Digital preservation of historical botanical collections at East African Herbarium (EA) Library, National Museums of Kenya (EAP923)

Aims and objectives

The East African (EA) Herbarium library houses rare and unique historical botanical collections in the form of slides, microfilm, photographs, card index and illustrations that were collected in pre-colonial and during colonial times. These priceless heritage collections are endangered due to the poor storage conditions and are in need of digitisation to enhance access by researchers and scholars all over the world. These collections, with no duplicates, have physically deteriorated over the years and are on the verge of decay with some of them having already been lost. There are signs of physical deterioration from the original forms due to exposure to direct sunlight, humidity and poor storage facilities. Some photos and slides were completely damaged when there was a serious leakage of water into the library due to heavy rainfall and flooding that occurred in the year 1997/1998. Insect infestation and fading on the photos and cards is evident as these collections were not printed on archival papers. Photographs and microfilms are stored in ordinary envelops and therefore exposed to chemical changes due to direct contact with the papers.

The materials proposed for digitisation represent a wealth of well documented history about East African vegetation, iconic ecosystems, species and landscapes in their pristine form. They hold detailed information that scholars from all over the world visit EA library to study as they give a well documented botanical trend of events that have occurred in Eastern Africa. The materials are irreplaceable if lost and form a valuable reference for scholars who need to analyze and compare the current status of the environment, with the past before the onset of anthropogenic activities, such as habitat loss and the effect of climate change. The digitisation of this material will ensure that this material is preserved and made available online for future research to people around the world. The increased visibility of open access will allow the collection to be further analysed and used by researchers unable to travel to Kenya and view the collection directly.

Priority will be given to digitising the biological collections, especially the specimen label data; slides and illustrations of ecosystems plants; cards with details of local names and economic uses of plants; photographs taken by botanists such as Peter Greenway and Jan Gillet depicting relatively undisturbed landscapes in Kenya and Tanzania from the 1930s-1960s, such as Ngorongoro crater, Usambara Mountains, Mt. Meru, and Maasai Mara, and the Kenyan Coast. Many of these photographs and slides can be used to compare and contrast the environmental degradation over time.

Related projects