Conference in New Delhi discusses challenges of managing media libraries and archives

The first Indian National Conference on media libraries and archives opened yesterday at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. The two-day event, entitled “Managing Indian Media Libraries and Archives: Challenges, Opportunities and Best Practices”, is jointly organized by the Association of Media Libraries and Archives (AMLA) and JNU with the patronage of UNESCO.

India is the largest repository of manuscripts, and digital preservation is felt as a matter of utmost importance and urgency. If digitized records are to survive and be accessible over time, if they are to remain accurate and authentic, they need to be managed professionally.

Over 150 librarians and archivists, from Indian media libraries, gathered to debate the ways in which the historical records of their media organizations can be preserved and made available for dissemination and scholarly use. The event will be followed by a UNESCO-supported training workshop on digitization, digital archiving and digital preservation in media libraries and archives for 80 selected participants.

The Conference’s inaugural session saw the emergence of a strong consensus about the importance and value of having well managed media libraries in India. As Mr C. Kalbag, the Editor-in-Chief of Business Today (India’s most widely circulated business magazine), pointed out, media records in the country are the primary sources of post-colonial and contemporary Indian history. But serious lacunae in record-keeping methods at media libraries, the absence of common standards for digital preservation, and the difficulties of accessing knowledge and information have created potential gaps in Indians’ understanding of history.

Mr Jawahar Sircar, the CEO of Broadcasting Corporation of India (Prasar Bharati), argued that the preservation of digital information requires more constant and ongoing attention than preservation of other media and that establishing a reliable technological infrastructure in the face of rapid and ongoing changes is a core organizational challenge. Meeting that challenge requires adequate funding, appropriate expertise, systematic monitoring and an established process for informed decision making. Therefore, an organization needs to identify essential changes for implementation over time to sustain the digital preservation. He emphasized that although the news media are the most effective means for capturing the spirit of the times, and that this makes the preservation of their content for posterity important and necessary, only a few libraries managed by the top Indian media houses have satisfactory systems for preservation, retrieval and access.

Mr Shigeru Aoyagi, the Director of UNESCO’s New Delhi Office, argued that the increase in digital documents as the main means of communication and transmission of information today, not to mention their short life expectancy, is a source of concern to UNESCO. These concerns underpin UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme, which was created 20 years ago to protect, preserve and promote heritage worldwide. He also emphasized that many institutions have realized the need for developing world-wide standards of data embedded in every file in order to make access easier and to help preservation in the future. Therefore, it is critical for stakeholders to identify and define their roles in redressing existing imbalances in the ownership, preservation, availability and usability of India’s documentary heritage.