Building inclusivity into our digitization projects- a case study of digital collections in Mexico

paper, specified "short paper"
  1. 1. Isabel Galina Russell

    Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) (National Autonomous University of Mexico)

  2. 2. Ernesto Priani Saisó

    Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) (National Autonomous University of Mexico)

Work text
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For several decades now there has been an emphasis on the importance of digitizing library collections, in particular bibliographic heritage materials. Although they are considered fundamentally useful and good for society in general, digitization projects are not neutral and they create new digital paradigms of our cultural memory

(Thylstrup 2018)

As part of our work for Oceanic Exchanges

See Oceanic Exchanges- Tracing Global Information Networks in Historical Newspaper Repositories, 1840-1914:

, we documented the creation of the HNDM, Mexico’s national digital newspaper library. Using document analysis and interviews, we studied the complex interplay of technical, political and administrative decisions and the effect these have had on the resulting digital collection, its scope and usefulness

(Galina Russell y Priani Saisó 2021; Galina Russell et al. 2020)
. In particular, we noted that decisions regarding what should be digitized, and how it should be digitized (and then processed and presented), were not properly documented. This lack of context hampered our ability as researchers to properly interpret the results we were obtaining from text mining techniques. We found evidence that suggests that decisions regarding what was being digitized and how it would be presented were based mainly on previous decisions and were practical in nature, such as digitizing the microfilmed collection, rather than a critical inquiry of what this new digital collection would represent.

It was this that led us to develop a new research project which seeks to critically analyze digitization projects in Mexico, as we think that many of them have not conscientiously questioned broader aspects beyond digitization, such as the origins of the collections themselves, the selection process for digitizing and how to (re)present the object digitally. In doing so, they simply transfer the existing biases and under and over representations of particular materials, to the new digital collections. Additionally, the physical artefact is simply reproduced in a digital format without providing access to the digital object as such, which in the case of textual collections, like the HNDM, would be the OCR text files.

The aim of this project is to critically examine how digitization projects have contemplated (if at all) these issues, and to propose new angles to thinking about digitization projects that can be more inclusive in representing traditionally marginalized populations, with a vision that goes beyond just visually representing the physical artefact and includes a digital representation that can be examined and used by computational methods.

Initial findings

Approaching digitization projects from this perspective is relatively new, and as such, we have worked on identifying relevant studies. There has been work done using critical race theory, feminist studies and postcolonial approximations to cultural digital collections in general, but we have found less work related to libraries and in particular digitization projects. Honma

addresses issues related to race and LIS from a US perspective. Work has been done on post-colonial archives

(Gauthereau 2018; Becerra-Liche 2017)
, but we are particularly interested in digitization of library collections. There is also important work regarding libraries lack of neutrality

(Galván 2015; Matienzo 2015; De Jesus 2014; Beatty 2014; Bourg 2015)
. This work is relevant for our analysis but it is based in a different national context from ours in Mexico.

Latin America has a strong background in fields such as anthropology, sociology and political science, that examine the inequalities and exclusion which result from colonialism and post-colonialism, in particular related to the indigenous populations. Feminist studies have also addressed this in relation to the patriarchal system, gender violence and discrimination. In relation to LIS there is some work, in particular related to Open Access movement

(Alperin, Fischman, y Marin 2015)
and work related to information and indigenous populations in Mexico

(Ramírez Velázquez y Figueroa Alcántara 2021)
so far we have not identified work regarding digitization and libraries within this framework.

Future steps
This research project is currently in development. So far, we have established that there is indeed little work in this area, and we are proposing a particular framework from which to approach the next part of our work. We are now working on compiling a list of digitization projects in Mexico that have worked with cultural heritage textual materials. From here we shall select four case studies for in-depth work related to how the digitizing project was undertaken. We are also planning a workshop to receive further input from practitioners regarding these issues. Our final aim is to contribute towards creating more inclusive digitization projects.


Alperin, Juan Pablo, Gustavo Fischman, y Anabel Marin, eds. (2015).
Hecho en Latinoamérica: acceso abierto, revistas académicas e innovaciones regionales
. Primera edición en español. Brazil: FLACSO Brasil.

Beatty, Joshua. (2014). Locating Information Literacy within Institutional Oppression – In the Library with the Lead Pipe.

Becerra-Liche, Sofía. (2017) Participatory and Post-Custodial Archives as Community Practice,
Educause Review
, 90-91.

Bourg, Chris. (2015). Never Neutral: Libraries, Technology, and Inclusion.
Feral Librarian

De Jesus, Nina. (2014). Locating the Library in Institutional Oppression – In the Library with the Lead Pipe.

Galina Russell, Isabel, y Ernesto Priani Saisó. (2021). Políticas de digitalización para la investigación. El caso de la HNDM y el proyecto Oceanic Exchanges, in
El estante digital
, 125-41. Santiago de Querétaro: Fondo Editorial de la Universidad Autónoma de Querétaro.

Galina Russell, Isabel, Laura Martínez Domínguez, Miriam Peña Pimentel, Ernesto Priani Saisó, y Rocío Castellanos Rueda. (2020). El uso de periódicos digitalizados como fuente para trabajos de investigación.
Relaciones Estudios de Historia y Sociedad
43 (163).

Galván, Angela. (2015). Soliciting Performance, Hiding Bias: Whiteness and Librarianship – In the Library with the Lead Pipe,
In The Library With The Lead Pipe

Gauthereau, Lorena. (2018). Post-Custodial Archives and Minority Collections.
Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage Blog
(blog). 7 de agosto de 2018.

Honma, Todd. 2005. Trippin’ Over the Color Line: The Invisibility of Race in Library and Information Studies.
InterActions: UCLA Journal of Education and Information Studies
1 (2).

Matienzo, Mark A. 2015. To Hell With Good Intentions: Linked Data, Community, and the Power to Name. Available at

Ramírez Velázquez, César Augusto, y Hugo Alberto Figueroa Alcántara, eds. (2021).
La importancia de la información en las culturas originarias
. eSchola. Ciudad de México: FFyL, UNAM.

Thylstrup, Nanna Bonde. (2018).
The politics of mass digitization
. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

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Conference Info

In review

ADHO - 2022
"Responding to Asian Diversity"

Tokyo, Japan

July 25, 2022 - July 29, 2022

361 works by 945 authors indexed

Held in Tokyo and remote (hybrid) on account of COVID-19

Conference website:

Contributors: Scott B. Weingart, James Cummings

Series: ADHO (16)

Organizers: ADHO