Digitalization

Museum 2.0: The Last American Pirate

During the Long Depression of the 1870s, a man named Edward Owens took up piracy in Chesapeake Bay. He had run out of money, his work as an oyster fisherman no longer able to support him. Born in Virginia in 1853, he chose Watt’s Island as the location for his new profession after hearing about its past of harbouring pirates. Thanks to research by student Jane Browning, Owens subsequently became known as the last American pirate. Posting her research on a blog of the same name, it was described as an ‘example of the power of these tools for an individual to track and frame their own educational experience’ and was reported on media outlets including USAToday.com. On Browning’s blog, you can view photographs of items from archives including Owens’ will and follow links to watch a Youtube video of her visiting his abandoned home and gravesite.

Except Edward Owens never existed. The whole thing was a hoax created by a group of students at George Mason University. The brainchild of Professor Mills Kelly in the Department of History and Art History, Kelly taught the students a course titled Lying about the Past in 2008. The syllabus stated ‘we’ll make up our own hoax and turn it loose on the Internet to see if we can fool anyone.’ Through creating and learning about historical hoaxes, Kelly’s aim was for his students to become ‘better consumers of historical information’, making sure they were acquired with the tools to think critically about sources they came across in their research.

The classes’ result was successfully deceptive and only revealed as a hoax once media outlets began reporting it as factual.  The smoke screen of authenticity was propped up by bad quality photos down to ‘kind of old’ digital cameras and convenient claims of broken photocopy machines with transcripts for substitutes. In some cases, documents from archives were merely set in a new context within Owens’ narrative, masquerading as evidence to back up the story.

The advent of digital technology has allowed increased access to archives, most notably through digitisation projects. Having downloadable images means people can take them, put them in another context or alter them altogether. Old images can become something new and new images can be made to look old and be mistaken for the real thing.

Artist Joan Fontcuberta has explored this throughout his work, challenging ‘disciplines that claim authority to represent the real – botany, topology, any scientific discourse, the media, even religion.In his Stranger than Fiction exhibition in 2014 at the Science Museum, his ‘Fauna’ series was presented as a replica natural history exhibition. Purported to be the long-lost archives of German zoologist Dr. Peter Ameisenhaufen, it included photographs, x-rays and taxidermy. None of the animals existed. Each specimen was an amalgamation of different species and had been given a ‘scientific’ name. These included a winged monkey called a ‘Cercopithecus Icarocornu’ and a snake with legs named ‘Solenoglypha polipodida’.  Visitors were never warned it was a fabrication.

The result is a disorientated audience. The exhibition glaringly lies to our faces in a place we freely reward with implicit trust. Despite our better judgement, doubt creeps in. Could this be real? In a setting like this it can become worryingly convincing. When the same work was shown at the Barcelona Museum of Natural Science in 1989, 30% of university-educated visitors aged 20 to 30 believed some of the animals could have existed. In the same Museum, Fontcuberta recalls seeing a father slap his child on the back of the head for saying the exhibits were fake. The father’s reasoning? The exhibits were in a museum therefore they must be real. ‘It was interesting to me that the child wasn’t educated in the truth of the museum; he wasn’t perverted by culture. This is a very important political concern.’

Throughout his work, Fontcuberta makes the point that although the amount of pictures we take has increased, it has failed to improve how well we read and perceive images and their context. Having worked as a retoucher I know that everything from models, food, cars and furniture are doctored.  With 68% of adults admiting to editing their images before they post them online, altered images are becoming the new normal. What does this mean for digital images of factual and historical documents, objects and art works on the web?

Fontcuberta’s work along with that of the students from George Mason University raises difficult but important questions. When work like this appears, we find it both humorous and horrifying. Throughout our lives we are ‘educated in the truth of the museum’ and persuaded that if it’s been photographed then it exists. The work I’ve referenced here forces us to question this and contemplate the more sinister possibilities. Fontcuberta’s aim is just this and considers his work a ‘vaccine’. ‘My mission is to warn people about the possibility that photography might be doctored and show why people need to be sceptical of images that influence our behaviour and our way of thinking.’ No matter your reaction, they expose weaknesses in ourselves and in the platforms, organisations and projects these images and information are made available from.

