It’s the time to go digital!

05 Feb,2013


By Ananya Saha


Media libraries are a rich source of history, especially given the vast history of journalism in India. And looking up this treasure trove of information has been made far easier with the advent of the digital age. No more thick tomes and long afternoons among the shelves – Google has quickly become the one-stop for all searches. But not everything is on the internet, and there is an increasingly urgent need for proper digitization of media archives and libraries, to both preserve information better and also make it easily accessible.


Speaking at the first National Conference of Association of Media Libraries and Archives (AMLANC-2013) on the theme, ‘Managing Indian Media Libraries and Archives: Challenges, Opportunities and Best Practices’, Jawhar Sircar, CEO, Prasar Bharati, predicted that as the Indian media continues to grow, the future prospects of media libraries and archives is very bright and “the latest developments technology is playing a major role in offering digital and online library and archival services in various media organizations”.


In his brief address, Chaitanya Kalbag, Editor-in-Chief, Business Today, stressed on the importance of the availability of high-quality and authentic information for journalists. He further stated that it is the professional duty of media libraries and archives to constantly innovate and offer value-added library and information services in media organizations. Mr Kalbag said, “Every issue of the 21-year-old Business Today has been digitally archived.”



So why is a feature on media libraries and digital archiving the Big Story today?

Because the heart of any newsroom is its library and digital archiving resource. I still remember how as a rookie journalist in the late ’80s in Mumbai, I would discuss story ideas with the librarians at the Indian Express and Centre for Education and Documentation (CED) reference sections. They would often come up with suggestions and provide clips of stuff that I hadn’t even heard of.


Now, as the biggest reference source in the world in the form of the internet (and more specifically Wikipedia) easily accessible to all of us, not many of us acknowledge the role of a library or a digital archiving system in news media. Journalists are satisfied with the web presence of all content and the only reason why a librarian is sought after is to enable the easy tracing of file photographs. As one media CFO asked me a few years back, do you need a medium ticket librarian to do all of this? Can’t a couple of entry level staffers do the job?


It’s critical that the ‘librarian’ or the ‘digital archivist’ is made an integral part of a newsroom. Let her/him be part of news meetings. Equip this team with ‘infographicists’ and see how archives-based content can make a newspaper or magazine come alive. Ditto with news television. For this to happen, it’s vital that those running libraries in news media organizations move out of their cubicles and get proactive.


I wasn’t able to make it to the first National Conference of the Association of Media Libraries and Archives in Delhi, but by way of our editorial coverage as well as MxMIndia being a  Media Partner, we’ve tried to promote the cause. For, even as we can’t do without Google and Wikipedia, there is a huge role that the library and archives section can play in a newsroom.


– Pradyuman Maheshwari


Why do digital?

Dr Dinesh Katre, Associate Director, C-DAC said, “Digital preservation provides benefits such as legal protection, knowledge heritage for future work or generations, trend analysis, reuse etc.” If the data is not digitally archived, the heaps of papers might just become a part of library with no or limited access and loss of data in the long run. With 24X7 inflow of news, it is impossible for someone to go through heaps of newspaper archives. Everybody needs information at a click of a button.


A media enterprise basically needs two broad types of information sources to expand its body of knowledge as well as carry out its business process, according to R Venkata Kesavan, DGM & Head, Times Archives & Knowledge Centre, a) editorial information sources and b) business information sources. “While the professionals working in a media organisation may have more than one information source, it is primarily the responsibility of a media library/information centre to cater to the information needs of employees from time to time.


Mr Kesavan said that the TAKC was set up over a century ago in Mumbai, and the centre now has digitally archived all Times of India editions since the first issue – Nov 3, 1838. He highlighted how the three A’s rule the digital preservation: Authenticity, authentication and access. Not all articles or pictures, according to the archivists, are preserved. Only the authentic exclusive articles and pictures are usually archived digitally.


Digital preservation is the need of the hour, yes, but enough it is also important to keep in mind the reasons to go digital. It is important to create ‘fit for purpose’ project management; identify the users and organisational needs; draw up a development policy and project management plan. Besides it is also important to digitize authentic copyright articles or images, especially in a media group. What is also important that budget estimates are prepared well in advance. Once the content digitization process begins, it is imperative for the organisation to educate the employees to make appropriate use of the digital archives. Besides adding value to the parent organisation, digital archives also help in saving the time of library staff and information users.


Media houses, such as DNA and Times of India, are also earning revenues off their digital archives through syndication services. The syndication is not only available on articles, but also on cartoons and images. TOI’s digital archive from 1838-2003 is charged for the users. For newspapers like DNA, being born in digital era is an advantage since all their editions are e-editions as soon as they go into print. According to Priya Pai of DNA, archival system is important to collate and build intellectual property. DNA has been syndicating its content since January 2006.


“Apart from syndication, digital archiving helps ad sales team in special features and supplements by providing background information and pictures from the archives. We can also trace the articles that were published in the newspaper in past so as to help make the pitch to convince the clients for ads,” Ms Pai shared.



Framework of digital archiving

  • Data capture and creation: Formats and compression; managing hardware and software; copyright IPR and ethics; metadata; indexing and cataloguing
  • Data Access and Delivery: Search and retrieval; access management
  • Data Collection Management: Database creation and system design; workflow and procedure management; quality assurance
  • Digital Preservation: Storage and archiving



Benefits of digital archiving

  • Anytime, anywhere availability of authentic data
  • Information can be uploaded on continuous basis
  • Wider access
  • Monetization possibilities though syndication
  • Improved preservation



Issues regarding digital archiving

  • Non-availability of quality manpower
  • Digital preservation of huge volume of archival data
  • Data security of digital archives
  • Maintaining copyright
  • Analogue to digital conversion remains an expensive process
  • Evolution of, and obsolete, storage media


The benefits of digital archiving do not come without challenges. Careful planning is required when building digital archive. Issues such as copyright clearance, metadata issues and project management can have severe impact on both resources and time. Dr Katre said that the data that is stored on software today, might become obsolete in another 20 or 50 years, as technology changes every six months now and “we do not even have access to systems that can read data on floppies”.


India does not have a legal framework regarding digitized data unlike the US. Digital records do not have legal sanctity in India. Copyright is always critical for media houses. Then there are technology issues, which includes conversion and security. The protection of copyright data, however, can be beefed up with encryption technology, watermarking, digital signature and back up, and signing contracts with outsourced digital archiving management.


Vrunda Pathare, Chief Archivist, Godrej & Boyce, also put forth her concerns. “It is not really true that if data is digitally archived, it is preserved. There is an increasing unreliability of storage mediums and obsolete technology. And to convert analogue data to digital is very expensive, even for corporates like us.”


Digital preservation is a constant interaction between data and technology. Thus, inter-disciplinary co-operation becomes imperative. Trained manpower that understands and adapts to changing technology is also a concern for the industry.


But as Mr Kesavan concluded, “Nobody has the perfect answer to digital preservation for every case. If we try we may fail; if we do not try we will certainly fail.”



AMLANC has been jointly organised by the Association of Media Libraries & Archives (AMLA) and Central Library, Jawaharlal Nehru University. MxM India is the Media Partner of the conference. In the two-day conference about 40 papers on the main theme and related sub-themes will be presented.


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