Monday, 16 October 2017

Some Progress at LAC on Newspaper Digitization

Library and Archives Canada has received funding over two years from the Salamander Foundation as a contribution to the National Heritage Digitization Strategy (NHDS).

The $25,000 grant in 2017, for a Pilot Digitization Project of Newspaper Material is described as"serving to demonstrate best practices for digitizing select collections that can be shared with memory institutions across Canada to help build a national, representative newspaper collection."  A small collection of Indigenous newspapers is being digitized.

The same funding in 2016 focused on prioritizing digitization of "'last copy' and 'at risk' material covering published heritage prior to 1917 including books, periodicals and newspapers, scientific journals and theses, audio and audio-visual recordings, high-interest archival fonds, photographs, artefacts, and fragile historical maps."

What are the products of this funding? NDHS Corporate Secretary Caitlin Horrall told me that they initially consulted experts across Canada to determine the state of newspaper digitization practice. I was surprised there was no consultation with major newspaper digitization initiatives internationally which are way ahead of Canada. Likely the Canadian expert's advice would be informed by that experience. One finding was that copyright is not as big an issue as it once was as newspapers are realizing their archives will not be a major revenue source given the up-front cost of digitization. That removes a major obstacle, but up-front cost is still a hurdle. A report on the consultation is scheduled for release next spring.

With the Salamander grant LAC is presently digitizing three Indigenous publications, likely the best known being Windspeaker. Published 12 times each year since 1983 this is a modest challenge and results should be available in the spring.

If any inroads are to be made in digitization and OCR of the many Canadian newspaper titles that remain in archival obscurity LAC will need to stop avoiding the obligation long since embraced by peer organizations internationally.

Perhaps like me you you are not aware of the Salamander Foundation which exists to promote continuity and discovery in the arts and in culture, and to recognize the forms, functions and interactions of natural systems in the environment. Approximately 20 - 25 grants per year are made "to specific initiatives or projects with clear objectives and measurable outcomes." Projects likely to benefit a broad population base either across Canada, regionally, or via the Internet are favoured with those based in Ontario given first consideration.

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