The Ara Irititja Approach

Ara Irititja is a community-based, multimedia digital archive, designed at the request of Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara (Anangu) communities. The project has conscientiously followed its Anangu brief — ‘preserve and give us access to our cultural history’.

Unlike many contemporary knowledge bases, the design of the original Ara Irititja software was media driven. At the beginning of the project, we had many thousand of photographs of various formats, hundreds of hours of film and sound, documents, books, magazines, diaries and artworks (both 2D and 3D). One of the earliest challenges was to locate archaic machines to operate the historic sound and film footage in order to begin the digitisation process. The software engineer’s instructions were complex: develop a database that handles different media, incorporates cultural restrictions, and is easy to use for an audience with limited literacy and often, failing eyesight.

The interface and database storage structure reflect the storage structure of the separate materials themselves. In effect it is a virtual museum with a section representing each of the separate media types. As with archival storage folders and cabinets of the physical collection, the database storage is divided into five sections – Photos, Documents, Movies, Sounds and Objects.

This approach facilitates cross-referencing between the items in the physical and virtual collections. It also enables the user-friendly interface to present the collection within a simple numerical catalogue framework and thus simplifies both the research and data entry processes. Ara Irititja project demonstrates a successful, creative use of information and communication technology.