How, as online collections continue to increase in size, can museums and archives assure that images of collection items remain uncompromised? Strict digitisation standards and an ethos of capturing everything ‘as is’ contradicts the trend for filters people are applying to their own images. Should we be educating and encouraging people to respect the standards we work to when sharing images online? Online collection use and social media engagement are becoming increasingly relevant to a museum’s or archive’s success. Developing user activity online inevitably means relinquishing some control and allows inventive and brilliant repurposing of archives and museum collections. However, it will become increasingly important to find a balance so that the facts remain clear and digitised items avoid being corrupted while they move through the web.

 

Sources:

http://lastamericanpirate.net/

https://www.scienceandmediamuseum.org.uk/what-was-on/joan-fontcuberta-stranger-fiction

https://www.fontcuberta.com/

http://www.archivesandcreativepractice.com/joan-fontcuberta

Header image:

Historical maps of Hormúz Island, British Library: Map Collections, IOR/X/3127, in Qatar Digital Library <https://www.qdl.qa/archive/81055/vdc_100000006836.0x000001>.

Akkasah: Preserving Photographic Heritage in the Middle East and North Africa

Akkasah (an old word for camera in the Khaliji dialect), the Center for Photography at New York University Abu Dhabi, is home to an archive of the photographic heritage of the Middle East and North Africa.

Founded in 2014 by New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) Professor Shamoon Zamir, the Center is dedicated to documenting and preserving the diverse histories and practices of photography from the region, and its growing archive contains at present over 65,000 images, both digital and analogue, including albumen prints, gelatin silver prints and negatives. Akkasah acquires collections of prints, negatives and digital photographs, and it also creates digital versions of collections that remain with individuals and institutions seeking to preserve and share their collections.

The Middle East and North Africa have rich traditions of documentary, vernacular, and art photography and these traditions have yet to receive the full critical attention they deserve. Akkasah’s primary aim is to establish a major hub for scholarly research on photography in the region. Akkasah is a scholarly enterprise and does not seek any commercial rights over the materials it holds. The archive is open to scholars, students and the general public by appointment. The Center is keen to work in collaboration with other institutions and individuals with a similar commitment to photography and scholarship from the Middle East and other parts of the world. Along with the creation of an archive, the Center’s activities include developing an ongoing program of conferences and colloquia on various topics related to archives, history of photography and contemporary issues in photography, producing a series of publications, as well as establishing a special collection of rare photobooks from around the world.

The Archive

In the core of Akkasah’s activities lies the archive, which includes a wide range of photographs from vernacular photography to contemporary documentary projects. The archive has published over 9500 images online via akkasah.org, including two major vernacular photography collections from Egypt (the Yasser Alwan Collection) and Turkey (the Turkey Collection). Another collection from Egypt, the Samir Farid Collection consists of over 3000 negatives of 265 old Egyptian movies from the 1930s through the 1980s. The Akkasah archive also features photographs that date back to the early days of photography in the Middle East (the Engin Ozendes & Hisham Khatib collections) taken by some of the most prominent photographers from the late Ottoman era like the Abdullah Freres or Sebah & Joaillier. Akkasah also buys historical albums from across the region with the intention to digitize, catalogue and make them available online.

Akkasah’s mission is to maintain the highest standards for photographic preservation and guarantee the preservation of photographs in perpetuity. The Center catalogues each image on the item level with an extensive set of keywords attached to each entry. Akkasah’s intends to store and preserve as much physical material as possible in-house. Along with Akkasah’s Director Shamoon Zamir, the current team members include Özge Calafato, Project Manager of the Center, and archivists Jasmine Soliman and Jonathan Burr.

