Navigating the ANC Archives



The digital ANC Archives are still a work in progress. Not everything in the archive has been digitised. In particular only about a fifth of the manuscripts have been captured in digital form. In addition, of what has been captured, only a small portion has had metadata associated with it. Metadata is information about a digital file. For example, a picture of Oliver Tambo laying a wreath at a grave site to fallen heroes in Mozambique could not be found on the web site when searching for it unless this information had been captured in a caption and associated with the digital image.


Typed documents are more easily found. Even though, much like a digitised photograph, a typed page simply becomes a picture when digitally captured, there is software that can “read” typed text and turn the pixels on the page into searchable text. This only works for typed text, however, and does not work at all well for hand written text. Since much of this archive is hand written text that means that much of the archive is not searchable by typing in a phrase into the search bar and clicking “Search.”


It will be some time before the ANC Archives has metadata captured against every item in the archive. As a result we had to think of another way in which the archives can be navigated in the interim. Fortunately, when we digitised the archive, we decided to capture each photographic image or page of a manuscript into a folder structure that mirrored the arrangement of the physical archive. When it came to ingesting that folder structure into the MEMAT Digital Vault that folder structure was maintained as metadata to the digital file itself. It is what we call the “path” of the file. This allows the archivists at the University of Fort Hare to go and locate the physical file itself since the digital path can lead them to the physical file.


A “path” can look something like this:


ANC / Prints / Mohamed Ticky Papers / Photographs Loose / Processed / BOX001 / FLR0013


Reading from left to right this means that this image is part of the ANC Collection, its Media Type is that it is a photographic Print, it is in the Mohamed Ticky Papers Subcollection, its Series is Photographs Loose, it has been digitally processed, it is in Box 1 of the Subcollection and in Folder 13 within Box 1.


Since the majority of files lack metadata by which to search, we decided to make this path available in the preview window of each file. This at least allows a researcher to view the context in which the file is physically filed. We have also made this path clickable. So if you click on any one of the links that make up the path the search engine will return all the results for that level. In the example above, clicking on “Photographs Loose” will return all the files that are part of the Series “Photographs Loose” in the Mohamed Ticky Papers subcollection even though many of these files may not have metadata associated with them.


Another strategy we have employed in helping a researcher to gain context is that we have also digitised the finding aids for the entire archive. Over time each section of the finding aids will be linked to that portion of the archive. For instance the contents of Folder 9 in Box 2 of the Subcollection Australasian and Pacific mission will be linked to the path results for Folder 9. Again this is going to take some time to accomplish. In the meantime our archivists will be on hand to assist where needed.