I recently learned from Dr. Juan Álvaro Echeverri of a new digital archive, the Archivo de la Lenguas Indígenas de la Amazonia (ARDILIA), which is based at the Leticia campus of the Universidad Nacional de Colombia. Dr. Echeverri, who is one of the leaders of this new initiative, is a renowned Colombian anthropologist and linguist who has worked with the People of the Center (especially Witotoan and Boran groups), and other Amazonian peoples of the region. The archive already boast an extensive collection of Murui , and Dr. Echeverri informs me that collections for Tikuna and Miraña are in the process of being added.
One of the strengths of ARDILIA is the nature of its digital institutional support, as Dr. Echeverri observes:
En efecto, una de las limitaciones de cualquier archivo de lenguas es poder disponer de una infraestructura digital que garantice permanencia y mantenimiento de los datos. Esto solo es posible con una infraestructura institucional. Me tomó varios meses convencer a la Universidad Nacional de alojar este proyecto en su Repositorio Institucional, que garantiza perdurabilidad.
And indeed, the issue of institutional infrastructural support is one of the very first things that I wonder about when I hear about a new language archive project, so it is very encouraging to see that ARDILIA has this potential problem dealt with.
The Universidad Nacional de Colombia (UNAL) uses DSpace as its institutional repository, and at this stage, the organization and metadata that ARDILIA exhibits seems to reflect the possibilities that UNAL/DSpace repository offers. I think this reflects one of the real advantages of adopting the UNAL/DSpace repository for ARDILIA’s digital infrastructure solution: the work on designing the infrastructure and interface has already been done (and crucially, will be maintained by) someone else. As a result, it was not necessary to invest significant quantities of time and money in developing database back end, storage solution, and interface. I know that some other digital language archives have sunk quite a bit of money, time, and labor into these things, with results that have not always been entirely satisfactory. I imagine that if the organizers of ARDILIA had had to do the same, this would have constituted a grave challenge to launching the archive. As such, relying on stable and maintained institutional digital repositories like UNAL’s seems like a real boon to launching regional digital language archives like ARDILIA.
I wonder if as ARDILIA grows, the team behind ARDILIA might find that structure that DSpace imposes on file organization, metadata, and search functions, in comparison to a system one can design oneself, somewhat constraining. The tradeoff seems totally worth it to me, though, and I think it will probably be very instructive and useful for others who may be inspired by ARDILIA to follow a similiar infrastructural route to see how the ARDILIA team navigates these issues.
At any rate, ARDILIA’s launch is very exciting, and I look forward to hearing about its continued growth.