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In the Field:  The ACA Blog

Contemporary archivists are engaged in a broad range of work within the field of archives. Whether through their work environment; through initiatives in the digital realm; through their involvement with communities to document, preserve, and provide access to their records; and through other outreach endeavours, archivists are involved in a variety of spaces. In the Field is a place for discussion about the wide range of issues encountered and raised in these spaces related to archives, archival education, and archival interventions. 
For more information on proposing or submitting a blog post please read and complete the submission form We look forward to reading your contribution! 
Catherine Barnwell, In the Field Editor 
The ACA Communications Committee

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  • 18 Feb 2020 10:00 AM | Anonymous member

    The Okanagan Valley is situated approximately 400 km inland from B.C.'s South Coast. At the centre of the north-south trajectory of the Valley is Kelowna, which is home to the second campus of the University of British Columbia (after the first, in Vancouver). This strategic location, in combination with the human and digital infrastructure resources provided by the UBC Okanagan Library and generous donor funding have made the Digitized Okanagan History project possible. 

    For three years the authors have coordinated an effort based at the UBC Okanagan Library to assist memory institutions located in communities throughout the Okanagan region to realize their own goals of digitization, systematic metadata development, and provision of access to selected portions of their archival holdings. Digitized Okanagan History (D.O.H.) now includes over 100,000 digital objects drawn from 29 partners located in a catchment area extending from Sicamous in the north to Osoyoos in the south and Princeton in the west to Grand Forks in the east.   

    Curling on the Kettle River, ca. 1930. 

    Image courtesy of Kettle River Museum. 

    Recognizing that limited financial and technical resources prevented many community repositories from using evolving web-based tools to promote access to their unique historical resources, D.O.H.’s primary goal has been to build, customize, and sustain a complement of technical infrastructure and supporting procedures and workflows to allow a broad cross-section of regional partners to participate in a multi-institutional collaboration. This ensures that their relatively unknown or under-utilized primary historical records are made more broadly accessible in support of all levels of research through a single, integrated online portal. 

    Preliminary discussions with prospective project partners began in 2016. Immediately, the considerable breadth and depth of candidates for digitization became apparent. In step with this reported abundance, a counterpoint emerged equally as quickly: most community repositories faced significant operational challenges mostly relating to lack of money and staff. In fact, many of the organizations rely exclusively or primarily on a dedicated but unpredictable volunteer workforce to keep their doors open. This made it imperative that the bar to D.O.H. participation be kept as low as possible. When the project began implementation in 2017 a team of students travelled to participating repositories and spent three days scanning analogue material and collecting copies of existing digitized material at each repository. As stronger relationships developed with project partners and trust has grown, D.O.H. has adopted a model where almost all material is transported to the UBCO campus for digitization, or, for post-digitization processing. This approach is much more efficient and allows for greater productivity. Early D.O.H. efforts focussed on digitizing photographic material but, based on the priorities of the project partners, the scope has expanded to archival documents, maps, and audio recordings, as well as and newspapers and other publications.  

    Group of School Children on Joe Glaicar's School Bus, ca 1922.  

    Image courtesy of Armstrong Spallumcheen Museum and Arts Society.

    D.O.H. selected Arca, the B.C. Electronic Library Network’s repository platform to host the new regional digital resources. Built on Islandora's open-source content management software, Arca allows both for the ability to steward and maintain descriptive information and facilitate searches limited to specific repositories, and universal searches across all participating repositories. This is important for allowing project partners to see the distinctiveness of their repository and their collections as a subset of the portal, discoverable through the browse function, while at the same time providing comprehensive access to all available records for those doing systematic research. Just as Arca allows for aggregation of our many project partners via the D.O.H. ‘subaggregator’ hub, D.O.H. itself is one of many institutional partners in Arca and benefits from the support of an active community of practice with knowledge exchange and reciprocal sharing of tools and strategies.  

