13 May 2013

Genealogy at Library and Archives Canada

On Saturday at the Voices from the Dust event, organized at the Ottawa Ontario Stake Family History Centre. I attend a presentation given by Sylvie Tremblay, Manager, Online Content at LAC. In particular she discussed the transition from http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/index-e.html to http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/Pages/home.aspx, social media initiatives and what's coming up.
Sylvie reported that the most consulted databases on the LAC website continue to be those used by genealogists. The first is Soldiers of the First World War, followed by Home Children, followed by the small Ward Chipman database.
Also popular are the censuses with a total of 32 million records in LAC's 15 census databases. These data-sets are currently being updated: 1916 was updated on January 29, 1911 on February 26, 1881 on April 30, 1871 on May 9. Other censuses will follow soon with launches only occurring on Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays. Apparently this more rapid rate of updates is made possible by the adoption of a common interface and series of templates. The 1870 census of Manitoba is coming, as indexed by the Manitoba Genealogical Society. All LAC nominal census indexes are produced by others, mainly Ancestry.ca, OGS and FamilySearch.org.
The updating includes standardizing the geographical names, making sure Canada's bilingualism policy is respected, ensuring web pages respect the accessibility criteria imposed as a result of a Supreme Court ruling, making images available as both pdf and jpg, and incorporating suggested changes. LAC receives 30-50 such suggestions daily across all databases.
Military records are being added. With the centennial of WW1 more records will be added including digitized large panoramic photographs of units before they left for Europe. Further war graves registers will soon be added to the virtual microfilm collection. There will be an effort to bring military resources that are available but not easy to find together under a military heading.
Social Media
At the end of March LAC podcasts had been listened to 255 thousand times through iTunes. Sylvie mentioned that these podcasts always occupy at least one position in the top ten for the iTunes podcast Government and Organizations category. When I checked one was in the top ten, in second place.
The LAC blog, with 275 articles, has been viewed 94,000 times; Sylvie's goal is 100,000 views by the end of May. The blog includes series on specific topics, topical items and announcements of the launch of new or updated products.
Videos support References Services with information on how to use the Services.
Flickr sets are being added with 2 to 20 images per set, 2-4 new sets per month. New sets are grouped by theme driven by commemorative events. Annual views are 350,000 with much use by students for school work.
There is coordinated Twitter and Facebook posting on the same topics.
What's Coming
Databases are being migrated and updated on the new website. The 32 million records of the censuses have been the major challenge. The other databases containing 3 million records will follow.
There is substantial additional material on home children coming online through the partnership with BIFHSGO. Name indexes for Middlemore, Barnardo's Ups and Downs and others will be added before the end of the calendar year, perhaps in the fall.
Orders in Council with digitized images will be added soon.
WW1 and Canada's 150 the anniversary commemorations will be a priority in the coming years.
As of June 1 LAC will take possession of 163 virtual reels of microfilm from Statistics Canada containing 8.8 million people. There are 40 question in the population schedule. In response to questions Sylvie said "As soon as we have it we'll start working on it, and we'll make it available as soon as possible", "Discussions are underway with third parties to create a nominal index." Pressed on why these 163 digital microfilm reels would not be made available promptly as part of the virtual microfilm collection Sylvie responded that decision was being made at a higher level of management above her in the chain of command through Alison Bullock, Fabien Lengellé, Cecilia Muir to Daniel Caron.
Sylvie Tremblay's presentation explained the work LAC is doing for genealogy. She has high credibility with the community, let us in on the process and thinking behind LAC's initiatives, and stuck to talking points when required. She gave factual information when questioned, such as on the chain of command where decisions are made.
My speculation is that LAC is negotiating for access to a database index to the 1921 census before making the original images available. If access is withheld to further the interests of LAC this would seem to be in violation of the public right of access. In the US NARA makes the original images freely available online in a timely manner for indexing by any third party.

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