Historic Schools Build Digital Archives


Over the past 18 months it has been wonderful to be working closely with a number of historic schools in South Africa to build them a digital archive. Michaelhouse and St Anne’s in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, St Alban’s in Pretoria and Jeppe Boys and Roedean School in Johannesburg have taken steps to preserve their history in digital form and make their archives available to their school communities, particularly to old boys and girls who play a significant role in supporting the school.
While for each of these schools significant digitisation projects have been a part of building their digital archives, having a digital archive is not just about the past but is of fundamental importance in creating a digital home for digital photographs, video, audio recordings and even manuscripts that are being produced by these school communities all the time in the present.
With many institutions I have found that there is a growing gap between where their physical archive ends and the present. This is because over the past 10-15 years photos have been taken on digital cameras and video has also been digital. Even important manuscripts may only exist in digital form. And for most institutions, when one asks where are all these files, they tend to be spread around a number of computers, hard drives and even DVDs and CDs. There tends not to be a definitive “home”. At best they are gathered on a server in a folder structure.
We have found there tend to be two common features of the storage of digital media on such servers. Firstly, the server tends to be a server that is given to many uses in the organisation. The presence of weighty media files is difficult to manage and so fairly often we find the files get downsized to allow for more space for other files – a disaster for digital preservation. Secondly, they tend to be in a folder structure that is manageable while the collection is small, but it becomes increasingly difficult to find files as the collection grows.
These very issues are why we have managed to partner with these amazing schools to build a definitive home for both their historic material and the media files that are being generated all the time by the institution. We look after their collection for them in our MEMAT system that conforms closely to the ISO Standard for long-term archiving of digital media. And we expect to partner with many other such institutions in the future. Each of these schools has begun a journey that will ensure that in generations to come their community has ready access to the digital files that are being created in the present.
While these are still a work in progress, take a look at the collections that are already available online – click on one of the school archive images below to go through to their website:
 
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St Albans Digital Archiveroedean