The RDD started life as the Cultural Archives and ultimately begot what is now known as the NCAC and its various departments. The cultural archives was established in 1971 as a branch of the Public Records Office under the Office of the President of the Gambia with Bakary Sidibeh as its first Research Officer with the special responsibility of collecting both oral traditions and material items of culture for the beginning of a Gambia National Museum.
Its establishment was prompted by the griots that began to lose interest in reciting history and turned more and more to entertainment. Village elders and storytellers were finding fewer young people interested and having time to listen to them. Old people are not like books which can be stored for generations without too much harm, waiting until someone can get round to read them. Traditional ceremonies, songs, cultural games and dances were being abandoned.
As such, this awareness led to a desire among some Gambians, to preserve for posterity at least some record of what that generation of masters and elders had to offer. At the time there was no financial provision or expertise to start a systematic collection. Today the Research and Documentation Division has a collection of over 5000 audio-visual recordings that are fundamental to understanding the history of the Gambia in particular and the greater Senegambia in general.
The recordings were made between the 1960s and 1980s, but as history in Africa is an oral genre, they relate strongly to pre-industrial societies in this part of Africa. These recordings covering Gambian, Senegalese and Bissau-Guinean history mean that the collection is one of the most extensive in the West African sub-region. The collection could serve as a research centre for the University of The Gambia. If better preserved and publicized, it would certainly attract a greater number of scholars to do research in The Gambia, and could help in revitalizing interest in pre-colonial Western African states in the global academy.
The RDD is indeed the research arm of the NCAC. It supports the research component in all the other sectors of the NCAC such as in museum exhibition development, music, and literature and for administrative purposes. In this way, the RDD collection of tapes and monographs continues to grow. he RDD has an extensive library of books and monographs on various topics covered by the NCAC mandate such as musicology, museology, archaeology, history, and traditions.
It has 5000 audio tapes on various aspects of Gambian history, culture, genealogy, traditions, folklore and music. These are in various media such as cassettes, reels, CDs and now a large part has been digitized. Most of these audio files have also been transcribed into English from the national language originals and the transcriptions are kept in files, which are also being digitized.