suppressant systems and other security measures. It also has an inverter and batteries that provide 12 hours of backup power and a backup generator that can support the batteries when they are running low. The Server Room hosts the main storage servers, the internal web server and the processing server that is used to process material that is loaded to the MEMAT Digital Vault. The Backup Room has our LTO tape libraries including the capability to back up to both LTO6 and LTO7 tapes. In addition we have a system to burn data to Bluray disks to give us an offline backup. LTO tapes and Bluray disks, then, are stored in a safe, 20 km away in a rural area (column 4).

The Africa Media Online backup room with the inverter and backup power batteries in the foreground the the server rack with a switch and LTO tape library (not visible) and Bluray burner. This room is temperature and humidity controlled.

The Africa Media Online backup room with the inverter and backup power batteries in the foreground the the server rack with a switch and LTO tape library (not visible) and Bluray burner. This room is temperature and humidity controlled.

On top of the Infrastructure Layer is the Operating System layer. Like a desktop computer that may have Mac OS or Windows as its operating system, these servers have a common Open Source Linux-based operating system. On top of that sits the MEMAT layers of Asset Management Layer (AML), Cataloguing Layer (MEMAT Metadata App) and Presentation Layer (PL). In this way, MEMAT together with our Preservation Cloud provide a solid digital repository for the long-term preservation of your digital collections as well as reliable ready access.

The University of Göttingen and the Göttingen State and University Library, Germany, will play host to the 2019 IIIF Annual Conference.

IIIF Chairperson, Tom Cramer from Stanford University presented an Introduction to IIIF in the Coolidge Auditorium, Jefferson Building in the Library of Congress.

IIIF Chairperson, Tom Cramer from Stanford University presented an Introduction to IIIF in the Coolidge Auditorium, Jefferson Building in the Library of Congress.

The IIIF or International Image Interoperability Framework is an international community drawn from many of the World’s leading academic, heritage and scientific organisations working together to create technology that allows for the collaborative and interoperable technology for the web-based delivery of images. As the IIIF website says: “Access to image-based resources is fundamental to research, scholarship and the transmission of cultural knowledge. Digital images are a container for much of the information content in the Web-based delivery of images, books, newspapers, manuscripts, maps, scrolls, single sheet collections, and archival materials. Yet much of the Internet’s image-based resources are locked up in silos, with access restricted to bespoke, locally built applications.” IIIF aims to break open those silos and enable sharing of image-based collections.

The Library of Congress in Washington DC, District of Columbia, United States of America is the largest library in the World. This is the Jefferson Building where the main sessions of the IIIF Conference were held.

The Library of Congress in Washington DC, District of Columbia, United States of America is the largest library in the World. This is the Jefferson Building where the main sessions of the IIIF Conference were held.

The Göttingen Planning Committee is looking for proposals for talks in the following forms:

Up to a ½ day workshop
7 to 10-minute lightning talks
20-minute presentations (plus 10 mins questions)
90-minute open block (Could be panel session or grouped presentations)

Time is extremely short to submit an abstract of no longer than 500 words for your presentation or discussion as they need to be in by Friday the 1st of March using the conference tool. But I know the committee are welcoming papers from Africa:

https://goo.gl/forms/qNOT6i2IAW75C6NS2

The opening reception of the 2018 IIIF Annual Conference at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC.

The opening reception of the 2018 IIIF Annual Conference at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC.

Africa Media Online was the first organisation in Africa to implement IIIF technology and over the past year has been hard at work building this technology into our MEMAT digital asset management system enabling our clients to benefit from cutting edge IIIF innovations.

The Castle is the iconic building of the Smithsonian Institute and serves as the Visitor Centre of the Institute. The IIIF Conference was hosted in the building one evening for a reception.

The Castle is the iconic building of the Smithsonian Institute and serves as the Visitor Centre of the Institute. The IIIF Conference was hosted in the building one evening for a reception.

Toward the end of May 2018, I had the privilege of being the first speaker from Africa to have ever presented at the IIIF Annual Conference. It was held at the Smithsonian Institution and the Library of Congress in Washington DC. I found it such a stimulation to be interacting with scientific, heritage and IT people who are on the cutting edge of enabling access to digital resources. I presented on how we have used IIIF to enhance the user experience of the ANC Digital Archive and you can hear a version of my 10-minute presentation on Vimeo.

David Larsen, Managing Director of Africa Mediia Online, presenting at the 2018 IIIF Annual Conference at the Library of Congress in Washington DC, USA.

