Assam launches digitisation project of Assamese literary treasures

Project 'Digitising Asom' helps to preserve the entire collection of rare books (without copyright restrictions) and journals through digitisation, an official said

May 12, 2023 01:33 pm | Updated 01:33 pm IST - Guwahati

A screenshot of the ‘Digitising Asom’ web portal which hosts digitised pages of old newspapers and literary classics.

A screenshot of the ‘Digitising Asom’ web portal which hosts digitised pages of old newspapers and literary classics.

Frayed yellow pages of rare Assamese books and journals, dating back to the 19th century, are getting a new lease of life with nearly three lakh pages digitised so far as part of a project initiated by a trust to preserve the literary treasure trove for future.

Assam's first newspaper Orunodoi and literary classics like Banhi, Abahan and Ramdhenu are among 161 journals, which have already been uploaded on a portal.

Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who formally launched the portal on May 11, said the project would go a long way in enriching Assamese literature.

Noted Assamese litterateur late Nanda Talukdar had a huge collection of rare journals and books in his library, which was opened to the public after his death.

The maintenance of the literary treasure trove became a concern and there is a need to preserve these documents scientifically, Nanda Talukdar Foundation secretary Mrinal Talukdar told PTI.

"The primary objective of the project 'Digitising Asom' is to preserve the entire collection of rare books (without copyright restrictions) and journals through digitisation," he said.

Subsequently, the plan was to make it a community-driven project with journals and books dating back to the period between 1813 and 1970 to be digitised, Mr. Talukdar said, adding that the Assam Jatiya Bidyalaya Education and Socio-economic Trust came forward to support the project for the next ten years.

"As a first part of the project, we have completed digitising the journal section, covering the period between 1840-1970, with 161 journals, including Assam's first newspaper Orunodoi, published in the magazine format, and literary classics like Banhi, Abahan and Ramdhenu," he said.

The 21st century is the digital era, and the foundation has taken a "commendable step to preserve the gems of Assamese literature, including those from the 19th century, which is considered a period of Assamese literary renaissance", Mr. Sarma said.

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He lauded the foundation for accessing the portal for free and hoped all would come forward with rare books and journals in their possession so that they can be uploaded on the site.

The Chief Minister has also assured the foundation of all help so that the authorities of the entity can continue with the project, and said it is "a great help to all who are keen to study, research or simply read the rare journals and books of yesteryears".

Mr. Talukdar pointed out that the aim of the project primarily was to "digitise every possible rare Assamese book and journal, irrespective of their global location, and make it available for posterity which will help in preserving our language and literature by using technology".

"We decided to transform the initiative into a community project where we are merely the initiator. Anyone from anywhere can participate and contribute to the project. We are overwhelmed with the support of many individuals, college and university libraries joining hands," he said.

Growing operations

The project was initiated back in 2003 when flatbed scanners and CDs were just emerging in the market.

"It was a laborious task with each page taking 7 to 10 minutes for scanning. Moreover, CDs were expensive and had limited storage capacity as compared to present-day devices like pen drives, memory cards, or hard disks," he said.

The project, unfortunately, had to be discontinued after 2005 due to a lack of infrastructure and the absence of servers with sufficient storage capacity, he said.

"We restarted the project in 2021, almost 17-18 years later, with a new team of volunteers. Initially, we had only one machine, and now we are gradually expanding our operations," Talukdar said.

Saving materials for posterity

Explaining the execution of the project, he said it comprises three distinct segments with the first and most crucial part involving physical scanning of each page.

The second one is the automation and integration of the scanned pieces, allowing users to log in and access any journal seamlessly, he said, adding that this was developed by an Assam-based IT company 'Bohniman Systems'.

"The most critical aspect of this project is preserving the scanned material for posterity, and we are uploading the books and journals on a cloud server, ensuring that they will be available for many years to come," he said.

Assam Jatiya Bidyalaya Educational and Socio-economic Trust's secretary Narayan Sarma said the task of “preserving books for future generations is indeed a work that deserves praise”.

"The content can be accessed from all over the world and so we came forward to support it for the next ten years," he said.

"This, however, does not mean that we will stop after ten years as we are always ready to support initiatives to enrich Assamese language and literature," he added.

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