Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Impressed by LAC's Scanning of CEF Service Files

On taking on the role of Librarian and Archivist of Canada Guy Berthiaume set four aims for the institution. One was for LAC to be "a leader in archival and library science, records management and new technologies, so that the experience, imagination and expertise of our employees enable Canadians to better connect with our holdings"

On Monday I had the opportunity to see that in action on a visit to the facility at the Library and Archives Canada Preservation Centre where the behind the scenes work necessary to make the First World War Canadian Expeditionary Force service files available online is happening.

Preparatory work involved removing fasteners, extracting delicate pages for special handling, straightening large folded pay sheets, removing non-routine objects like photos and, in one case, shrapnel. Some of the files had become mixed up so these were sorted to ensure each set of documents was for the same person. Documents requiring special handling are separated while the majority are bundled for scanning. In each case documents from the same person's service file are separated by a barcode sheet. The red line on the screen on the scanner in the photo shows where a barcode sheet has been scanned.

As you can see from the blur in the photo, the documents move rapidly along the track from the sheet feeder.  Scanning is done on both sides at once at 300dpi to 24 bit tiff files. Images are automatically cropped with ample margins to avoid losing information. The scanner underwent a considerable period of refinement working with the manufacturer before becoming operational to ensure problems with the feed did not damage the documents.

Scanned images, 15,000 to 18,000 per day, are sent for quality control at eight workstations to ensure best possible quality given the condition of the original. Documents sent for special handling are integrated into the individual's file using the information from the barcode sheet. Finally high quality pdf files are assembled, one for each service file so that the user online can scroll through all the individual's documents rather than download each image separately.

Scanning got underway at LAC in August 2014 after trial of a system at Matane proved not so satisfactory. It would also have meant risk of loss and stress on the documents in transit. October 2015 set the record for monthly number of images processed all while resolving technical issues that crop up from time to time. Director General  Sylvain Bélanger told me he is confident the project will be complete before the end of 2018, and it's being done within the regular LAC budget.

When complete clients will benefit from free and near instant access to all the service files from the CEF from anywhere there's web access, New files are added at least monthly as scanning progresses. LAC will benefit from eliminating a large number of requests for service where the price charged did not generally meet the cost of service and also by reducing wear and tear on the original documents.

Boxes of the original documents are returned for long-term conservation. Tape storage files of the tiff images are kept at the LAC Preservation Centre which also houses the servers with the pdfs. Consideration is being given to keeping a remote backup copy of the scanned files, perhaps in Winnipeg.

A team of about 35 works on the project. Asked about their background I was told many are graduates of the Algonquin College Archives and Records Management program.

I asked what project would follow and was told nothing had been decided but there are lots of Second World War service files.

My visit was a memorable experience. I'd like to thank Librarian and Archivist of Canada Guy Berthiaume for authorizing my visit and to Julie Boucher from LAC Communications for coordination. This post might contribute in a small way to one of the Librarian and Archivist's other aims "greater public visibility, thereby highlighting the value of our holdings and our services." Behind the monthly statistics of number of files processed there's a story of cutting edge achievement to be told.

Sylvain Bélanger (Director General, Operations) and Roxane Lafrenière (Director, Imaging Services Division) conducted my tour and answered questions. Bruce, Carla, and Jason as well as others whose names I did not catch showed me the operation in detail. Thanks to them all.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

You are welcome John.

Guy Berthiaume