Given the current state of instability and upheaval in the region, it seems imperative to increase efforts to safeguard photographic collections, but current social and political circumstances also make it difficult to pursue without encountering obstacles. Across the Middle East and North Africa, there are various private photography collections, yet it is hard to know where they are and what kind of photographs these collections include. Even collections that are part of public institutions face the same issues due to poor cataloguing or lack of access. The inability to ensure proper climate control remains a concern for most photographic archives in the region. In this regard, Akkasah is committed to both transparency and open access, with the goal to make its entire archive available online for researchers and the general public.

A custodial model for archiving

Social and political instability poses a major challenge for the preservation of photographic heritage in the region. There is little governmental support for the preservation of photographic heritage. Many of the institutions and individuals who own the collections under threat are rightly reluctant to have them alienated from their and national and cultural homes, even as they seek to have them safeguarded.

Accordingly, Akkasah has developed a custodial model in order to address this issue. In the custodial model Akkasah either digitizes a collection in situ or assists in removing a collection, or part of a collection, to NYUAD, in order for it to be digitized catalogued, and returned to the donor at any time at no cost. This model was first implemented for the Hisham Khatib Collection in Jordan. The Hisham Khatib Collection includes over 2000 historical photographs from the Middle East, with a focus on Palestine and Jordan. For this collection, Akkasah worked with Darat Al Funun, a major cultural centre in Amman, digitizing the entire collection in situ in 2017.

Another major project that used the custodial model includes the archive of College de la Sainte Famille, a Jesuit high school from Helwan in Egypt, for which over 2000 prints from the late 19th century through the 1990s were digitized in Abu Dhabi and returned to the school afterwards.

Traditionally a Eurocentric field, Akkasah aims to shift the centre of gravity in the history of photography eastwards and beyond and focus on global photographic centres, which so far have been on the periphery of the history of photography. Building and maintaining a photographic archive in a region where a lot of archives are at the risk of being disrupted, stolen or lost comes with a number of challenges. In the region, issues related to archives and archival practices are still not fully discussed. Through its archival practices and scholarly activities, Akkasah’s hope is to generate research that contributes to the development of alternative social and cultural histories of the region. Through full open access, Akkasah aims to change the prevalent culture pertinent to archives in the region, and encourage a more participatory approach with regard to preserving and sharing cultural heritage.

Keep updated with the latest additions to the Akkasah Center on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Image Banner: A group of men and women standing on the stairs of a building, Late Ottoman era. Photographer unknown. Turkey Collection, AD_MC_007_ref287 . Visit here. Copyright ©Akkasah Center for Photography, NYU Abu Dhabi. 

Translating for a Digital Archive

The Qatar Digital Library

Since 2012, the British Library has been working with the Qatar Foundation and Qatar National Library to create and maintain the Qatar Digital Library. Launched in 2014, this free, bilingual portal hosts a growing archive of previously un-digitised material primarily from the BL’s collections. Focusing on content relevant to the history and culture of the Persian Gulf, items include India Office Records, maps, visual arts, sound and video, and personal papers. The portal also features selected Arabic scientific manuscripts. Alongside these items, the QDL also offers expert articles to help contextualise the collections.

As part of the BL’s translation team, I work to produce and edit the Arabic language content for the QDL. While the collection items themselves are displayed solely in their original language, all of the portal’s supporting and descriptive content is translated, as are the expert articles, meaning that the catalogue can be searched and used just as easily in Arabic as in English.

The bilinguality of the portal has been a key part of increasing the visibility and accessibility of the collections. Users of the QDL are just as likely to access the site in Arabic as they are in English, if not even more so: the most frequently visited individual page on the site is the Arabic homepage and users more often land on one of the Arabic pages than the English ones. Moreover, the terms users enter to search the collections are just as often written in Arabic as they are in English. Consequently, we have a responsibility to maintain the same high stands and make sure that all of the QDL’s features function equally well in both languages.

