From Abstraction to Action: Safeguarding Oral Traditions Using Digital Libraries

By Karim Tharani.

Published by The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Digital technologies are evolving and new ways of managing, accessing and disseminating information are continuously emerging. Ethnocultural communities with rich intangible cultural heritage need not be threatened by these developments. Although the rules governing the access of sacred traditions and knowledge in many ethnocultural communities are intricate, digital technologies can be adapted and leveraged to address local needs and constraints. Digital libraries, for example, have the potential to enhance the existing processes of safeguarding oral traditions within non-Western communities in ways that may not have been possible in the past. Unfortunately digital libraries, particularly in the West, have been stigmatized as tools for unrestricted access transcending space and time. This is a fundamental barrier for leaders of non-Western communities wishing to digitally safeguard their heritage. On one hand there may be desire in these communities to build digital libraries to manage and preserve culturally sensitive materials, but on the other hand, due to the very nature of some of these materials, the access to these digital collections cannot be left unrestricted.

Drawing from the implementation of a digital library of gināns, a sacred oral tradition of the Ismaili Muslims of South Asia, this paper showcases how ethnocultural and religious communities can utilize digital library technology to safeguard sacred oral traditions based on their local contexts. The initial part of the paper proposes a conceptual design for a digital library of gināns using the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR) model and the Dublin Core (DC) metadata standard. Using this conceptual model as the basis, the latter part of the article demonstrates the process of building a digital library using the Greenstone digital library software.

Keywords: Gināns, Digital Library, Sacred Oral Traditions, Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH), Digital Technologies, Ethnocultural Communities, Ismaili Muslims, FRBR, Greenstone Digital Library Software, The Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS)

The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society, Volume 1, Issue 2, pp.33-46. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.048MB).

Karim Tharani

Librarian, University Library, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada

Karim Tharani is a Liaison Librarian for Religion and Culture as well as an Information Technology Librarian at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon Canada. Tharani has a Bachelor of Science degree in Management and Systems Science from the Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada. Tharani obtained his Master of Library and Information Studies (MLIS) degree from the University of British Columbia. Prior to joining the University Library, Tharani worked as an Information Technology Consultant at IBM Canada Ltd.