    In charting D.O.H.’s future we are currently planning a transition from a mediated model of digitization to a more distributed model wherein we would provide project partners with training and guidelines for scanning their own material and compiling basic, standardized metadata which can then be sent to the UBCO Library for upload. To augment digital copies of the unique archival holdings from the region and to create a more comprehensive historical research resource we are also adding a newspaper repository to D.O.H. Newspapers are consistently identified by project partners as the single-most important source for documenting local history, and community newspapers provide a treasure trove of information and represent prime candidates for digitization, particularly if they are full- text searchable. Finally, based on the success of D.O.H. we are exploring the creation of a parallel regional collection in the neighbouring Kootenay/Columbia area. This region is defined by its adjacency to the Columbia River Basin; it being contiguous with the Boundary region (which is the eastern most area currently represented in D.O.H.) inclusion of the Kootenays and Columbias has the potential to provide digital coverage to a significant portion of B.C.’s geography, much of which is truly rural and variably, sometimes only seasonally, accessible.  This past summer we collected copies of digitized material from seven Kootenay/Columbia repositories and expect that the parallel pilot regional collection will be launched in September 2020.  

    Group photograph at Women's Institute of the Okanagan District, 1914.

    Image courtesy of Summerland Museum and Archives.

    Despite significant challenges, community memory institutions have done a commendable job in identifying and preserving the unique records documenting their local histories. D.O.H., through its efforts to enhance public access to archival resources across multiple Okanagan repositories, builds on the work done at the individual community level and will help ensure that the resources are made available for a multitude of historical uses. Our hope is that D.O.H. has laid a broad and deep foundation not only for the creation of a network of digitized archival material but also to support further collaborative activity in the future so that the challenges of preserving local historical resources can be approached in a more holistic, coordinated manner. 

    Chris Hives & Paige Hohmann 

    Chris Hives is UBC University Archivist, Emeritus and for over three years now he, along with Paige Hohmann, has co-ordinated Digitized Okanagan History. He is very much looking forward to expanding the original Okanagan-based collaborative digitization project to include partners in a new parallel collection in the neighbouring Kootenay/Columbia region.

    Paige Hohmann is Archivist at UBC Okanagan where she manages various primary source and special information resources with focus on digitized and born-digital media. She has coordinated the Digitized Okanagan History project with Chris Hives since 2016.

  • 22 Jan 2020 10:00 AM | Anonymous member

    Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre (SRSC) has launched the results of the “Healing and Education Through Digital Access” project funded by the National Heritage Digitization Strategy (NHDS). Rooted in community archival practices, this project received $86,890 in funding to digitize and make available unique archival records which document the early years of the Shingwauk and Wawanosh Indian Residential Schools.  

    We see this project as meeting the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's calls to action directed at archives and post-secondary institutions. By preserving and providing community access to these records the SRSC seeks to enhance Canada’s understanding of Residential Schools and reconciliation. The project made a great deal of information about Residential Schools as accessible as possible to the wider public, with an emphasis on centering Survivors and intergenerational Survivors who may not be able to travel to Sault Ste. Marie to view the documents in person. The involvement of Survivors in archival work is essential to any reconciliation work connected to Residential Schools. Likewise, the realization of Indigenous ownership, control, access, and possession of documents which discuss Indigenous communities played a key role in this initiative. 

    This project was driven by Indigenous community needs and priorities. The Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association (CSAA), a group of Survivors and intergenerational Survivors who govern the SRSC along with Algoma University, were very involved with the project from the beginning. Their needs and priorities were taken into account when choosing what to digitize, how to digitize, and how to make the documents available to the public. The NHDS included in the budget money to bring CSAA members to Algoma in order to discuss the digitization and description process.  

    This initiative was focused on making accessible three Anishinaabemowin and Cree language books and ten letter books from the early history of the Shingwauk and Wawanosh Indian Residential Schools. The letter books range in date from 1876 to 1904 and include letters from the first principal Edward F. Wilson and the fourth principal George L. King to various recipients including government officials, church representatives, white and Indigenous community members, former students, and more. The letters are of particular relevance for understanding the social, political and intellectual network in which Residential Schools operated.  