Our Toolbox: Translation management software

Like many large-scale translation projects, ours involves multiple translators, and several rounds of proofing and quality checks to ensure accuracy and consistency. To manage this, we use a piece of software called memoQ that includes two essential tools: a translation memory (TM) and a term base (TB). The TM functions as a bilingual database of previously translated segments of text; it works by storing pairs of original source-language content alongside its approved translation. When a new text is imported, memoQ breaks it into smaller segments on the basis of punctuation and line breaks, and automatically conducts a search for exact and partial matches. These are then presented to the translator for approval and/or review.

Caption: A segment in memoQ with an exact match (100%) in the TM

Caption: A segment in memoQ with a partial match (85%) in the TM

While a human expert still has the final say on whether to accept any suggestion from the TM, frequently only a minor edit is needed to make the old translation suitable for the new context. This serves the double purpose of saving time and maintaining consistency across the catalogue as a whole. Translation memories tend to prove their worth the larger they are and the more repetition there is in the content. Having grown over the years since the start of the project, our TM now routinely recognises a third of content in a new file, and often much more.

While the TM grows organically over time by compiling and storing translation segments, the term base is maintained manually. It works as a glossary for key terms, allowing us to suggest preferred equivalents for individual words or phrases, and/or to blacklist translations that should be avoided. As the TB is visible to all parties at all stages of translation and proofing, it helps to ensure the consistency of these terms in Arabic.

Caption: A segment in memoQ with terms recognised by the TB highlighted in blue

Caption: Terms recognised by the TB, with approved translations in blue and forbidden ones in black

Authorities: making the most of memoQ

The TB has proved especially useful when it comes to translating authority files. An authority record serves to identify and describe a person, corporate body, family, place name, or subject term that is featured in a catalogue description. Each term is authorised and unique. As every record and every expert article on the QDL is linked to at least one authority file, they form an index through which users can search for all the content related to a specific term.

Caption: Authorities displayed as filters on the QDL

Caption: Authorities displayed at the end of a record on the QDL

To be effective, authorities must be reproduced in exactly the same way for every record. For the English side of the portal, they are extracted from the same central database each time, with no opportunity for them to mutate or change before arriving on the portal – but not so with the Arabic!

For every record, the linked authorities are included as part of the English text to be translated, no matter how many times they may have been translated in the past. This repetition of the process creates an opportunity for discrepancies to creep in. If, for instance, there are several new records, all linked to the same new authority, that are sent to several different translators, it is not only possible but quite likely that each translator will produce a valid but slightly different version of the term in Arabic. If the same records then also go to different proof readers, there is a good chance that the discrepancies will slip through unnoticed, rendering the Arabic authority much less useful than the English equivalent, as any one variant will not be linked to all the related content.

After spending much time and energy on trying (and sometimes failing) to catch these discrepancies at the end of the proofing process, we now make sure to pre-translate any new authority and add it to the TB, along with a unique identifying number (arkID), before sending the related files for translation. This means that when the term appears for translation, it is displayed in the TB along with its arkID, adding an extra means of checking whether this is the approved and appropriate translation for this specific context. Once confirmed and thereby added to the TM, it registers as a 101% match, meaning that there is an exact match not only in the text, but also in the metadata.

Caption: Authority term with arkID displayed in TB, registering as 101% match in memoQ

Cataloguing for Translation

Working in-house at the BL alongside the cataloguers allows the translation team to understand and appreciate their processes and standards, and has also allowed us to show them the impact of their decisions and choices on translation. Over time, we have developed guidelines to help them create the English records with translation in mind. For example, where possible, the cataloguers now use stock phrases for repeated content, leading to a much higher hit rate in the TM, and they understand that their use of punctuation can make a big difference to the likelihood of a match appearing.

Caption: Stock phrase with multiple TM hits in memoQ

Caption: List of correspondents written using punctuation marks to help break the text into smaller translation segments in memoQ

Small changes like this help to streamline the translation process, so we can focus on maintaining the QDL’s high standards across the Arabic side of the portal and make sure the content is just as accessible in either language.

