20 June 2017

Guy Berthiaume presentation at OGS Conference 2017

Librarian and Archivist of Canada Guy Berthiaume was invited to speak at the opening of the Ontario Genealogical Society Conference last Friday evening. Below is a rough transcription of his remarks.
I'd particularly highlight the invitation in the penultimate paragraph.
A good part of my work is about creating connections with our clients, our stakeholders, the private sector and the general public. And I know the thrill of discovering connections is one of the reasons that genealogists and family historians are so passionate about what they do.
I recently came across an interactive website that uses digital technology to uncover fascinating networks of families in British history. Kindred Britain at Stanford provides all kinds of surprising connections. For example Winston Churchill is a direct descendant of King Henry VIII. Family ties connect Isaac Newton, Jane Austen, William Wordsworth and Florence Nightingale. The creator of the site calls it the social network of the past.
I begin with this example to illustrate that today's genealogy is not our grandfather's genealogy. The use of modern digital technology to illuminate family roots and history is producing surprising, creative and positive results.
Take our digitization work at LAC. We've worked closely with external partners to both digitize collections and to make more of them available, especially to our main client group - genealogists. As a result we've been able to digitize a lot more material than we could on our own and to make some of our biggest and most heavily used collections available to Canadians. I know that this external focus has not always been popular but in a time of limited resources I think it was the strategic choice. Mind you, working with partners is not a one size fits all solution, especially in the case of fragile and easily damaged documents.We want to digitize them while we can keep offering access to our clients. A case in point is the work on the Canadian Expeditionary Force service files you're all familiar with. I'm pleased to tell you the project is on track, at least according to John Reid. As of November 11 2018 all 640,000 soldier's files will be online. There are 340,350,355 files and they are some of our most consulted records, and for good reason. But a project of this magnitude uses a considerable amount of our resources so we have to look at other strategies to digitize additional collections.
Welcome DigiLab.
The way it used to be clients who needed digitial copies would either use our digitization on demand service for a fee or bring their own digital cameras into our reading rooms with mixed results. With DigiLab you can come into 395 Wellington and leave with digital copies of our collection for free. You come in and scan the material you need for your research. The space is easy to use and there's support to help you learn how to use the equipment. You leave with high quality scans and a spreadsheet with information on what you've scanned. But what's perhaps more exciting, LAC will them make the information you scanned available to anyone via its website. So DigiLab is crowdsourcing at its best.
This allows the public to help us with our work, meet the demand for accessible collections and harnesses knowledge about the material we have. and all we ask from you is some simple metadata so that others can search the information more easily online.
I'm happy to share three projects that have already been hosted by DigiLab.
Nichole Yakashiro who is completing her honours BA at the University of Toronto has an academic and personal interest in Landscapes of Injustice, a seven year project run out of the University of Victoria. Landscapes of Injustice is funded by SSHRC and its goal is to digitize historical records across the country related to the disposition and internment of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War. As part of that project Nicole spent almost four weeks in DigiLab to digitize records that help tell the story of this sad chapter in our history. As a result over 130 related files will be placed online for everyone to consult.
Another interesting example is that of Marjelaine Sylvestre, the archivist from the Jardins de Métis in Québec. She spent a couple of days in the lab digitizing and describing 130 photographs taken by William Reford.
And there's also the work of one John Reid who digitized ten years of early Ottawa weather records from the late 1800s. As you know John holds a PhD in Atmospheric Science and he proposed this project to help support contemporary research into climate change.
So DigiLab is proof that crowdsourcing is an extremely effective way of making historical records available. But it's only one of our crowdsourcing tools.
There's another key initiative underway at LAC which I'm very excited about, and again it involves citizen archivists helping us tell the stories of history to a wider audience.
In June of last year the Manitoba Métis Federation celebrated the 200th anniversary of the Battle of
Seven Oaks, a battle which marked the emergence of the Métis nation. To support the anniversary LAC introduced software that lets people transcribe authentic historical documents. The first document to go through the process was the Coltman Report, handwritten in 1818 by William Coltman. The report provides one of the best sources on the fur trade war and is a key document in the history of the Métis Nation. the entire 521 page handwritten report was transcribed by members of the public eager to make a personal connection to history. A fully searchable pdf is now available in LAC's database, and we're about to launch a second initiative, the 91 page diary of Lady Susan Agnes Macdonald, the wife of Sir John A. I'm sure you'll agree that this diary is going to be fascinating reading - what was on her mind in that crucial time in our nation's history? How did she view the new Dominion of Canada starting in 1867 as her husband hammered out the details of the new confederation? What was her daily life like? What were her social obligations, her private experiences and her thoughts? By providing transcriptions of this material you can be a fly on the wall of history.
LAC is thrilled to open up these treasures from our collection to those who understand their importance and can add richer and enhanced information to them. Those who have valued knowledge of our collection and how it can be used. Those such as yourselves.
And here's another exciting development. As you may have heard, LAC is one of the founding members, not to say the architect - that's not a good term to use in Ottawa these days -  of the steering committee for the National Heritage Digitization Strategy. This strategy will make more content accessible to Canadians. It was developed by the major memory institutions of Canada, large public libraries, academic libraries and archives, provincial archives, national associations of archivists, librarians, historians and museums. We adopted a way to accelerate the digitization of the most important collections of Canada and to make them easily accessible to all, linking Canadians everywhere in their quest for culture and knowledge.The strategy will cover published and unpublished analogue materials of national, regional and local significance. That will include books, periodicals, newspapers, government records, posters and maps, thesis and artifacts, photographs and documentary art, film and video, audio recordings and more. I'm sure you'll agree that much of the material identified is of interest to genealogists.
You may also be interested in a small consultative project we launched to review best practices in the field of newspaper digitization. Thanks to a donation from the Salamander Foundation a pilot collection of indigenous newspapers will be digitized over the summer so we can give it a test run in the fall.
These are just some of the exciting initiatives we have on the go. And I would like to extend an open invitation to all of you to let us know what you need from us. What works in the DigiLab, what doesn't. Which of our collections do you want to see up on our site? This will be the key to our serving you well and allowing us to make the connections that define us as Canadians.

Thank you.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you, John, for posting this. I was at the talk, but am glad others can get a "replay."
Anne in Ottawa