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Tuesday October 4th, 2022

Sri Lanka National Archives on major digitisation drive; 10PB of archives by 2027

The conservation division of the National Archives Dept: Image credit:

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Department of National Archives is on a major digitisation drive that will see 10 petabytes of digital and digitised content archived by 2027, a top department official said.

National Archives Director General Dr Nadeera Rupasinghe told EconomyNext that phase one of the project will cost an estimated Rs 120 million with existing storage to be expanded to 500 terabytes of digitised documents, audio and video files, etc.

The cabinet of ministers announced its approval of a proposed “digital store” yesterday to preserve the digital content archived at the department. The proposal, made by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in his capacity as Minister of Buddhasasana, Religious and Cultural Affairs, sought to establish a storage facility for digital content “adhering to international standards on digital conservation to ensure accountability and authenticity of those digital documents,” the cabinet office said.

According to Rupasinghe, the cabinet announcement was referring to the first phase of the project which will take two years to complete.

“It is part of our digitisation program. This is for both the hard copies that will be converted to digital formats and existing digital copies and materials such as audio and video files,” she said.

“This will see the establishment of a trusted digital procedure at the national archives,” she added.

Rupasinghe said consultation will be sought for the software required for database management and for the digitising process of phase one.

Illustrating the sheer volumes involved, Rupasinghe said if all documents currently archived at the department were to be stored in physical form in legal file storage boxes stacked on top of each other, the boxes would reach a height of over 22 kilometres.

Digitisation of the National Archives have been taking place for some time now, complete with cloud storage, though at a small scale.

“We already have a digital collection in place. Regardless of the digitalisation, we have to preserve the documents in whichever format they are in,” she said.

“Sometimes digital documents are harder to preserve than a hard copy because a digital copy could be damaged maybe due to negligence or malicious activity; or the format could be corrupted. We are looking at all the areas of preservation in our programme when it comes to preserving.”

Plans have yet to be drawn for the second phase of the programme, according to Rupasinghe, and will see the National Archives Department’s main server at its Colombo headquarters and the backup server at the Kandy office as well as its cloud storage expanded to 10PB so as to save every copy in three different places as is standard practice.

The National Archives reserves of all publications including newspapers published in Sri Lanka from the 19th century as well as invaluable documents created in the Dutch and British colonial reigns since 1640.

The Department of National Archives in its current form operates under the provisions of the National Archives Law No. 48 of 1973, and National Archives (Amendment) Act No. 30 of 1981 and was originally established in 1947. The pursuit of palace-sanctioned archiving in Sri Lanka goes back to at least the late 18th century, but modern systematic archiving began in the Dutch period with the establishment of a library of archives in Galle in 1640. (Colombo/Apr07/2021)

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