Announcing the Digital Central Asian Archaeology Collection (DCAA)

By Gabriel McKee

The ISAW Library is proud to announce the launch of a new digital library initiative. The Digital Central Asian Archaeology (DCAA) collection contains 977 downloadable publications on the history and archaeology of Central Asia.

The DCAA is a collection in the Ancient World Digital Library (AWDL), an umbrella project of the ISAW Library. AWDL’s mission is to identify, collect, curate, and provide access to a broad range of scholarly materials relevant to the study of the ancient world. The DCAA originated in the pioneering work of the SilkRoDE Digital Library Project, organized by Sebastian Stride, Bernardo Rondelli, and Philipp Reichmuth (now at SIRIS Academic) between 2004 and 2005 as a joint project of the International Institute of Central Asian Studies and the Italo-Uzbek Archaeological Mission in the Middle Zerafshan Valley. In 2006-07, with funding from the Institute Français d’Études sur l’Asie Centrale (IFEAC), the Institute of Archaeology of the Uzbek Academy of Sciences (O’zRFA ATI), the UNESCO Tashkent Field Office, and several international excavation teams, the project began digitizing books, journals, and unpublished excavation notes from the collections of the O’zRFA ATI and the IFEAC. Many of these publications were scarce: some were published in editions of as few as 50 copies, and only distributed within the Soviet Union.

The resulting library contained materials of high research value, but the project lacked a means of distributing the files. An online portal to the content was created with the title Archaeological Information System of Central Asia (AISCA), but the website failed to secure ongoing funding and was taken offline. The content was distributed informally among individual scholars as a small shadow library, but the SilkRoDE team still sought an institutional partner to provide a permanent, stable home for this material.

The ISAW Library learned about this digital collection in 2015, and began devising a plan to provide an online interface and perpetual hosting for the material. The aims of the DCAA are simple: to preserve scholarly material about Central Asian history and archaeology and to make it as easily discoverable and as widely accessible as possible.

The DCAA mission was complicated by the complexities of determining and clearing copyright for Soviet publications, often from authors for whom we had little biographical information and the successors to publishing entities that no longer exist. Copyright clearance was outside the scope of the initial SilkRoDE digitization project, which focused its efforts on digitization, and so the ISAW Library team first needed to determine what material we had the legal right to make available under US copyright law. Working with NYU’s Scholarly Communications Librarian, April Hathcock, we devised a system for identifying public domain material, “copyright orphans,” and materials for which copyright holders could be identified and contacted. We then assembled a team that worked to clear rights with authors and publishers in Russia, Uzbekistan, and other former Soviet countries, which involved designing a due diligence protocol and managing correspondence in English and Russian (for our rights-clearing process, follow this link; for more about copyright and fair use at NYU, please follow this link). We will be giving a presentation (already available online) on our due diligence procedures at the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) conference in Cleveland next month.

The DCAA team also developed innovative solutions for the technical challenges associated with preserving and making this material accessible online. The DCAA has been developed in such a way that discovery and access of the materials could be handled entirely within ISAW Library, while taking advantage of the digital resources available from NYU and NYU Libraries. For access and discovery, we are using the free and open-source web-publishing platform Omeka, deployed using the NYU Division of Libraries’ institutional hosting service. This enables us (and anyone else at NYU) to launch a complex website without incurring additional expenses for web design or hosting. For preservation, we are drawing on existing institutional digital infrastructure by storing the materials in NYU’s digital repository (known as the Faculty Digital Archive), in order to create a durable online presence for the nearly 1,000 items in the DCAA. One advantage of this technical solution is that it is extensible and scalable, that is, we can use the same basic platform and workflows for similar projects involving small, focused collections. In fact, we are already underway, with the development of a similar collection of materials related to the South Caucasus (the Digital South Caucasus Collection).

The first batch of items in the DCAA were published late last year as a beta launch of the library. As a result many of the works in the DCAA, since NYU’s FDA is indexed by Google, are easily discoverable online. The next phase of the project will entail increasing the discoverability within and between items in the collection and adding more scholarship to this digital library. If you are a scholar or publisher who controls the copyright to scholarship on Central Asian art, archaeology, or history and would like to contribute that scholarship to the DCAA, please let us know via this form!