David Larsen, Managing Director of Africa Mediia Online, presenting at the 2018 IIIF Annual Conference at the Library of Congress in Washington DC, USA.

When I go abroad to such conferences I am always amazed at how large institutions, government agencies and organisations work together with small enterprises. There is a clear recognition of the strength of small and medium entrepreneurial businesses to innovate at a speed not possible for larger entities. At the launch of the Wits-NRF Digitisation Capacity Development Initiative, I made an appeal for just such close collaboration among institutions, organisations, agencies and business here in South Africa around creating and sustaining digital collections.

Participants at the 2018 Annual Congress of the International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) Conference held at the Library of Congress in Washington DC, USA, at the Smithsonian Institute and at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Participants at the 2018 Annual Congress of the International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) Conference held at the Library of Congress in Washington DC, USA, at the Smithsonian Institute and at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

I had the honour of a guided tour together with digital imaging consultant friend, Peter Krogh, of the reading room at the Library of Congress

I had the honour of a guided tour together with digital imaging consultant friend, Peter Krogh, of the reading room at the Library of Congress

We were also guided into the usually closed card catalogue section. In the Library of Congress' main card catalogue there are 22,000 drawers and 22 million cards covering author, title and subject. No new cards have been added since 1980. Now records are added to an online catalogue at a rate of 10,000 items each working day.

We were also guided into the usually closed card catalogue section. In the Library of Congress’ main card catalogue there are 22,000 drawers and 22 million cards covering author, title and subject. No new cards have been added since 1980. Now records are added to an online catalogue at a rate of 10,000 items each working day.

May 2018 saw the launch of an exciting initiative by the National Research Foundation in collaboration with the University of the Witwatersrand Libraries to set up an institute that can create digitisation capacity in South Africa. This was the first initiative of its kind funded by the NRF and is an exciting initiative in South Africa. It is expected to grow significant capacity in South African institutions in terms of the conceptualisation and execution of significant digitisation projects that can both contribute to the preservation of valuable collections and enable access to them.

Isaac Nkadimeng, Principal Curator: Archives and Digitisation at University of the Witwatersrand (centre) with Dr Connie Bitso (right), University Librarian at the University of Fort Hare and Ayodele O. Ladokun (left), Lecturer in Computer Literacy at the University of Fort Hare.

Isaac Nkadimeng, Principal Curator: Archives and Digitisation at University of the Witwatersrand (centre) with Dr Connie Bitso (right), University Librarian at the University of Fort Hare and Ayodele O. Ladokun (left), Lecturer in Computer Literacy at the University of Fort Hare.

I had the privilege of being invited at the last minute to present at the launch event, when another speaker had a family crisis, and to share something of our experience in digitising the ANC Archive. I started with the report by the Economist Intelligence Unit that placed South Africa behind Kenya in terms of its digitisation efforts and ended with an appeal for government, business and institutions to ackowledge one another’s contribution and work together to cross the digital divide. You can hear that speech on SoundCloud which was graciously recorded by Ayodele Ladokun from the University of Fort Hare.

A member of the Wits University digitisation team explains the digitisation technology that the University has available to Dr Daniel Adams, Chief Director: Department of Science and Technology (left) and Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research and Post-Graduate Affairs, Wits University (centre), while Ayodele O. Ladokun (left), Lecturer in Computer Literacy at the University of Fort Hare (second left) looks on during the official opening of the Wits-NRF Digitisation Capacity Development Initiative at the Wartenweiler Library 4th floor, University of the Witwatersrand.

A member of the Wits University digitisation team explains the digitisation technology that the University has available to Dr Daniel Adams, Chief Director: Department of Science and Technology (left) and Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research and Post-Graduate Affairs, Wits University (centre), while Ayodele O. Ladokun (left), Lecturer in Computer Literacy at the University of Fort Hare (second left) looks on during the official opening of the Wits-NRF Digitisation Capacity Development Initiative at the Wartenweiler Library 4th floor, University of the Witwatersrand.

Isaac Nkadimeng, Principal Curator: Archives and Digitisation at University of the Witwatersrand (centre) with Dr Connie Bitso (right), University Librarian at the University of Fort Hare and Ayodele O. Ladokun (left), Lecturer in Computer Literacy at the University of Fort Hare.

