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Digital archiving: Stories for future generations

A digitisation project in Kenya is asking what other ways memory can exist. Can it exist in music, fashion, or landscapes? And how much is lost by not tapping into the collective conscious and only relying on traditional archiving mediums?

Social impact firm Book Bunk that has been on a mission to restore Nairobi’s public libraries since 2017, started a digitisation project two years later that has come to fruition. They began by creating a digital catalogue consisting of 137,705 books for the city’s oldest library- McMillan Memorial Library.

The process brought on the necessity to safeguard as much endangered (rare, pivotal, or damaged) material as possible including gazettes, colonial photographs, county minutes, and newspapers. Further revelations came when they recognised another gap in the overall collection i.e. snippets of Kenya’s people, her culture, and vibrancy, not just from the past but over time.

It birthed ‘The Missing Bits’ a project to add crowd-sourced audio and images to the Nairobi Libraries digital archive. Book Bunk asked the public to visit various libraries and bring their stories and memories with them. People can record audio of their version of events and add photos, letters, and other pieces of their personal collection to the larger digital collection. Anyone aged 5 and above can participate.

Their website encouraged it saying, “Did your Grandmother tell you stories about the music she listened to in the 1970s? Did an Uncle share stories about Kenya’s fashion scene in the 1980s? Perhaps a Parent told you about their Secondary school days? Let’s get these stories recorded and preserved! There are so many ways to get involved in building an archive that centres our own experiences and memories…”

The libraries have digitisation booths where attendants can help the public record their materials in whatever form they present them.

Speaking on the intention behind the project, Angela Wachuka, Founder & Managing Trustee at Book Bunk told The Star earlier in the year, “We are excited to explore the potential that crowd-sourced archives will introduce to Nairobi’s oldest library’s collection, and how these diverse narratives will further showcase the breadth of our shared memories as well as how we can use existing technology to safeguard public memory for current and future generations to explore and enjoy.”

Supporting aspects include a ‘Playlist for the ages’ curated by Wer JoKenya‘s Wairimu Nduba. It takes listeners on a journey through history with context for the sounds of the past. You can picture soldiers conscripted to fight in the King’s African Rifles enjoying their downtime when they could come home and be with their families.

To finally grapple with how we capture the essence of our complex societies is an active form of self-reclamation. In putting an end to our reliance on written histories, which we know are skewed in favour of colonial ideologies and agendas, we gain a three-dimensional view of ourselves as we were, are, and hope to be. This multi-layered community-assembled tapestry can only add much needed nuance to the country’s historical archive.

Watch to learn more about building a digital archive here.

 

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