Translation in Digitisation

In my work as a freelancer, I have found more often than not that clients arrive at translation as something of an afterthought. It is frustratingly common to find that they have budgeted neither the time nor the funds required for the work – the deadline tends to be yesterday, and the fee mere pennies. Pleasingly, this is not the case working on this project, where translation has been built into the process from the beginning and is understood to take time, thought, research, and expertise. Moreover, the decision to have an on-site team, working in the same office as the cataloguers, affords a rare opportunity to consult the specialists about their writing when queries inevitably arise, and to reciprocate by sharing our linguistic, cultural, and technical knowledge. We could of course always do more in our efforts to create bi- and multilingual resources for ever wider audiences, and with more and more institutions planning and investing in digitisation, there are deeper and broader questions about how, for whom, and in which languages we do so. Bilinguality has been a vital part of the QDL’s success in opening up the collections to new users and ought to be part of the ongoing discussions in digitisation.

See further:
Copyright:

Banner: Brief Principles of the Arabic Language ‎[F-1-14] (14/184), Qatar National Library, 10680, in Qatar Digital Library. Author: Filippo Guadagnoli. ©Qatar National Library. Usage Terms: Creative Commons Attribution Licence

memoQ Images:  ©memoQ.

QDL Images: ©Qatar National Library. Terms: Creative Commons Attribution Licence

 

 

ACOR Photo Archive, Amman, Jordan

The American Center of Oriental Research (ACOR) Photo Archive has recently digitized and made available six collections of photographs spanning diverse subjects in archaeology, social history, anthropology, art and architectural history from 1944 to 2008 from across the Middle East and North Africa.

The ACOR Photo Archive is open-access and all of the 15,000 photos online are available to download for free.  The vast majority of these photos were not previously catalogued, known about, or accessible to the public. Two years in to the four-year digitization project, the ACOR Photo Archive is now accessed from countries all around the world, with most of its users split between Jordan and the U.S. The ACOR Photo Archive Project is funded by a Title VI (2016) grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

The ACOR Photo Archive Project was initiated to digitize images mostly from Jordan, including donated collections and those of former research center directors. Inspiration for this project came from a heightened awareness of the vulnerability of cultural heritage in the region in the context of the wars in Syria and Yemen, amongst the loss of human life. The Photo Archive Project sought to resist this destruction by turning attention to the resources in ACOR’s basement – the photographic record of now-infamous places such as Palmyra/Tadmur in Syria, as well as less well-known feats of ancient engineering like Marib Dam, Yemen, pictured before they were damaged in the conflict.

The Triumphal Arch of the Great Colonnade, with the Arab castle visible in the background. Palmyra/Tadmur, Syria, 1955. George Bass collection at ACOR.

South sluice, Marib Dam, Yemen, 1995. Jane Taylor collection at ACOR.

From the outset, as ACOR is based in Jordan, quieter forms of destruction – through development pursued without care for the urban environment in its entirety or through the prioritization of some histories over others – were also a factor in the desire to digitize the archives. Comparing the two images below of the Oval Piazza at the Roman and Islamic archaeological site in Jerash, Jordan gives an insight into both the rate of development, and the prioritization of certain historical remains over others.

Oval Piazza, Jerash, 1955. George Bass collection at ACOR.

Oval Piazza, Jerash, 1998. Jane Taylor collection at ACOR.

An unexpected highlight of embarking on the ACOR Photo Archive Project was the enthusiasm with which other institutions in Jordan received ACOR’s heritage digitization efforts. In 2017, ACOR hosted a workshop for fellow heritage and library professionals creating a forum to share and address specific challenges relating to digitizing heritage of Jordan and the wider region. Challenges included how best to describe archival material so that researchers, students and the general public would be able to find it easily, no matter their educational background. When you are handling representations of sites typically inhabited by at least two civilizations with vastly different names for their settlements as well as the variations found when one script is transliterated into another – Arabic to Latin in this case – things quickly become complicated. Some places, such as the Islamic Umayyad (7th-8th century) lodge and bathhouse, Qasr ‘Amrah, in Jordan’s Eastern Desert are also known by a second name in Arabic, Qusayr Amra. This complexity makes it essential to collate extensive metadata (information about data, such as photos) covering all scholarly traditions that discuss the subject matter of the photo, in order to render images findable through simple keyword search. This process transforms individual image collections into a visual bibliography of the region.