Isaac Nkadimeng, Principal Curator: Archives and Digitisation at University of the Witwatersrand (centre) with Dr Connie Bitso (right), University Librarian at the University of Fort Hare and Ayodele O. Ladokun (left), Lecturer in Computer Literacy at the University of Fort Hare.

Delegates at the South African Museums Association Conference (SAMA) KwaZulu-Natal section conference in April 2018. The conference was held in the eMakhosini Ophate Heritage Park in the "Valley of the Kings" near Ulundi, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

Delegates at the South African Museums Association Conference (SAMA) KwaZulu-Natal section conference in April 2018. The conference was held in the eMakhosini Ophate Heritage Park in the “Valley of the Kings” near Ulundi, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

A somewhat less serious group photo of a wonderful group of people. In the centre in the pink shirt Bandile Sizani who had recently joined the Africa Media Online team.

A somewhat less serious group photo of a wonderful group of people. In the centre in the pink shirt Bandile Sizani who had recently joined the Africa Media Online team.

It took the Africa Media Online digitisation team two months to digitise over 4,000 traditional Zulu artefacts at the Phansi Museum in Durban. The project, funded by the National Lottery Commission was awarded to the Phansi Museum for the digitisation of their collection and the building of a digital archive. The funding was awarded in 2015. We, however, were on site at the museum premises toward the end of 2016.

Scott Cronwright assisted by Sandile Mhongo, operating our Phase One XF camera tethered to a computer. The camera allows us to set the range of focus and the number of focus points within that range to capture.

Scott Cronwright assisted by Sandile Mhongo, operating our Phase One XF camera tethered to a computer. The camera allows us to set the range of focus and the number of focus points within that range to capture. Phansi Museum, Durban.

Our digitisation team headed up by our photographer, Scott Cronwright, used our Phase One IQ3 100 megapixel digital back on two cameras, our Phase One XF camera for 3D objects and our Alpa FPS 12 camera for flat objects.

Sandile Mhlongo, who has just loaded a flat object onto the capture surface, waits for Scott Cronwright to capture a flat object while Timothy Zuma prepares the next object. The object being captured is a beaded waistcoat. It is illuminated evenly by our Broncolor lights.

Sandile Mhlongo, who has just loaded a flat object onto the capture surface, waits for Scott Cronwright to capture a flat object while Timothy Zuma prepares the next object. The object being captured is a beaded waistcoat. It is illuminated evenly by our Broncolor lights. Phansi Museum, Durban.

The museum made a large room available to us and we commuted from Pietermaritzburg every day to capture objects. Many of the objects had significant depth to them and in order to capture that depth we ended up capturing most objects at multiple focus points and then focus stacking the various images of each object into a single fully-in-focus image.

Scott Cronwright looks on while Sandile Mhlongo loads a flat object to the capture surface and Timothy Zuma prepares the next object, Phansi Museum, Durban.

Scott Cronwright looks on while Sandile Mhlongo loads a flat object to the capture surface and Timothy Zuma prepares the next object, Phansi Museum, Durban.

The Phansi Museum has been working on the capture of metadata against the items that have been loaded to a MEMAT 3 digital repository system. We are hoping that this system will be upgraded to a MEMAT 4 system soon to allow researchers from around the World to deep zoom into the images that are between 150 and 300 MB in size.

 

Object from the Phansi Museum captured by Africa Media Online. File Name: PHM_20161018_20308.tif. Item: Unlidded telephone wire basket, Provenance: Inanda

Object from the Phansi Museum captured by Africa Media Online. File Name: PHM_20161018_20308.tif. Item: Unlidded telephone wire basket, Provenance: Inanda

Detail of an object digitally captured by Africa Media Online showing the depth of focus along the side of the object achieved by focus stacking. File Name: PHM_20161018_20308.tif, Item: Unlidded telephone wire basket, Provenance: Inanda.

Detail of an object digitally captured by Africa Media Online showing the depth of focus along the side of the object achieved by focus stacking. File Name: PHM_20161018_20308.tif, Item: Unlidded telephone wire basket, Provenance: Inanda.

Detail of an object zoomed in to 100% in Photoshop to show the detail captured by the Africa Media Online digitisation team. File Name: PHM_20161018_20308.tif, Item: Unlidded telephone wire basket, Provenance: Inanda.

Detail of an object zoomed in in Photoshop to show the detail captured by the Africa Media Online digitisation team. File Name: PHM_20161018_20308.tif, Item: Unlidded telephone wire basket, Provenance: Inanda.

 

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