From Dust to Digital: millions of images from the world’s endangered archives made available

Digitising Buddhist manuscripts held in remote temples in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. Endangered Archives Programme. Photography © Dr Karma Phuntsho

Over four million images from endangered archives all over the world are now available online as the Endangered Archives Programme, a pioneering initiative from the British Library supported by the Arcadia Fund, reaches its 10th birthday and publishes a new open access title From Dust to Digital: Ten Years of the Endangered Archives Programme.

Since it was established in 2004 the Programme has funded 246 projects in 78 countries worldwide, helping to preserve archives that are at risk of being destroyed, neglected or are physically deteriorating and making them freely accessible to the rest of the world through the Programme’s website.

The work over the last ten years has enabled communities all over the world where resources and opportunities to preserve archives are most limited to locate, preserve and digitise collections, providing local institutions and the British Library with digital copies. The material gathered so far includes rock inscriptions, manuscripts, archival records, newspapers, photographs and sound archives and continues to grow every day.

Notable projects described in From Dust to Digital include an ongoing localised effort to archive Islamic manuscripts in Djenné, a sister town of Timbuktu in Mali, even during periods of civil unrest in the area. The cultural and intellectual heritage of Mali is extremely rich and through local contributions to the Djenné public library – 4,000 manuscripts so far – over 200,000 pages have been digitised and will be made available online in the coming years.

Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library, commented on the 10 year anniversary of the Endangered Archives Programme: “At a time when wars and civil emergencies too frequently put archives and library collections at risk, the work the Library does to support fellow institutions around the world during and after conflicts is becoming more urgent than ever. In the Library’s new vision, Living Knowledge, we stress the importance of our work in this field with our partners, and are therefore delighted to mark 10 years of the Endangered Archives Programme, which we run with the generous support of the Arcadia Fund, and to celebrate the vital work happening in almost 80 countries.”

Other important projects include the digitisation of medieval manuscripts, some dating back to the 12th century, and Palestinian newspapers held in the Al-Aqsa Mosque library in East Jerusalem, as well as rock inscriptions in the mountain ranges of Libya, a crucial source of the individual and social memory of the communities that have been living in the area over the last two millennia.

Dr Maja Kominko, Cultural Grants Manager at the Arcadia Fund and editor of From Dust to Digital, says: “Documents, manuscripts, photographs and recordings that capture much of the world’s memory are preserved in vulnerable and often inaccessible collections around the globe. If they perish part of history is irrevocably lost. The articles collected in the From Dust to Digital volume showcase the interest, the historical significance and research potential of the digitised collections. We hope that this publication will open new debates and encourage scholars to explore the archives preserved by the Endangered Archives Programme.”

From Dust to Digital: Ten Years of the Endangered Archives Programme is published by Open Book Publishers and includes first-hand accounts of 19 projects from all over the world which have been supported since the Programme’s inception 10 years ago.

Over four million images are already available online via the Endangered Archives Programme website and you can follow the project’s progress on the Endangered Archives blog.


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Notes to Editors

Like all Open Book publications, From Dust to Digital can be read for free online.

It is also available in inexpensive e-book, paperback and hardback editions. You can read or order it here.

This work as a whole is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial Non-derivative 4.0 International license (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0). The individual chapters are each licenced under more permissive Creative Commons licences, usually a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license (CC BY 4.0).

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-78374-062-8 £29.95

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-78374-063-5 £44.95

Digital (PDF) ISBN: 978-1-78374-064-2 £5.95

Digital (epub) ISBN: 978-1-78374-065-9 £5.95

Digital (mobi) ISBN: 978-1-78374-066-6 £5.95


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The Endandered Archives Programme's aim is to contribute to the preservation of archival material that is in danger of destruction, neglect or physical deterioration world-wide. This is achieved principally through the award of grants in an annual competition. The grants provide funding to enable successful applicants to locate relevant endangered archival collections, to arrange their transfer to a suitable local archival home where possible, to create digital copies of the material and to deposit the copies with local institutions and the British Library.

Arcadia is the charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin. Since its inception in 2001, Arcadia has awarded grants in excess of $326 million.  Arcadia works to protect endangered culture and nature. For more information please see

Open Book Publishers is a non-profit, Open Access publisher based in Cambridge (UK) and run by scholars who are committed to making high-quality research freely available to readers around the world. We publish Open Access monographs and textbooks in the Humanities and Social Sciences, offering the academic excellence of a traditional press with the speed, convenience and accessibility of digital publishing.

All our books are available to read for free online. To date we have over 50 books in print, more than 12,000 visits per month and readers from 188 countries across the globe. To find out more, visit us at:

The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world's greatest research libraries. It provides world class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world's largest and most comprehensive research collection. The Library's collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation and includes books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, photographs, newspapers and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages. Up to 10 million people visit the British Library website - - every year where they can view up to 4 million digitised collection items and over 40 million pages.