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Twelve-year-old government body National Mission for Manuscripts (NMM) has digitised over thirty lakh manuscripts and 185,88,390 pages in all as of 31 December 2014, Mahesh Sharma, Union Minister of State for Culture, Tourism & Civil Aviation said in the Rajya Sabha this week. He added that the National Archives of India (NAI) is set to digitise another 1,100,000 historic records. The government has spent over Rs 25 lakhs on digitisation as of January 2015 as compared to ~ Rs 36 lakhs in 2012-13.

The NAI has digitised 41 non-priced NAI publications and 484 manuscripts which consist of 106,974 pages, 42 newspapers and printed books (10,346 pages) and 187,878 documents made of 613,413 pages of NAI’s oriental and public records collection.

Digital conservation over micro-film

Sharma said that the government is looking at strengthening the Public Records Act. He added that digitisation would be the preferred form of conservation since it had many advantages over micro-film processing and would provide better access to archives electronically which could be used by scholars, historians and academicians.

The NAI operates two schemes for funding the preservation of documentary heritage. These schemes include funding for preservation and conservation of rare books, old and rare documents, government libraries and museums among others.

The NMM is an organisation under GOI’s Ministry of Culture set up to create a national manuscript resource to enhance access, awareness and use for educational use. It offers courses, workshops and fellowships on Manuscriptology and Palaeography. Sharma said that the Ministry had some proposals to collaborate with foreign countries for digitisation of Indian documents but had not taken those up due to issues of national importance. Some of NMM’s challenges arise from the scale of manuscripts found in India (claimed at ~5 million), languages which cannot be read, in a poor and neglected condition and the lack of scholars who can study these manuscripts.

The NMM has 31 Manuscript Conservation Centres (MCCs) across the country under the NMM. The MCCs include organisations like Manuscript Library, University of Calcutta, Kolkata, Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI), Pune, Karnataka State Archives, Bangalore and INTACH Orissa Art Conservation Centre, Bhubaneswar.

The New Indian Express featured a report where Jayadhir Tirumalrao, Professor at the Centre for Dalit and Adivasi Studies and Translation, Hyderabad was among others who developed a script for the tribal language Gondi. The report claims that Gondi language was the only tribal language in India to have its own literature.

Previous digitisation initiatives:

  • In November 2014, around 55 books written by the Indian author and activist Niranjana in Kannada would be digitized and made available on Kannada Wikisource, allowing Kannada speakers to access these books easily.
  • In October 2014, the Ministry of Culture launched a national portal for museums. Collections in all museums under its control and those under the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) will be digitized and presented on this portal.
  • In July 2014, the Department of Biotechnology and Department of Science and Technology (DST), under the Ministry of Science and Technology released the draft of Open Access Policy. The objective of this policy is to provide unrestricted access to research work funded by the departments. The draft states that since all funds disbursed by DBT and DST are public funds, it is important that the information and knowledge generated through the use of these funds are made publicly available as soon as possible.
  • In September 2013, Goa University entered into a 3 year MoU with the Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) for building the Konkani Wikipedia.
  • In June 2013, Tata Communications Media Services planned to digitize documents of historical and cultural significance such as films and documentaries from the archives of Doordarshan and Films Division of India which go back to 1947 including speeches of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and other leaders.
  • In May 2013, Punjabi Sahitya Akademi Reference Lab scanned and saved around 1,000 manuscripts, stone-printed scripts, poetry books on computer hard discs, adding that the digitized editions will be available across the globe through the internet.
  • The Indian Government spent Rs 4.5 crores in 2010-11 for digitization and modernization of public libraries.

Image Credit: Flickr user National Library of Sweden