Digital Overload and Digital Irony

Like most people today I spend most of my day interacting with digital technology in some way. Digital mediums are a crucial part of my job, even though most of the physical material I’m working with was created long before the internet and computer became mainstream. This contrast seems reasonable when you look at it from a preservation standpoint – digitization has the potential to allow documents to exist long after paper has deteriorated.

Despite this logic and being a slight technology geek and addict, I found the recent CBC Doc Zone episode Are We Digital Dummies? oddly appealing. The show provided an interesting look at the impact of technology on business, personal interaction, and how we manage technology. The documentary itself wasn’t anything earth shattering. It built upon the studies which show that we are poor multitaskers and the work of Nicolas Carr author of “Is Google Making us Stupid?” Despite the lack of ground breaking conclusions it was nice to see technology placed in a Canadian context and to be exposed to some Canadian technology usage stats. Am I going to change my technology habits as a result of watching it? Most likely not, I am writing about the show in a blog after all…..

Virtual Mourning Reexamined

Ages ago I wrote a post on Virtual Dark Tourism which examined the idea of virtual graveyards and the rise of on-line memorials. A Spark podcast recently brought the issue of ‘virtual mourning’ back to my mind. I recommend listening to the brief portion of the podcast which discusses virtual mourning and the impact which technology has had upon the way in which we express empathy.

The idea of technology changing the mourning experience, got me thinking about the way in which technology has impacted commemoration and historical memorials. It is now easier than ever to view historical monuments and memorials on-line. For example, you can take a virtual tour of the Juno Beach Center. This tour is fairly similar to most on-line virtual tours of museums and cultural centers, with the added layer of emphasis on remembering the contributions of Canadian soldiers during WWII. Is the on-line tour as striking as the physical memorial/center? Of course not. But, it does provide a glimpse into the ongoing commemoration of Juno Beach and allows people who will not have opportunity to visit Normandy a glimpse into the center.

How does an on-line presence fit into commemoration? Given the ability to enhance accessibility and to raise awareness through the use of digital mediums, historical commemoration projects can be greatly enhanced through the use of technology. The War of 1812 digitization and commemoration project is a great example of how commemoration can be enhanced through technology. Using the hosting, resource, and interface services provided by OurOntario a number of organizations from the Niagara region banded together to digitize their collection of artifacts relating to the War of 1812. The result of this endeavor can be searched here. This project increases access to a number of great museum collections and also increases awareness about the upcoming 100th anniversary of the War of 1812.

I don’t think online commemoration or virtual mourning can replace some aspects of the grieving and commemorative process. However, I do think that on-line memorials, collections, and virtual tourism can play a very important role in enhancing the commemorative experience.

Upcoming Projects

With all the New Years resolutions floating around I decided it would be valuable for me to record some of my intentions for the upcoming months. Below is a rough list of projects I have on the go or plan on beginning in the new year.

Presentations:
OLA Super Conference, Toronto, February 2010. “Community Digitization Program: Collaboration and Capacity Building.” This presentation will be highlighting the ongoing Community Digitization Program. It will be a panel discussion of the various experiences of the staff and organizations involved, focusing on resources, knowledge gained, and overall experience.
OLSN North Conference, Sudbury, May 2010. This presentation is still in the early stages of development, but will most likely be similar in format to the OLA presentation.

Projects:
Recipe collection project. As a Christmas present I received a “Recipe Keeper”, which is essentially a template for creating a scrapbook of recipes. Working with the recipe keeper I plan on collecting various family recipes as well as some of my own. In addition to the traditional scrapbook I plan on creating a digital counterpart. The digital counterpart is based on my desire to preserve things for longer than their physical lifespan, and on the fact that so many of my recipes are already saved/annotated using zotero.
Completion of the Digitization Handbook I’ve been working on. This is intended to be a guide for the organizations I am currently working with. It includes how to establish policies, workflows, administrative guidelines, and various templates for creating a sustainable digitization program.
-Renewing/relearning CSS/html skills. I recently used some of my CSS knowledge while working on a digital photo exhibit project. However my skills are pretty rusty at this point, so in the upcoming months I plan to use them more frequently on similar digital photo projects, this blog, and my personal site.
-In a similar vain to the previous project, I haven’t done any programming in processing or java in sometime. In the upcoming months I would like to work on a project which allows me to keep using these skills. Specifics have yet to be decided on.
-Researching and assisting in the writing of a history of Knox Presbyterian Church, Alliston Ontario. This will be a community commemoration project and is in the very early stages of conception.

Online Resource: Our Ontario

I recently stumbled across an interesting digitization project. OurOntario.ca is a division of Knowledge Ontario. The project aims to make various cultural collections in Ontario more accessible through digitization. Our Ontario works with community organizations throughout Ontario to establish effective and efficient digitization plans. Additionally, the site is geared toward researchers of all ages and the digitized documents from all across Ontario are easily searchable. The site also features a number of social media initiatives including social tagging.

One of the downfalls of this site however, is that not all documents which appear in the search results are viewable online. In some cases copyright restrictions have limited access to material. Despite this, adequate information is proved to describe material to researchers, and to assist in locating potentially useful sources.

The variety of material available on OurOntario is one of the site’s greatest features. The site features sources of a variety of facets including: audio, text, photo, video, and object. The site is also searchable by collection. Additionally, the site features collections from a variety of institutions including: libraries, archives, museums, historical societies, community groups, and government organizations. The variety of content makes this site an increasingly centralized place to conduct a variety of research.

Tweedsmuir Histories.

Over the holidays I am once again volunteering at the Dufferin County Museum and Archives (DCMA). During the past week I was exposed to their collection of Tweedsmuir History Books. This is not the first time I have come across the Tweedsmuir collection, however I am once again amazed at what a great source of local history these books are. Put together by the local Women’s Institute the books chronicle all major events that occurred in the region in a scrapbook fashion.

After spending sometime thinking about what a great source these books were I began to wish more of them were digitally accessible. At this point none of the DCMA’s Tweedsmuir Books are digitized. However I did discover that Simcoe County (which is right next to Dufferin County) has digitized their collection of Tweedsmuir Books. The digitized copies are available free of charge online, and each book has a brief blurb highlighting the local names mentioned in it. The only downside being that a good portion of the Books are a bit blurry, they are still readable but I’m sure looking over them for hours might cause a pretty bad headache. Another little neat fact about Simcoe County’s digitization project is that initially the all digitization of the local history was done by two students who were paid by a LibraryNet grant (hurray for student employment?!)

Saved from the black hole.

Tomorrow is British Columbia’s 150th anniversary. As part of the commemoration of this anniversary the Globe and Mail featured an article outlining the history that BC’s founding. The article also made mention of a particular digital resource, who’s history is somewhat amazing on its own. The site of mention is The Colonial Despatches, which is a digital archive based on the correspondence between British Columbia, Vancouver, and the British Colonial Office. It is a great digital resource, but that’s not the main reason I was drawn to the site.

The evolution of the site highlights some of the common problems which occur when digitizing sources. The transcription and digitization process was started by James Hendrickson of the University of Victoria in the 1980s, however all of his work was done in a now obsolete computer language. Thankfully someone realized the importance of these files and has managed to recover them and restore them in an accessible format. The fact that these files were so close to be lost, suggests to me the vulnerability of digitalized files. We often think of print documents of being susceptible to destruction through age but digital files are as vulnerable. This whole article reinforced the preaching of open source software and accessibility that we keep hearing about in digital history class.