Ansie van der Westhuizen is Non-commercial Digital Developer (Institutional Repository) and Anri van der Westhuizen is Manager of Archives. They both work at the University of South Africa (Unisa).

The Unisa Institutional Repository (UnisaIR) was launched in May 2009.  Challenges and barriers were the order of the day. During a conference in Senegal, Nkosi (2008) rightfully called these barriers by name: mistrust, resistance and lack of skills. At present the UnisaIR is still operating as a “traditional institutional repository”. However, it became and remains a flagship service offered by the Unisa Library and Information Services and is continuously breaking down barriers.

Building trust does not happen overnight, but over the years the UnisaIR has gained credibility. Academic staff and graduates trust the UnisaIR to curate and preserve their intellectual outputs of almost 25 000 items in its collections.

Resistance and lack of skills are addressed through marketing and regular group training sessions.

The UnisaIR team is continuously in search of tools and harvesting services for extended discoverability of the content.

Barriers are also broken down by digitisation of content that is still available in printed format only and by the dissemination of this content via the UnisaIR.

Unisa Library Digital Collections and Archives Online

The UnisaIR was initially also the digital repository where some of the digital inventories and digitised collections from the Archives were made accessible to users outside the confines of the Reading Room.  As more digital content was added to the Unisa Archives, the need for a separate repository was identified.  The Unisa Library Digital Collections became the new space for showcasing the Unisa Library Archives Online.  The move to another digital space was also necessary as the content on an institutional repository is mainly used as a vehicle to showcase the research output of an academic institution, whereas a digital archive “is similar in purpose to a physical archive, but the historical documents and objects that provide evidence of the past have been digitised (often by scanning or photography, unless a document was created digitally in the first place) and made available online.”(Newton Gresham Library. accessed 10 October 2021.)

The Unisa Library Digital Collections are the digital repository for the Thabo Mbeki Presidential collection, where documents from the former president can be accessed in digital format.

Despite forging ahead with the creation of digital access, barriers such as copyright assigned to archival collections by donors, limited capacity to digitise analogue content and the importance of safeguarding the digital content for future access (digital preservation) remain sobering realties.

Breaking down barriers of inaccessibility to South African indigenous content

During 2021 the Unisa Library and Information Services embarked on a long-term journey to digitise South African indigenous content, including theses, dissertations and archival materials. This will break down barriers by opening up access to indigenous South African content. The digitisation of theses and dissertations in South African Indigenous languages was prioritised as the starting point.

In the Unisa Library collections, 190 African Language and Literature theses and dissertations were identified as still available in printed format only. These items were selected for the first phase of this strategic project, which commenced in May 2021.   These digitised items are added to the African Languages theses and dissertations collection in the UnisaIR

The importance of Digital Preservation in breaking down barriers

The most important digital preservation task offered by the institutional repository is the provision of access to a document via a unique permanent URL.

However, according to Mensah (2015). although long-term digital preservation is an integral task of the institutional repository, it has been recognised as complex, with many unresolved issues that are challenging for repositories.

Digital preservation and copyright management in IR should be strengthened to increase faculty participation. (Kim 2011)

Additional measures should therefore be taken to ensure long-term digital preservation of repository content. The Unisa Library Digital Preservation Project was welcomed by all the owners of repository content in the Library.

Unisa Library Digital Preservation Project

Driven by the enthusiastic encouragement of Dr Daisy Selematsela (Executive Director: Unisa Library and Information Services), the Unisa Library embarked on a strategic Digital Preservation Project during 2019. The Unisa Department of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) was taken on board and provided a project manager, who facilitated the process with efficient competence.  A steering committee was appointed, and regular meetings were scheduled to discuss the way forward. As the project unfolded, important documentation such as the terms of reference, business case, policy framework, signed certificate of compliance and risk register were produced. The “Report on the Selection of a Digital Preservation Management Tool” and the “Digital Preservation Policy” were the highlights of the project.

“A successfully crafted and adopted digital preservation policy is a major accomplishment — it is an institution/organization putting a stake in the ground or drawing a line in the sand to say, "Digital preservation is important to us."” (Noonan, 2014)


The Digital Preservation journey is still on the way to its destination. We are looking forward to our journey towards the Digital Preservation destination to protect our precious repositories for future generations.


  • Kim, Jihyun  (2011) “Motivations of Faculty Self-archiving in Institutional Repositories” Journal of Academic Librarianship volume 37(3) May 2011, pages 246-254

  • Mensah, Monica (2015) “Digital preservation in the context of institutional repositories in public universities' libraries in Ghana” URI:

  • Newton Gresham Library Webpage. Archive Discovery a How-to Guide. Accessed 10 October 2021

  • Nkosi, Dudu Sizakele (2008) Establishing an Institutional Repository: a Unisa Case Study. Conference on Electronic Publishing and Dissemination Dakar, Senegal, 6-7 October 2008.

  • Noonan, Dan (2014) “Digital Preservation Policy Framework: A Case Study”

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