Technical training in digitization, particularly slide, print and negative photo scanning, is in demand in Jordan, where archival sciences programs equivalent to those elsewhere are not yet available in the otherwise sophisticated cultural heritage management sector. As a result, in 2018, the ACOR Photo Archive team led in-depth training designed to turn scanning novices into digitization professionals working according to the best-practice recommendations of the U.S. Federal Agencies Digital Guidelines (2016).

As the Photo Archive team began adding layers of descriptive metadata to each image, they realized that they wielded control over how the images would be received and interpreted by archive users. The information presented alongside the images would frame how these were to be interpreted by researchers, school students, and even perhaps future generations. In the postcolonial context of overseas research centers in Jordan, this is a significant responsibility. The initial plan for the ACOR Photo Archive did not include metadata in Arabic. However, the Photo Archive team quickly realized that this had the potential to prevent Arabic-speaking researchers and students from benefitting from the newly available material. Instead, the team insisted upon Arabic-script functionality when commissioning a Content Management Platform – ‘Starchive’ by Digital ReLab – to host the ACOR Photo Archive online.

As the Photo Archive developed into tens of thousands of images presented online, Samya Kafafi, Project Coordinator for Metadata, added descriptions and references for further reading from publications in Arabic – serving as a platform in which the work of Jordanian and international scholars are presented with equal weight. Presenting images of cultural heritage from across the region alongside the premier academic scholarship on its topic became a priority for the team, and is something we are continuing to develop today, as the ACOR Photo Archive grows. Although the archive is run by one of the premier research libraries in Jordan, its potential to serve younger learners was highlighted at the Jordan School Librarians’ Conference (November 2018), which inspired teachers to incorporate the ACOR Photo Archive as a key resource for school projects.

Looking ahead to the next two years of the project, ACOR’s goals are to continue to make more images accessible – a target of 30,000 by late 2020 – as well as to hold photo exhibitions both online and in Amman, to foster further exchanges with experts on subjects included in the archive, and to continue to train young Jordanians in the practices of archiving and digitization.

Keep updated with the latest additions to the ACOR Photo Archive on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership Programme

In October 2014, the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership launched the Qatar Digital Library (QDL), an online bilingual portal that provides free access to material from the British Library’s collections.

The portal displays content related to the history and culture of the Gulf and its surroundings, as well as the Library’s Arabic Scientific Manuscripts. Among the collections that we are working on are: the India Office Records on Gulf History (Agencies and Residencies), personal papers, maps, photographs, and manuscripts. The portal is fully bilingual, supporting study in both Arabic and English. At the moment, there are almost one and a half million images of British Library material on the portal, comprising over 14,000 records and over 136 manuscripts, with more content being uploaded every week. In addition, the Digital Library hosts articles from our experts, developed by the British Library team to help contextualise the collections. There are currently over 140 published articles, with more to come.

Digitising and publishing the documents on the QDL requires the work of a wide range of specialists. We are an interdisciplinary team, made up of more than forty professionals, including computer scientists, photographers, conservators, curators, archivists, administrators, translators, and specialist historians. Together we are working to give users of the portal a comparable experience to seeing the original documents in person.

The most obvious and important benefit of digitisation is the increased visibility and access to the collections. Users no longer have to be physically present in the Library’s reading rooms in London, but can now view these records from any corner of the globe, on a number of different devices. Since the portal has been active, users have been accessing the site from all around the world, with the top five countries being the United States, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, and the United Kingdom.

