Texas Digital Library Conference System, TCDL 2012

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International Collaboration and Digital Archives: the Guatemalan Police Archive Project at UT Austin
Jade A Diaz, Kent Norsworthy

Building: AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center
Room: Room 102
Date: 2012-05-25 09:45 AM – 10:15 AM
Last modified: 2012-04-25


This presentation will showcase a large-scale collaborative digital initiative undertaken at UT Austin in 2011: the Guatemalan National Police Historical Archive (AHPN) project. We believe the AHPN project provides a compelling example of how libraries can leverage the power of collaborative relationships—both across campus and globally—to build digital research resources that are transformative in nature. The presentation will provide a description and overview of the processes used by the University of Texas Libraries to construct a universally accessible digital archive from a collection of over 10 million digitized pages of records from Guatemala.

The AHPN project story begins in 2005 when Guatemalan investigators fortuitously discovered nearly 8,000 linear meters of documents created by the Guatemalan National Police in a series of rat- and cockroach-infested abandoned buildings. The documents included hundreds of thousands of identification cards, vehicle license plates, photographs, and police logs. More importantly, they included loose files on kidnappings, murders, and assassinations created during nearly four decades of intense civil conflict beginning in the 1960s. The government and police had long denied the existence of this National Police archive, particularly during truth commission investigations in the 1990s.

After this discovery, the Human Rights Ombudsman office assumed custody of the Archive under an order issued by the nation’s Civil Court. In 2009, responsibility for the AHPN was transferred to the Ministry of Culture where it is under the direction of the Archivo General de Centroamérica (AGCA), Guatemala’s national archive. With over 80 million pages of documents, the AHPN represents the largest single repository of documents ever made available to human rights investigators.

Following years of painstaking work to clean, identify, classify, organize, describe and digitize the documents, in 2009 the AHPN opened a professionally-staffed public reading room to provide access to the digitized documents for anyone who could visit the Archive in person. Staff continue to digitize around the clock and, as of March 2012, they had completed scanning of over 12.5 million documents, predominantly those from the most intense years of conflict, 1975-1985.

In December 2011, the AHPN and UT Austin took the bold and unprecedented step of putting the entirety of the digitized collection online with unfettered universal access. At ahpn.lib.utexas.edu, created at UT through a campus-wide partnership, users can now search or browse the entire contents of the digital archive. In this way, an important part of the nation’s historical patrimony has been preserved and opened up for all citizens to consult as they work to discover and make sense of their own history.

In addition to detailing the background on the AHPN itself, this presentation will cover the following areas:

• Collaborative nature of the project
• Technologies used for the digital archive
• Process used to build the web presence
• Challenges in the areas of design, development, and the project itself
• Lessons learned


digital archives

Full Text: Slideshow