Last week, Google Arts & Culture launched Mali Magic. Created in partnership with the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL), and global organizations including SAVAMA, Timbuktu Renaissance, Instruments 4 Africa, and UNESCO, the digital hub is dedicated to Mali’s history and culture. Since 2012, the preservation of Malian heritage has been heavily threatened by extremist groups, making Mali Magic a landmark archival effort.
On the hub, Google Arts & Culture presents Malian culture through four sections — manuscripts, music, monuments, and modern art. Visitors have access to multiple online exhibitions, an original album by Malian singer-songwriter Fatoumata Diawar, 360-degree tours of Malian monuments, and videos featuring the country’s contemporary artists.
Additionally, over 45,000 Timbuktu manuscripts were digitized by BPL, the project’s North American partner, through high-resolution scanning and machine learning technology that facilitated curatorial and archival efforts. Translated by Malian librarian Dr. Abdel Kader Haidara and the late Dr. Ali Ould Sidi, Technical Advisor at the Malian Ministry of Culture, these endangered artifacts offer a view into African scholarship on key themes from science to geography.
In addition to the online launch, the BPL is also developing library programming, including in-person and streamed discussions, interactive reading programs centered on Malian manuscripts, and a large-scale outdoor display inviting visitors to engage with Mali Magic.
Why it matters
Mali Magic is yet another example of how digital platforms can play important roles in the preservation of cultural heritage — a point taken by projects from Collections of Ghent to the Searchable Museum by the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Besides serving as a repository, an online hub such as Mali Magic further supports digital learning (downloadable lessons plans are available) and advocacy work with its use of innovative and engaging interfaces.
Simultaneously, the BPL’s collaboration with Google Arts & Culture is significant. Since 2009, US libraries have suffered from mass closures due to budgetary issues in suburban and urban areas. By embracing such partnerships, libraries could begin diversifying their cultural offerings and modernizing their role as archival custodians.
What BPL and Google said
“I look forward to exploring these manuscripts alongside our community members and learning with them about how we can learn from our shared histories and one another.” — László Jakab Orsós, Vice President of Arts and Culture, Brooklyn Public Library
“Google Arts & Culture is proud to present Mali Magic. Thanks to our Malian and international partners — from Timbuktu Renaissance to the Brooklyn Public Library — everyone can now experience the richness of Mali’s heritage, the beauty of its artistry, and the resilience of its people.” — Chance Coughenour, Program Manager, Google Arts & Culture