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At Africa Media Online we speak about ourselves as operating a “digital trade route.” Just as in the old days where the industrial economy needed raw materials from around the world and so set up trade routes to access those raw materials, in the information economy the raw materials are digital or digitised media collections. So we have spent the last decade setting up a digital trade route from Africa to relevant audiences in Africa and around the world. And we have done so in such a way that the ownership and control over the digital collections and their use, stays in the hands of African media creators and the custodians of African collections.

Above: Cape Town in 1683, the ship Africa in the foreground, 1683. Aernout Smit (1641 -1710). Oil on canvas. 151,3 x 201cm. William Fehr Collection. Iziko Museums of Cape Town.

Our passion as Africa Media Online is “Africans telling Africa’s story.” The problem in society that we want to be a part of the solution to, is the lack of an African perspective in the telling of the African story. More often than not, in the global media or heritage sphere, Africa’s story is told, both to a global and an African audience, by those who do not have Africa as their home. While we have no problem with this (and even encourage when appropriate), we also believe that for information democracy to flourish, African voices should also be heard on their own terms both in Africa and on the global stage. Hence the digital trade route, where we hope to enable Africans to tell Africa’s story.

Okay, so what is this digital trade route? Well, it is really everything we do in service of enabling African media creators, or the custodians of African collections, to get the collections into digital form and to the audience they want to reach. That audience may simply be your own staff or family, it may be the public you serve as an organisation, or it may be global publishing and broadcast markets. The digital trade route is made up of systems, products, services and relationships that we have been working on for over a decade. These include:

Training: This is more often than not the first way in which people get to interact with us. It provides a clear introduction to the world of digital and a framework in which wise decisions can be made about how best to digitise your collection or manage a collection that is already in digital form. Sharing what we have learnt is something we love to do. Over the past five years we have run a series of masterclasses for media and heritage professionals and we have had the privilege of empowering some of Africa’s leading heritage institutions and media organisations. And we are embarking on some exciting innovations in this area.

Consulting Services: This is often the next port of call on the journey to engaging with the digital world. When an organisation or individual is ready to engage with the specifics of a plan for their collection it is helpful to have the assistance of those who have walked the path before. It is our privilege to share our experience from a decade of finding solutions, which has included leading the establishment of best practices at national level and producing a digitisation strategy for one of Africa’s leading digital heritage collections. We have also assisted a number of institutions with securing funding for digitisation.

Digitisation Services: Once a clear plan is in place and the resources have been secured, the actual work of digitising an analogue collection, or managing a collection that is already in digital form, can begin. Our team has had the experience of digitising well over 100,000 photographic images and thousands of museum objects. We also manage over 100,000 media files on a daily basis and have the expertise to assist in setting up clear systems in any organisation. Our digitisation projects have always been partnerships where we assist in whatever way assistance is needed. This has often been doing the digital capture and training clients to manage the metadata capture, but this is flexible according to your need. Together we work on solutions and we always make sure that copyright remains with you. And when we leave we like to leave having empowered you with the capacity to carry on the work yourself where appropriate.

MEMAT is really the backbone of the digital trade route. Once your collections are in digital form and ready to be preserved and accessed, MEMAT is an effective system for doing this. MEMAT is a media collections management system that allows you to preserve and manage your media collections and present them online securely and deliver them to the audience you want to reach. Find out more on our dedicated MEMAT3 web site.

Representation: For most of our clients, Africa Media Online’s representation of their media collections to African and international publishers and broadcasters, is an essential part of providing the resources to sustain their digital collections. It also allows them to focus on their core audience, which may be in-house use, education or research, or a fan base, without having to worry about interaction with the editorial needs of broadcasters and publishers. In addition to sales off our own web site, with a network of distributors on every inhabited continent we’re able to get Africans telling Africa’s story all over the world.

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