Digital technologies provide all manner of new opportunities for the recording and dissemination of local knowledge and histories, outside of the already established chains of cultural transmission. Greater access to the Internet and the proliferation of mobile phones and other digital devices, coupled with the multiple ways in which people in the present are engaging with the past, points to the potential of these new technologies to facilitate new modes of recording and sharing local knowledge, cultural practices and histories.
The democratising potential of these digital technologies is great, in that they offer opportunities for traditionally marginalised groups to record and share their local knowledge and histories on the Internet, from their perspectives. They have therefore given rise to (amongst other things) the broad category of “digital memory projects,” including undertakings such as community-run museums, community archives, so-called indigenous cultural centres and alternative approaches to those commonly employed by cultural institutions (Sandell, 2002). The variability of digital technologies is vital to the success of these, and is seen to encourage dialogue, multiple authorship and the exchange of ideas and opinions. In contrast to the closed authorship, fixed ideas and practices of museums, libraries and heritage institutions, digital files circulate more freely and are open to further editing, co-authorship and interpretation. This suggests a more democratised mode of production as different constituencies can collect, interpret, alter and create new meanings for digital content as they see fit (Parry, 2007).
There is, however, a severe dearth of skills in digital media production and oral history research methodology in Africa, necessitating the development of innovative intervention models to address and develop these competencies. Access to a digital knowledge resource of local relevance has the potential to contribute to capacity building in terms of digital and information literacy skills, as well as economic empowerment through ICT skills development, knowledge provision and social networking.
Moreover, the development of an online resource of local, user-generated content offers much in terms of social cohesion and an enhanced, localised sense of collective identity. e-Skills and information literacy are valuable tools in today’s information society and this toolkit aims to support projects that make them accessible to a larger number of people on the African continent. Together with digital media competencies – the ability to use digital media tools to create and disseminate content – these skills can contribute to social and economic transformation in communities throughout Africa, and are therefore a worthwhile investment of energy and resources.
A Working Toolkit for Project Teams
The Digital Memory Toolkit aims to address this lack of digital literacy by giving project teams the insight and tools necessary to undertake digital memory projects. Projects of this nature commonly have twofold relevance – helping to preserve local knowledge and also empowering community members through skills training and engagement. This digital toolkit therefore takes the form of an introductory training manual that serves as a knowledge resource, providing information on how to set up a digital memory project, including sections on project planning and management, which software to use, training, oral history methodology and digital resource management.
The sections in this toolkit provide information for African NGOs, libraries, archives, museums and schools to initiate and run their own digital memory projects, using free, open-source technology and community volunteers.
A poster version of the Toolkit, presented at the 2015 IFLA World Library and Information Congress in Cape Town, was the winner of the Best IFLA Poster award (http://www.ifla.org/professional-committee/awards/poster-session).