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martes, 6 de junio 2023
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Úrsula, a Digital Tool for Heritage Preservation

By: Carlos Olimpo Restrepo S. - Journalist
The Central Library of UdeA has a wide and varied collection of newspapers, magazines, letters, leaflets and other publications that are fundamental assets for the University and the nation. For this reason, the research group Colombia: Traditions of the Word undertook a digitization project to prevent the deterioration of this valuable material. 

Almary Gutiérrez leads the digitization process with Úrsula, a tool designed not only for UdeA but easily replicable in other documentation centers. Photo: Communications Office / Alejandra Uribe

What does Úrsula sound like? It is an acronym derived from the Spanish equivalent of "flamboyant machine for scanning a bunch of old books." The acronym was created almost as a joke. Now, it is used to name a tool for digitizing bibliographic material in the heritage room of the UdeA Carlos Gaviria Díaz Library.

Professor Ana María Agudelo Ochoa from the Faculty of Communications and Philology is at the forefront of this idea. Together with professionals and amateurs from different disciplines and trades, she shows the result of their commitment: a low-cost, free software and hardware digitization tool, which can soon be replicated in documentation centers and libraries that need to undertake similar projects with limited resources.

"This arose as a need within the framework of the project Digitization and Analysis of Cultural Transfers in Colombian Literary Magazines (1892-1950), which we have been carrying out since 2021 with the University of Tübingen in Germany," explained Professor Agudelo, who added that the library does not have its laboratory or protocol for this type of process.

In the search for equipment to carry out this task, they came up against very high prices -between 60 million and up to 300 million Colombian pesos- and with machines and programs that did not easily adapt to the project's needs. " UdeA has one of the largest collections of journals in the country, and for this reason, our research group, Colombia: Traditions of the Word, decided to undertake a digitization project," highlighted Ana Maria Agudelo.

Hands and Minds in Action

Danilo Penagos was in charge of exploring Úrsula and now coordinates the digitization process. He suggested creating a team using the Do It Yourself (DIY) methodology. "What we have today is a scanner model that meets our needs, but we must remember that scanning is a tiny part of the digitization process," said this Hispanic philologist.

Víctor Vallejo, a sociolinguistics researcher, and Juan Pablo Sánchez, a PhD student in epidemiology, added their enthusiasm for modeling and design to develop the prototype, which is already in operation. "The original design was made of wood, but as we progressed, we took other ideas and conducted new searches for two months. We found that the best material for the equipment was aluminum profiles because they allow for adaptation, and it is intended to be modular," Vallejo said.

Sánchez recalled that "once we had clear objectives, we met twice with the group, discussed, corrected the design in Autocad -a computer design program- and agreed to start the construction," a task to which his mother and wife also contributed, not only with observations but also with labor.

As a result, Úrsula is now a reality composed of the scanner and a digitization protocol that works under the FAIR principles, an acronym that refers to research data being easy to find, accessible, interoperable and reusable. More than 6,000 pages have been scanned since last year with Úrsula.

Compared to "brand name" equipment and protocols, the quality of the information collected and the adaptability to other formats and environments make Úrsula an inexpensive and reliable alternative for organizations, institutions and communities that need to preserve their documentary heritage and digitize it for online consultation.

Professor Ana María Agudelo, on the right, directs the research on digitization and analysis of cultural transfers in Colombian literary journals, which is performed with a German university. Photo: Communications Office / Alejandra Uribe

Preserving Unique Works

José Luis Arboleda, historian and "librarian embedded" in the project, recalled that this research has to do with unique materials in the city and the country, hence its importance. "The current collection we are working on is part of a series of national and foreign magazines classified as documentary heritage. In addition, we have a bibliographic group called the Antioquia Collection, made up of books, magazines, theses and newspapers of great historical value," he noted.

The expert recalled that "many of these collections are part of donations from personalities of the city, some with requests from the donors for preservation and study, and that is something that the library would like to do because we are a little indebted to our heritage. That is why we are now going down this path of digitization, as has already been done in other places around the world."

The Carlos Gaviria Díaz Library has also supported the efforts of this workgroup with technical assistance, for example, in adapting the software and equipment and obtaining cameras. "The desirable thing that we want to start with this is for the University library to have a digitization laboratory with several Úrsulas, to have a permanent work team that can transfer this work," emphasized Professor Ana María Agudelo Ochoa. She added that this tool is intended to make it easier for professors, students and the public outside the University to find information in the heritage collections.

Individuals and institutions interested in learning more about this project can write to the following e-mail addresses: exploratoriohd@udea.edu.co and amaria.agudelo@udea.edu.co, where they are willing to share technical information for the installation of similar tools in other parts of the country.

How the Project Is Going

Digitization and Analysis of Cultural Transfers in Colombian Literary Magazines (1892-1950) is a project funded by Universidad de Antioquia and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), with the participation of professors and students from the Faculty of Communications and Philology of UdeA and the Department of Romance Philology of the University of Tübingen, Germany.

Almary Gutiérrez, who leads the digitization process with Úrsula, pointed out that the team continues to learn as it captures, edits and archives the folios of the specialized publications under study, of which some copies and collections of titles have already been processed, namely, Alas, Alpha, Revista de Antioquia, Revista de Colombia, Cántico, Claridad, Cultura, Cyrano, La Escuela Literaria, La Golondrina, Lectura y Arte, Panida, among others primarily published in Medellín, although there are also copies from different cities.

This professional stated that, as the research progressed, "we identified some needs and difficulties when people, university researchers and the general public came to look up material here, especially newspapers. We are thinking of processing this information with Úrsula in the future to make it much easier to look up."

José Luis Arboleda is in charge of verifying the availability of the lists that the research team provides. He noted, "We have been able to determine that some of these journals are only here. Sometimes other institutions have a title or journal we also have in our collection, but we have an issue or several issues that no one else has."

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