Archives Africa: towards a universal archive catalogue for Africa

Comma (2019), 2019, (1), 43–54.


During 2018, the Finding Africa Project at King’s College London piloted a lightweight online archival catalogue for Madagascar, called “Archives Africa”, testing a prototype that might be adopted throughout the continent. Its premise was that too many African archive collections remain unlisted, offline and effectively invisible. Intentionally, it took a step back from familiar digitization-led approaches to ask the question, “Can we describe African archives online to help facilitate research and practical study and thus better encourage their preservation and reuse?”The project launched an Access to Memory (AtoM) catalogue and trialled a new process of directly importing collections information into it from spreadsheets or PDFs. The project drew on the successful model of AIM25, a website and database that allows users to cross-search high level descriptions of the contents of more than 150 archive institutions in the London area. This project similarly sought pragmatic and practical solutions to problems faced by archivists in the field: low cost, sustainable, with the potential for the sharing of collections information internationally, thus improving access to Africa’s wealth of often hidden archives. Important lessons were learned: the need for flexibility when working within different record keeping traditions; the challenges of creating a multilingual subject thesaurus for words with diverse cross-cultural meanings; the preference that such activity be driven by local needs and ways of working but also the exciting potential for new international partnerships to be forged and for new markets for ideas opened up.

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Author details

Browell, Geoff