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New UCLA Library program will begin digitizing cultural items for preservation

Documenting Global Voices will identify, fund and collaborate with international organizations that lack the necessary infrastructure and resources to preserve cultural heritage objects. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Thomas Lim

October 16, 2018 12:47 am

A new conservation initiative at UCLA Library will help digitize at-risk cultural items and share them on a UCLA-hosted website.

UCLA Library announced Oct. 9 the creation of Documenting Global Voices, a program that aims to preserve endangered symbolic materials of cultures. DGV will identify, fund and collaborate with international organizations that lack the necessary infrastructure and resources to preserve cultural heritage objects. UCLA Library will receive digital copies and upload them onto the DGV website to make them available to students, faculty and people around the world.

Ginny Steel, the Norman and Armena Powell University Librarian at UCLA who will oversee the program, said organizations will be selected through an application process that will be publicized online through social media. An international panel of scholars will review the proposals, which are expected to be submitted in late 2018. Criteria for selection include the condition of the cultural materials, their format and their anticipated use by academics.

Steel added the program expands on previous projects to make archival documents, including manuscripts and audiovisual materials, accessible to the public.

DGV was developed from the International Digital Ephemera Project in 2011, which digitized rare manuscripts held by St. Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai, Egypt and other facilities worldwide including Cuba, Iran and South Africa.

IDEP sent teams of UCLA experts to different parts of the world to provide training and equipment to people in areas without support for digitization or preservation.

Building on the work of IDEP, DGV will focus on digitizing the preserved cultural items and creating online content the public can access, rather than sending teams abroad, Steel said.

“We’re hoping to do more in terms of creating online (content), say, Youtube videos and other kinds of resources,” Steel said.

Jaime Geronimo Vela, an anthropology doctoral candidate, said he thinks original items and documents are preferable for investigating cultural traditions, but that the accessibility of digitized resources is valuable too.

“I mean, yes, it’s great that you can digitize and everything so that way everyone can see, but nothing beats the original,” Vela said. “I understand that (digitizing is) the best way to preserve it, especially with the way things are now, where everything historical gets destroyed. At least we won’t lose that history if it’s digitized.”

Samantha Lee, a second-year English student, said she thinks access to digital resources is convenient for students. She added she had to physically go to a museum to work on a paper last fall, and added online accessibility would have been useful.

Organizations can apply to receive funding through the DGV website to digitize materials from their original storage locations.

Vela added he thinks it is important to keep artifacts in the communities they come from, but it is good to share their cultural history with others.

“You want to leave (original artifacts) with their tribe. It’s important that it stays with their culture,” Vela said. “But, it’s also important to share the knowledge as long as they’re willing.”

DGV was established by a $5.5 million grant from Arcadia, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin. Baldwin is a UCLA professor in the department of history.

According to their website, DGV will offer two types of grants. A planning grant can award up to $15,000 and a project grant up to $50,000 for digitizing collections.

Steel said the program has received a grant meant to last seven years. The DGV team will follow up in three to four years to potentially renew funding.

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