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The Open GLAM Survey: Exploring the Underrepresentation of African Institutions

For Decades, the Open GLAM (Gallery, Library, Archive, Museum) movement has been a strong advocate for introducing open access to cultural heritage Institutions. This movement is centered on promoting accessible knowledge for all.

In early 2018, Douglas McCarthy and Dr. Andrea Wallace decided to conduct an Open GLAM survey. This survey aimed to uncover the true global picture of Open GLAM among Institutions across the world. They created a spreadsheet and updated GLAM  institutions and CHIs (Cultural Heritage Institutions) across the world that were open (adopted open access and open licenses)

Douglas McCarthy and Dr. Andrea Wallace
Dr. Andreas Wallace and Douglas McCarthy at Creative Commons Global Summit 2019. Photo by Sabastiaan ter Burg, CC BY 4.0

This list created by Douglas and Andrea included basic information such as the name of the institution, its country and what open license they were using.

Four Years of the Open GLAM Survey

Over the course of four years, the Survey saw a total volume of surveyed open data that exceeds 80,000,00 digital objects. These volumes links to open access collections in over 1,600 institutions from 56 different countries. It has now become a go-to reference for researchers, policy makers and practitioners working in copyright and digital cultural heritage collections.

Now, here’s the interesting part. Among the 1,600 institutions across 56 different countries, there is only one Institution from Africa that had opened up their collection. A gallery, Doual’art located in Cameroon. Doual’art is a contemporary art center and an experimental laboratory for new urban practices in African cities. They released about 3,927 volume of open data using the Wikimedia Commons under the Creative Commons license (CC-BY-SA)

Global Instance of Open Map

Global Instance of Open Map

This now begs the question, Why are African Institutions not invested in the open Movement? 

The Open GLAM movement have the potential to democratize access to cultural heritage. These efforts are consistent with the principles of inclusivity, education, and preservation. They promote a better understanding of diverse cultures. While many institutions around the world have embraced this Open GLAM initiative, the lack of representation of African counterparts raises serious concerns.

These disparities could be as a result of some of these issues:

  • The digital divide: In Africa, limited access to technology and the internet contributes to the underrepresentation. Many institutions lack the necessary infrastructure to engage in digital initiatives effectively.
  • Constraints on Resources: Museums, libraries, and archives in Africa frequently face financial constraints. These constraints limit their ability to allocate resources to digitization and open access efforts.
  • Priorities and Awareness. Despite the long-term benefits of open access, institutions may prioritize urgent issues like preservation and basic infrastructure over participation in global surveys in some cases.
  • Building Capacity. A lack of training and awareness about the potential benefits of open access may deter African institutions from participating.

Addressing the Gap

Despite these deterring challenges, it is very important for these gaps to be addressed. This way, African GLAM and Cultural Heritage Institutions would not be left behind in the Open movement.

In addressing these gaps, we have to understand that the true strength of the Open GLAM movement comes from representing a diverse range of cultures and histories. The Important component and diversity of the African ancestry should not be overlooked. The African institutions can provide new perspectives on challenges, innovations, and approaches that may differ from those found in other regions. African GLAM Institution’s participation in open access initiatives gives them the ability to preserve and share their cultural heritage on a global scale. This will foster a sense of pride in these institutions who have specialized expertise and local knowledge to enrich global collaborative efforts within the Open GLAM community.

What can be done moving foward?

Opening collections to the public via open licenses is a powerful way for African GLAM and cultural heritage institutions to share their treasures with the world. They could do this while respecting intellectual property rights and cultural sensitivities. These are some of the ways African Institutions can Open up their collections

  1. Understand Open Access and Open Licensing. Ensure that the institution’s leadership and stakeholders understand the meaning of open licenses. And how they protect the institution and the public’s right to access and reuse these contents.
  2. Examine and Prepare Collections. Determine which parts of the collection can be made open access. Items that are not protected by copyright, items owned by the institution, or obtained from rights holders should be prioritized.
  3. Select an Open License. Choose an open license appropriate for your collection. The Creative Commons licenses are popular because they provide variety of options for defining how others can use your content. The most permissive licenses (for example, CC BY) allow others to reuse, adapt, and redistribute your content with proper attribution. There are also more restrictive licenses (for example, CC BY-NC-SA) restricting specific uses.
  4. Document and digitize. Digitize the items from your collection that you’ve chosen, making sure they’re of high quality and properly documented. Users rely on accurate metadata to find, understand, and attribute content correctly.
  5. Create a User-Friendly Platform. Create or update an easy-to-use online platform where users can browse and search your open access collection. Make sure the platform clearly communicates the open license associated with each item and how users should attribute the content.
  6.  Train and Educate Staff. Staff members should receive training on open license usage and open access principles. Make sure they are aware of the significance of precise metadata, proper attribution, and respecting cultural and privacy considerations.
  7. Promote contributions and teamwork. Allowing users to share relevant materials, provide translations, transcriptions, or annotations to your collection is something to take into consideration. Collaboration can improve your collection and draw in more people.

You can read more on Free Knowledge Africa’s advocacy on Open GLAM in Plateau State.


Using open licenses to open up collections for open access aligns with the principles of cultural heritage preservation and accessibility. African GLAM and cultural heritage institutions can play a critical role in sharing their cultural wealth. This allows these institutions contribute to the global open knowledge movement and highlight the richness and diversity of African cultural heritage.

It would really be amazing to see other African GLAM and Cultural Heritage Institutions follow the path of Doual’art, the gallery in Cameroon and release parts of their collections using Open licenses.

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