story from Who Do You Think You Are Magazine

The British Library’s Endangered Archives project has seen the digitisation of more than 4 million rare documents from across the world – all available to view for free

A manuscript at Djenné public library in Mali – one of millions of records to be saved through the project

A manuscript at Djenné public library in Mali – one of millions of records to be saved through the project

The British Library has reached a milestone in its mission to save historic records from across the globe.

In operation since 2004, the Library’s Endangered Archives programme has now helped archives in 78 countries preserve more than 4 million records, each of which have been digitised and added to eap.bl.uk.

The initiative, supported by archive charity Arcadia, works by awarding organisations and individuals grants to help them to identify material deemed to be at risk of destruction or deterioration.

Once the conservation is complete, the original documents are transferred to more suitable homes within their country of origin, with digital copies then sent to the British Library to be uploaded to the web.

In addition to paper records, such as medieval manuscripts and Palestinian newspapers from the Al-AqsaMosque Library in Jerusalem, some rather more unusual items are held in the online collections, including photographs of rock inscriptions in the mountain ranges of Libya.

If these documents perish, part of history is irrevocably lost

Also featured are hundreds of files held by Ghana’s Public Records and Archives Administration Department (PRAAD), including the branch at Sekondi, seen in the 2014 episode of Who Do You Think You Are? featuring Reggie Yates.

In a live webchat on the WDYTYA? Magazine Forum in September 2014 (bit.ly/1C8ROzw), Dr Carina Ray – who helped Reggie research his paternal ancestors – said that archive branches along the coast are particularly threatened by the sea air, which is “dissolving the documents at a fast rate”.

However, funding awarded to PRAAD in 2012 has enabled staff at the archives to catalogue records relating to traditional councils of the Nzema people, resulting in the creation of 5,039 digital photographs.

To mark 10 years of the Endangered Archives project, the British Library has published a commemorative eBook entitled From Dust to Digital, featuring first-hand accounts of work on 19 of the projects. This can be viewed free of charge at openbookpublishers.com/reader/283.

“Documents, manuscripts, photographs and recordings that capture much of the world’s memory are preserved in vulnerable and often inaccessible collections around the globe,” said DrMaja Kominko, editor of From Dust to Digital and cultural grants manager at Arcadia. “If they perish, part of history is irrevocably lost.”

Speaking about the milestone, Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library, added:
“At a time when wars and civil emergencies too frequently put archives and library collections at risk, the work the Library does to support fellow institutions around the world during and after conflicts is becoming more urgent than ever.”

 Learn about the project and view records at eap.bl.uk