Japan’s CEDACH is on the job for digital preservation


The Great East Japan Earthquake on 11 March 2011 caused tremendous damage to various historical documents and cultural heritage. In the Press Release 171 on 24 November 2011, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology stated that at least 725 registered cultural assets were damaged, including 5 national treasures, 159 important government-designated cultural properties and 90 historical sites (http://www.mext.go.jp/a_menu/saigaijohou/). Currently, the restoration projects are still only halfway implemented. Among these projects, the Consortium for the Eathquake-Damaged Cultural Heritage (CEDACH) is developing a social network that bridges the following three groups: the first consists of local cultural resource management (CRM) officers, researchers, NPOs (non-profit organizations) and citizens who are directly engaged in the restoration of damaged cultural properties. The second group involves researchers and CRM officers who were sent from other regions for extending help. The third comprises remote researchers including historians, archaeologist, specialist of cultural information studies, as well as other members of the public willing to provide support despite their difficulty to stay in the disaster-hit area. CEDACH decided to make use of web-based services to develop an open and low-cost social infrastructure that facilitated the collaboration among these three groups; in the process of recognizing local needs, it anticipated that a digital heritage inventory should be implemented for handling a large-scale database of disaster-damaged cultural heritage, with the help of advanced information and communication technologies (ICT) and manpower of self-motivated volunteers. CEDACH contribution to the development of a digital inventory for disaster-damaged heritage management rests upon three projects:

  • 1) CEDACH GIS, an attempt to develop a web-based heritage site database system for the disaster area;
  • 2) Digital restoration of the book catalogue from a tsunami-devastated research library;
  • 3) CEDACHeLi, an e-Learning curriculum for information processing in rescue projects of disaster-damaged cultural heritage.
The interface of the CEDACH GIS

The interface of the CEDACH GIS

CEDACH GIS, a geospatial information system, worked integrating various sorts of information into a unified database with geospatial information in order to understand where, what and how the cultural properties were present; it dealt with two categories of geospatial data: base map sources and survey data. GIS map sources included topography, aerial and satellite imageries captured before and after the tsunami, intensity distribution of the earthquake and locations and attributes of the cultural heritage. Since job required a large amount of collaborative manpower, CEDACH GIS employed a web-based working platform and open data source so that people could easily participate in the work. Sites were mapped by means of Google Fusion Tables and Google Maps and were then cross-checked with reference to the ready-made online digital maps provided by the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan. CEDACH GIS faced difficulties when it looked in to the needs of practical applications of the local CRM projects in the disaster area. Local CRM officers tended to conduct their surveys with their customary conventional manner and so did the local governments; that led to a stagnation of CEDACH GIS development. The online-based collaboration experience, anyway, worked well for the second project of CEDACH, devoted to the digital restoration of the Ishinomaki Culture Center library catalogue.

Book catalogue cards being digitally photographed

Book catalogue cards being digitally photographed

Ishinomaki Center contained municipal history series, exhibition catalogues, art books excavation reports and ethnographic reports. The book inventory was managed with paper-based cards. Most of the books were waterlogged and contaminated, only 1500 books were undamaged. 19000 pieces of book catalogue cards were left mostly intact and it turned out that the cards were the only source for restoring the original inventory when municipalities, museums, universities and other institutions offered to donate the same books. The restoration was unfortunately beyond the capacity of the local government in terms of technology, manpower and experience. CEDACH organized then a project team with self-motivated volunteers to digitize and archive the book catalogue cards. The workflow began with photographing the cards with a digital camera. The photographs were processed and then uploaded to an online photo album service. The bibliographic information were input to a table, based on reading individual cards in the photographs. Web-based spreadsheets in Google Drive were used for this work.

The GIS and book catalogue projects showed the need for a certain level of ICT skills for those who participated in the digital heritage inventory development. Such skills are usually acquired through on-the-job training, but it was thought that self-learning could also be effective in developing workers’ knowledge and skills. From these considerations budded the third CEDACH project, the CEDACHeLi, aimed at developing an e-Learning system to provide an opportunity to acquire knowledge, technical skills and practical tips on information processing during the rescue operations of disaster-damaged cultural heritage. CEDACHeLi (CEDACH e-Learning for information processing) first curriculum targeted the largest groups of workers who handled data, i.e. the primary data collectors and secondary data compilers who input data to the database. It was assumed that the majority of workers in these cases had limited ICT knowledge and skills.

CEDACH now plans to develop curricula for system engineers, engaged in developing and maintaining the heritage inventory systems, and project managers, engaged in making decisions and supervising data builders including data collectors, data compilers and engineers.

Y. Kondo, T. Uozu, Y. Seino, T. Ako, Y. Goda, Y. Fujimoto and H. Yamaguchi are scholars and researchers today working at disseminating the results of CEDACH projects; they moreover aims at investigating methods for a sustainable development of the disaster-prone Japanese archipelago and for a global disaster risk reduction. They want to encourage further discussion on this issue with international colleagues.

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