Alongside the digital images, each file is published with a short descriptive catalogue record, created by our team of experts. Cataloguing of this kind allows the Library to better understand and document the nature of the collections themselves, improving its own records and highlighting the importance of the material.

When providing free open access to information online, issues surrounding copyright and data protection must be considered.  On the programme we have a dedicated Rights Clearance team, and the programme works with the Library’s Information Compliance Officer to ensure that we are compliant with current legislation and British Library policy. By firstly determining whether the catalogued material is still within copyright or not, our Rights Clearance team then conduct copyright ownership research into the collection items selected for digitisation, tracing and contacting Rights Holders where possible, such as individuals, companies, publishers, estates and other relevant bodies, working to ensure the correct usage terms are displayed on the portal.

Moreover, there are further challenges on a digitisation project such as this. There can be challenges in scoping the material: its condition, size, the style of handwriting, and the languages in which it is written may all make a given file difficult to read. These issues can in turn have knock-on effects on the time needed for conservation, cataloguing, and digitisation. Assessing the time needed for an item to makes its way from the BL’s secure storage onto the portal is no easy task, and requires clear coordination across all teams. To facilitate this, a workflow with three separate streams has been developed, and is now managed through the use of Microsoft SharePoint. Each team also maintains thorough documentation and guidelines to help ensure the consistency of its work.

We are highly aware of the importance of communicating our work to make sure it reaches new audiences. Among our outreach activities, we promote the portal online through social media and in person through talks and tours of the programme. Many of our specialists also offer presentations at academic and archival conferences, participate in seminars, and write articles and blogs for wider publication. The response of users of the portal is overwhelmingly positive: many researchers and students are using this resource, not only in the UK, but also in the United States and across the Gulf region, and the increased access to this material is allowing for studies of a broader and more comprehensive nature than was previously possible.

Thanks to this project, important historical material from the BL’s collections, some of which had not previously been fully catalogued or studied in depth, is now being disseminated and made available to the general public. The Partnership has just agreed a further three years for this project, until the end of 2021, during which time we plan to make even more material available. We hope our efforts will prove useful to all who access the portal.

For more information please visit Qatar Digital Library and our web in British Library.

This article was originally published in ARC Magazine, a publication of the Archive & Records Association of the UK & Ireland, no. 349, September 2018.

Image: Kitāb na‘t al-ḥayawān كتاب نعت الحيوان [‎208v] (427/534), British Library: Oriental Manuscripts, Or 2784

Unlocking Our Sound Heritage under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

In July 2017 Unlocking Our Sound Heritage (UOSH), a major Heritage Lottery funded five year partnership led by the British Library was launched. The project, which forms part of the British Library’s Save Our Sounds programme, aims to preserve and provide access to as much as possible of the nation’s rare and unique sound recordings. It will be delivered by working closely with ten organisational partners across the UK who will digitise their own collections and selected content contributors. Over the five-years we hope to make 100,000 of these half a million digitised recordings (which range from oral history, wildlife sounds, popular and world and traditional music, radio, language and dialect) available through a freely accessible, purpose-built media player and website hosted by the British Library. In addition to innovative exhibitions and engagement activities in support of this.

One of a number of legal challenges to these aims is the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which came into effect on 25 May 2018. In the UK this lead to the implementation of the 2018 Data Protection Act; the biggest change in privacy laws since 1998. These developments are not only a reflection of technological advancements in the last twenty years but also changing expectations around the protection of privacy.

The GDPR applies to all personal data which can identify a living person. This is referred to as personal and special category data and it can be anything from name and address, all the way through to political and religious beliefs. In order to comply institutions must adhere to the six principles of the GDPR which include: lawfulness, fairness and transparency in their processing of personal data. They must also identify if there is a legal basis for their processing of personal data and special category data. Processing in this context is an operation or set of operations performed on personal data, or sets of personal data which may include collection, recording, dissemination or retrieval.