    2013-112-003_001_0737: This letter describes the clothing students would have worn in 1887 and includes sketches of the student uniforms designed by the first principal of the school Edward F. Wilson. Clothing was usually donated second hand or made and donated by Ladies Sewing Societies. Being Western style, they illustrate the assimilationist agenda of the schools.   

    These documents in particular were selected for multiple different reasons; much of the information the public has learned about Residential Schools relates to the later years of the system based on Survivor testimonies. These letter books cover the early history which is not as well known and allows people to see how the system developed and where Shingwauk and Wawanosh specifically fit into the system. Their age also makes them very fragile and so preservation was a high priority in selecting these items for digitization.  

    2013-112-004_001_0173: This letter from September 1888 discusses specifics for an issue of Our Forest Children, a magazine which covered Anglican missionary work among Canadian Indigenous People and information about the Shingwauk Residential School. Magazines like this were used as fundraising tools for the school, spreading information as a way to encourage donations and monetary support. The header of the magazine included on this page was designed by Principal Edward F. Wilson.  

     2014-017-002_001_0062: This image is the first page of one of the monthly Principal's Reports that Principal George Ley King was required to send to the Department of Indian Affairs as a condition of the government funding the school received. These reports included information on student health, school admissions and discharges, student activities, staffing, and much more. It illustrates the kinds of information the Government was collecting on Residential Schools in addition to being a great source for information on daily life at the school.  

    The letters books and their descriptions are now available on the  Algoma Archives Website, as well as on the Internet Archive. The information in these letter books is invaluable to researchers, Survivors and their families, and the wider public. 

    Jenna Lemay

    Jenna Lemay is the Digital Archives Technician at the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre. With a background in history and information studies, Jenna has been working in the archival field for 3 years. She is interested in the history of First Nations, Metis, and Inuit, particularly in Ontario, with a focus on individuals, as she is also a Genealogist.  

  • 17 Dec 2019 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    It is with great pleasure that the Association of Canadian Archivists launches In the Field: The ACA Blog. The field of archives engages contemporary archivists in a multiplicity of environments. Whether through their work environment; through initiatives in the digital realm; through their involvement with communities to document, preserve, and provide access to their records; and through other outreach endeavours, archivists are involved in a variety of spaces. In the Field seeks to become a place where discussions about the scope of archives, archival education, and archival interventions happens.

    In line with the ACA's Strategic Plan and Progress toward A Diversity & Inclusion Action Plan, the ACA blog focuses on publishing posts that explore “frameworks, strategies, initiatives, programs and actions” undertaken across the archival realm to “address issues of inclusion, access, diversity, multiculturalism, and regional, national, global and intercultural engagement.”

    We want to hear from you. Did you work on an interesting project or are you working with a particular fonds that you’d like to share with others? Have you visited an archival institution abroad – or across the road – and want to share your journey? If you wish to share a particular initiative that will enlighten the archival world, to highlight new strategies and collaboration that facilitated access to a particular fonds or collection, or if you want to raise issues regarding archival practices and theoretical paradigms, please contact us at We encourage proposals from students and those new to the profession.

    Guidelines for contributors

    Blog posts should be between 500 and 2,000 words and be submitted accompanied by an author bio of 40-50 words. We use APA citation style. We encourage the use of links, if necessary, and photographs to accompany your submissions. Please make sure that you have the authorization to use the images. Images should be accompanied by proper citations and links, if necessary.

    Please complete this form to submit your proposed blog post.

    We are looking forward to reading your contribution!

    François Dansereau, The ACA Blog Editor

    The ACA Communications Committee

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Submission Guidelines

Please complete this form to submit your proposed blog post.

We are looking forward to reading your contribution!

François Dansereau, The ACA Blog Editor

ACA Communications Committee

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