UCLA Library Builds Worldwide Digital Archival Network (International Digital Ephemera Project (IDEP))
UCLA is a global university in terms of its faculty, student body, educational reach and the scope and impact of its research. It is also a public university with one of the country’s finest libraries and a mission to serve the public. A wonderful illustration of these two realities can be seen in the UCLA Library’s International Digital Ephemera Project (IDEP), which just concluded a six-year collaboration with partners around the world.
As an archival term, “ephemera” refers to impermanent primary-source materials of everyday life such as newspapers, posters, postcards, photographs, audiovisual materials and documents. “Digital ephemera” refers to materials that are created digitally, such as websites, social media and videos captured by cameras and cell phones. Both types of materials can offer valuable insight into an historical era or movement or event as it is occurring.
There is a compelling need to archive ephemera today because in many regions, such as the Middle East, day-to-day events and social movements are increasingly documented more fully in Facebook postings, tweets, smartphone photos and other informal media than in formal documents and records. Gathering these diverse electronic and print materials is itself an enormous task for which partners are essential, but creating a system to archive them is an art — one in which our UCLA librarians are masters. The end result allows researchers to easily search a web-based archive.
With a generous grant from Arcadia, a charitable fund of Peter Baldwin and Lisbet Rausing, a team of UCLA librarians and staff* — assisted by numerous faculty — built a collaborative network of nine institutions in six countries (Armenia, Cuba, Egypt, Iraq, Israel and South Africa).
The goal was to collect, digitize, preserve and ensure broad public access to print, images and multimedia held by each partner:
• National Library of Armenia
• Biblioteca Nacional de Cuba José Martí
• Instituto de Historia de Cuba
• Cinemateca de Cuba
• American Resource Center in Egypt
• American University of Iraq at Sulaimani
• National Library of Israel
• Freedom Park, South Africa
“One of the outcomes of IDEP is the development of a model for international collaborative digitization programs,” said Ginny Steel, UCLA Norman and Armena Powell University Librarian. “The teams at UCLA and our partner institutions forged enduring relationships that will continue to support our collective efforts to capture, preserve and make documentation from everyday life accessible to a global audience.”
In addition, the project encompassed valuable materials that are not housed in institutions but rather have been collected and preserved by individuals, sometimes at great personal risk. Examples include ephemera instrumental to the planning, promotion and reporting of Green Movement protests following the 2009 elections in Iran, and the Tahrir Documents. The latter collection contains flyers, newspapers and other ephemera obtained from and around this major public space in downtown Cairo, the epicenter of demonstrations during 2011.
Much of the IDEP project focused on digitizing physical historical materials from the late 19th century to the present. Partners selected materials for digitization because of their unique value and/or risk of being lost due to weather conditions, the obsolescence of the media on which they were stored or initially published or even changing political conditions (e.g., a change in regime that would result in their destruction).
To get an idea of the challenges the work involved, read this Library blogpost. Content digitized by UCLA’s partners in the six-year project cover a wide-ranging mix of media and time periods, including Cuban posters, newspapers and oral histories; Kurdish photos; photos and other materials on historical sites across Egypt; and posters and photos of South Africa’s Freedom Park Pan African Archives.
Together with digitizing print materials, IDEP encompasses fascinating collections of born-digital materials. These web-based digital collections — identified by UCLA Library as “The Ephemeral Web” — include materials culled from formal and informal news websites, nonprofit organization websites and other social media sources related to cultural, political and social events and issues in Armenia, Egypt, Iraq, Kurdistan, Syria and Turkey.
In a tour de force, the Library even built customized software for the above materials so that they can be easily searched in English and in the language in which they were created (to date, Arabic, English, Farsi, Hebrew and Kurdish), with the web interface easily switching between left-to-right and right-to-left languages.
“IDEP aligns with and directly supports UCLA’s mission to ‘educate global citizens for a global world,’” said Steel. “The materials being made available through this project increase worldwide understanding of different cultures, communities and time periods, and they support teaching and research at all educational levels.”
At present, UCLA Library is seeking additional grants to continue the digitization of ephemera. Future projects, says Steel, will prioritize partnerships that support the preservation of documentation related to marginalized communities, social justice, human rights and activist art and culture worldwide. The wide-ranging geographic span will include, but not be limited to, Latin America and the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
Researchers, students and the interested public are invited to visit the home page of the International Digital Ephemera Project to see the priceless materials that have been acquired, and to check back periodically to discover new materials as they are added.
About Gary Price
Gary Price (email@example.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. He earned his MLIS degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. Price has won several awards including the SLA Innovations in Technology Award and Alumnus of the Year from the Wayne St. University Library and Information Science Program. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com. Gary is also the co-founder of infoDJ an innovation research consultancy supporting corporate product and business model teams with just-in-time fact and insight finding.