For personal data three of the six lawful basis options are available to this project: consent, legitimate interests and performance of a task in the public interest. Each processing activity only needs one and there is no option to change the lawful basis further down the line. Some organisations like national libraries, museums, galleries and universities can rely on the performance of a task in the public interest as its lawful basis for processing personal data. The British Library is governed by the British Library Act 1972 and therefore meets this requirement, so for activities which are defined in the Act or the British Library’s Public Task Statement we rely on this exclusively. However for some of the UOSH partner hubs this is not available because they do not need to process personal data either in the exercise of ‘official authority’, or to perform a specific task in the public interest that is set out in law. An alternative legal basis for these institutions therefore is legitimate interest and as ever documenting why this basis has been selected is key.

Another type of legal basis available to the project is consent; however it is the most problematic since understanding of the term often blurs the lines between intellectual property, ethical practices of informed consent in oral history and data protection. To un-blur them we must differentiate between permission to record an individual and the rights needed to make a recording publically available from the consent of a data subject to process their personal data. The main concern is that consent would be required not only from the person speaking but the people they are speaking about. In a practical sense it would be impossible to achieve this and if withdrawn, consent could not be substituted for another legal basis.

Special category data requires a different lawful basis to those mentioned above, this is because the type of personal data it covers such as political beliefs, religious beliefs, race, ethnicity, or sexuality are considered more sensitive than ‘regular’ personal data, such as name, address or data of birth . Article 9 outlines special category data under GDPR and prohibits its processing unless one of the listed provisos apply, for both the British Library and the UOSH partner hubs on this project that is ‘Archiving in the Public Interest’.

For all of our processing of personal and special category data we will rely on the exemptions in Article 89 of GDPR which confusingly is also referred to as ‘Archiving in the Public Interest’. This allows for processing if appropriate safeguards are in place and exempts us from various data subject rights such as erasure or restriction of processing. However for it to apply the safeguards must be designed to prevent causing substantial damage or distress to a living individual.

Understanding and defining what we as an institution mean by substantial damage or distress is an essential focus of our work on the UOSH project. Legal definitions of these terms are difficult to find which leaves them open to interpretation. We can broadly say that damage is financial, physical or reputational in nature and can look to existing law such as defamation, contract and tort for guidance. However distress is far more subjective, based on previous case law we know it can mean embarrassment, anxiety, disappointment, loss of expectation, upset and stress, but that must go beyond annoyance or irritation, strong dislike or a feeling that the processing is morally wrong. One option is the construction of a two stage process, stage one we consider what the individual with the complaint says and stage 2 we examine what the ‘ordinary’ person might say. How as an institution we determine what this means and how it works in practice; and how we ensure it represents this ‘average’ view, is still in progress.

Objective and consistent decision making of which recordings are more or less likely to cause a living individual distress if placed online is and will continue to be a challenge. Those of us making these judgements must be aware of our inherent biases and ensure a wide range of opinions and guidance is sought. The process will always be subject to change in terms of our interpretations, the interpretations of others and following the outcome of case law and regulatory guidance. As ever good documentation of these decisions are key.

The GDPR brought about essential changes to privacy law in the EU and through the UK’s new Data Protection Act (2018) it will continue to impact a project such as this after the UK leaves the EU in March 2019. Like any digitisation project seeking to place large amounts of content online, how to comply with data protection law requires considerable attention. However, unlike many online access initiatives a high proportion of the content we wish to make available contains the personal information of identifiable living individuals and the assessment of which requires hours of listening time. As we embark on this relatively unchartered territory we have the opportunity to develop new and innovative processes and assessment methods in this area of audio heritage, data protection and online access. We are excited about the work we are doing and hope by the end of the project we will have a number of tried and tested methods which will help future endeavours in this area.

With thanks to: James Courthold (Information Compliance Manager, British Library) and Sue Davies (Project Manager, Unlocking Our Sound Heritage, British Library).

For more information on UOSH please visit https://www.bl.uk/projects/unlocking-our-sound-heritage and follow us on Twitter @BLSoundHeritage.