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Monday, 7 March 2022

The importance of digitization for special collections and the role libraries play.


                                                                         By Simon Shezi

At the present times we are seeing rapid developments in technologies that are changing the fundamental ways that library users find and retrieve the information needed to carry out their studies, work, and other everyday aspects of their lives. The impact of digitization of information  on teaching, learning, and research presents difficult challenges as well as exciting opportunities, that we are only are beginning to glimpse through the Internet. 

 Digitization is an excellent way of providing access to library materials and preserving them, but the technology, in the current stage of development, is not fully adequate for archival preservation however. Digitization has proven to be possible for nearly every format and medium presently held by libraries from maps to musical recordings and more (Kanndppanaar, Rajanikanta, & Tandur, 2010). Digitization of special collections is one of the strategies to elevate the preservation of information in academic institutions such as University of KwaZulu-Natal. Historical special collections are an essential part of our cultural heritage. Agyen-Gyasi, (2011) pointed out that, special collections are rare books and manuscripts which provide resources for the increasing needs of the research community in an academic or research institution. Furthermore, special collections preserve, develop, promote, and facilitate access to the nation’s or university’s heritage collections, which, by virtue of their rareness, provenance, or special physical features, require secure closed access storage and supervised use (Agyen-Gyasi, 2011).

Additionally special collections seek to raise the profile of the university and its library by achieving recognition of the regional and national significance of its collections. The impact of special collections has become so important that librarians and information scientists are paying them increasing attention.

Digitization preserves information even if there is a disaster in an institution. Institutions know that important and particularly rare information must be secured. There have been various horrific examples in recent times of non-digitized material going up in flames and possibly being lost forever. Consider the disaster that happened at the University of Cape Town where the fire burnt down library buildings and materials. The South African Parliament Library at Cape Town is another example. These were eye openers as to why digitization is so important and how vulnerable material collections are.

 Parliament buildings on fire in December 2021

Agyen-Gyasi, K. (2011). The Ghana Collection at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology Library. Information Development, 27(1), 66-73.


Kanndppanavar, B., Rajanikanta, S., & Tandur, S. K. (2010). Importance of digitization of library materials. SRELS Journal of information management, 47(1), 61-70.


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