UNESCO becomes a Launchpad for sustainable information keeping

Big data and the future of journalism |  Gerd Leonhard   | flickr

Big data and the future of journalism | Gerd Leonhard | flickr

The term “big data”, encompasses data that cannot be collected, stored, or processed using conventional tools because of its size and complexity.

It has been estimated that Internet users generate about 2.5 quintillion bytes of data each day and that it would take a person approximately 181 million years to download all the data from the internet, taking into consideration that almost 90% of today’s data was generated in the past two years.

This large influx of data presents a challenge in ensuring that the right information is preserved in a sustainable way. The priority of industries worldwide has become to keep abreast with changes presented by the 4th industrial revolution which is characterized by automation and  the interconnectedness between the physical, digital and biological spheres is occurring at a fast rate.. In doing so they have not considered  sustainable preservation practices needed to ensure that important information that maintains legacies and inheritances for aspects such as our identity as Africans, is not lost.

With the above being considered, UNESCO hosted the preliminary work on the development of a framework of indicators to guide national policies or strategies for long-term information preservation. This took place in Dakar, Senegal, which gathered 40 experts from 13 African countries, at the invitation of UNESCO's Multisectoral Regional Bureau for West Africa-Sahel. As part of these 40 experts, my role was to propose indicators that would serve as information preservation framework guidelines for institutions such as libraries, universities, and institutions responsible for providing data and information. This will ensure that information of high importance, especially in our African continent is preserved for generations to come.

This framework may not be prescriptive in nature, but serves as a guideline for institutions to adopt to ensure that information is preserved in a sustainable way. The Deputy Secretary-General of the Government, Mr Alyoune Badara Diop started the event of with emphasizing that "that there is an urgent need for sustained action to preserve the documentary and digital heritage of African countries, while guaranteeing access to information in order to promote sustainable development".

The 40 experts looked at the relevance of each indicator, drawing from their experiences as librarians, archivists, and data collection experts. Considering that 13 countries were represented, this was sufficient to bring different perspectives and experiences to the idea of finding sustainable ways to conserve important information. It also brought in the question of a rather neglected yet pivotal arm of information preservation, which is having actual physical books that are accessible to the public.

Considering the nature of online data, hacking, power failures, and the general issue of infrastructure in most African countries, our written work is important. In certain communities, it is not easy to access the internet as many people believe. Therefore, indicators to build a framework for sustainable information preservation include ensuring that states continue to fund local libraries, and have a sustainable means of ensuring that books are protected from fire hazards as well as wear and tear.

There are concerns with the nature of online data, as well as software used to access it. Considering the informal nature of “big data”. It is a constant concern for scholars in terms of how this can be incorporated in formal environments. The rapid change brought by the 4th industrial revolution poses a challenge for information institutions especially in the public sector. The changes require financial means as well as adaptability of software to access new information and the right tools to access and store information. In Africa challenges of financing and being able to tap into the 4th industrial revolution, pose a major challenge and threat to information preservation.

 Data comes in various forms, and is also pivotal in that once it is analysed, it can be used as a term of reference for various industries and practices. Therefore, it is important to preserve data in a sustainable way, so that it can serve us.


The views and opinions expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.

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