31 August 2013

LAC and the 1921 census: timeline

Based on documents obtained through an access to information request, here is some information on the process that LAC went through in making the 1921 census available.

On 27 March 2012 there was a post, 1921 Census countdown!, on the LAC blog. It advised that the census would be available on LAC on 1 June 2013 and that it was "Our intention is to make it available to researchers online, in the same format as previous censuses, as soon as possible after that date."

On the same day, in response to a comment, it was announced that "Library and Archives Canada (LAC) will digitize the microfilms for the 1921 census and make them available online as JPEG andPDF images."

As of late 2012 there was coordination between Statistics Canada and LAC. Some LAC staff gained access to the census through a strict security protocol. Information from the Canadian Century Research Infrastructure Project was used in evaluating the census.

On 12 February 2013 Sylvie Tremblay, manager, online content at Library and Archives Canada, and a well respected genealogist, was able to provide the following answers to questions:
1. Do you know if the census has already been digitized?
Yes, the census is already digitized and the images are of very good quality, since the original records were in pretty good condition.2. Do you know what format the images are or will be in?
The preservation copy will be in TIFF and be stored on one of our secure server. JPEG and PDF derivative images have also been created. Overall, there is a total of 197,529 images for 1921 census with an estimated total population of 8.8 million.3. And if they're delivered to Ancestry, would they be sent on a single hard drive or multiple hard drives?
Because of the number of images and the size, multiple hard drives will be required.4. Would LAC also provide metadata by role/folder, or even down to the image level?
Only an original paper format finding aid existed for 1921 census. Statistics Canada has provided us a copy and we are currently creating an electronic copy. We are capturing geographical metadata such as province, district name and number, sub district name and number. Our intention is to create metadata based on sub districts that will provide first and last image numbers for each sub district. I am providing you a sample for Alberta.
However, as of that date a decision had not been made regarding Ancestry.com and availability on the LAC website. Sylvie Tremblay writes:
"the 1921 census is still under discussion with a third-party about offering it online. I expect that the decision will be made soon, whether it will be available on LAC website or not."
Until mid-May there was considerable turmoil at LAC. The Librarian and and Archivist had come under pressure owing to some poor decisions, including expenditures in Spanish language training, which resulting in his departure on 15 May. Two senior staff were absent on stress leave. Undoubtedly the ability to move items through the bureaucratic system was impeded.

On 31 May an agreement with Ancestry.com was signed and LAC staff had a news item ready to distribute. However, no information was released until 4 June when it was announced that "Census of Canada, 1921 - Available to Researchers in the Next Few Weeks"

It is unclear why there was a more than two month delay in making the 1921 census available on Ancestry.com. Certainly Ancestry needed time to load and link the collection. A hold may have been placed at the political level as Minister James Moore became concerned about LAC making its collections available through third parties. Only with the Cabinet shuffle on 15 July, and appointment of a new Minister, was the census finally made available on 8 August.

Although LAC appeared to have good intentions in providing a "countdown" the performance did not live up to client expectations. Genealogists became frustrated at the lack of substantive information, especially in the weeks before the official transfer to LAC and after until 8 August and release.

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