Global Perspectives on the Challenges and Prospects of Accessing and Using Documentary Heritage

Global Perspectives on the Challenges and Prospects of Accessing and Using Documentary Heritage

Forget Chaterera (University of South Africa, South Africa & National University of Science and Technology, Zimbabwe) and Patrick Ngulube (University of South Africa, South Africa)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7429-3.ch003
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The ability of national archival institutions to make available the documentary heritage in their custody is the sole basis for justification of their existence and relevance in society. As such, archival institutions are faced with a great responsibility to ensure that they are visible and able to attract large visitor-ship. This chapter provides a global perspective on the challenges and prospects surrounding the accessibility and use of documentary heritage. The chapter largely relies on a review of literature to discuss the future of archives' utilisation and to explore the challenges which the global archival community has endured in the provision of access to and use of their archival holdings. The common factor established in extant literature is that access is the most critical archival function, yet it is proving to be the most challenging.
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Conceptualising Documentary Heritage

Documentary heritage refers to recorded history, from papyrus scrolls or clay tablets to film, sound recordings or digital files (Edmondson, 2002). It is the product of a deliberate documenting process and can further be explicitly defined as comprising items with the following characteristics:

  • Moveable

  • Made up of signs/codes, sounds and/or images

  • Preservable

  • Reproducible

  • Migratable

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) (2016) indicates that documentary heritage normally excludes items which are part of a fixed fabric such as a building or a natural site, objects on which the signs/codes are incidental to their purpose, or items which were designed as non-reproducible originals such as paintings, three dimensional artefacts or art objects. An item of documentary heritage can be a single document of any kind or it can be a group of documents such as a collection. Documentary heritage therefore refers to all media on which information is recorded, regardless of the nature of the medium or the method or circumstances of records.

Humanity is uniquely characterised by its ability to build and transmit a collective memory, and its desire to have access to memory. This can happen in three ways. The first is oral transmission which is the passing of knowledge and customs from one generation to the next by speech, song and ceremony. The second is the reshaping of the physical world by altering landforms and erecting buildings which are the heritage of succeeding generations. The third is by the recording of information in a documentary form, such as the written word, photography and sound recording. It is this third form of documentary heritage that is the focus of this chapter.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Documentary Heritage: Recorded history in any format, from papyrus scrolls and clay tablets to film, sound recordings and digital files.

Processing: The act of arranging and describing the archival collection.

Preservation: The various measures that are put in place to guard against any form of deterioration.

Access: The availability of records for consultation as a result of both legal authorization and the existence of finding aids ( Pearce-Moses, 2013 ). It is essentially the right, opportunity, or means of finding, using or retrieving information.

Reference Services: All the tasks and processes involved in assisting patrons to get the information they want from the archives ( Coles, 1988 & Singh, 2004 AU21: The in-text citation "Singh, 2004" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ).

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