This initiative in Ontario is an example that should be implemented in every region of the country and around the world. Preserving our past before it disappears is an important part of remembering where we came from and how we got here. Of course, all of these digital files will be shared across what is rapidly becoming a very expensive internet. If our government fails to rein in the Canadian ISPs and the CRTC overlords, none of us will be able to afford to spend much time surfing around the museums learning about humanity and downloading files that allow us to hear the voices of our fore-bearers – never mind those of us who need to be able to download & upload large files in the course of what we do.
Recently, a woman in British Columbia was doing genealogy research and typed her father’s name into Google. Following a link to the Petawawa Public Library, she was astonished to hear her father’s voice emanating from her computer speakers. He’d passed away a decade earlier.
“I thought that was really extraordinary,” says Maggie Jacques, special collections librarian at the Petawawa Public Library, who helped place the 20-year-old interview online. It was part of a collection of interviews with city’s early residents. When it comes to online research, she notes, “You never know where it will take you.”
The audio cassette recording was digitized thanks to a two-year project coordinated by Knowledge Ontario (KO), a provincial not-for-profit collaborative. The Community Digitization Project (CDP) is an extension of KO’s Our Ontario service, which provides the tools and support for Ontarians to create and display digital content for online discovery.
Genealogists are not alone in benefiting from the CDP, which already has created more than 36,000 digital files of everything from 19th-century photographs to old diaries. In Prescott-Russell, a largely francophone area east of Ottawa, the OPP used heritage photos from the collection for their annual calendar.
The CDP has also created something of an information avalanche for participating institutions. Jacques notes that patrons who see staff digitizing materials with scanners, cameras and other equipment often ask how they can contribute.
CDP partners often run “digitization days” to encourage residents to bring in family materials and collections from their basements and attics (the materials are later returned to their owners). People respond in droves, often revealing lost treasures. In Tweed, a small town north of Belleville, residents who heard about the CDP contributed images and documents about Sulphide, a mining ghost town.
Loren Fantin, project manager for Our Ontario, delights in the program’s popularity. “We work hard to ensure that we make Our Ontario tools and services accessible and easy to use for both novices and expert users. It’s terrific to bring Ontario communities on board so they can share and tell our stories to a wide audience.”
Our Ontario is partnering with more than 30 public libraries and 20 other community organizations from across Ontario to implement the CDP. Funded through a $15-million grant to Southern Ontario Library Services and Ontario Library Services North from the Ontario Ministry of Tourism and Culture, CDP partners are provided with valuable equipment, staff and training, at no cost to the participating institutions. “I’m very thankful to Knowledge Ontario for supporting us,” says Jacques.
Organizations participating in the project stretch across almost 1,500 kilometres of the province. They include libraries and museums with large archives; single-person libraries, such as the Head, Clara and Maria Public Library, north of Algonquin Park; Franco-Ontarian community organizations like the West Nipissing Public Library, near North Bay; and a First Nations library, the Kanhiote Tyendinaga Territory Public Library near Deseronto.
The Community Digitization Project is implemented in 10 partnerships across Ontario made up of:
- 30 public libraries
- 11 historical societies
- 7 museums
- 6 others (genealogical societies, heritage centres, friends, schools, tourism offices, etc),
- It is estimated that by the end of the project, 17,000 objects of all media types will have been digitized and made discoverable online
- Range of almost 1500 km and 50 collection locations, see map
Over its two-year run, CDP will employ and train 22 individuals as Facilitators and Assistants who are dedicated to digitizing and training partner staff to implement and manage every step of the digitization program at their organizations after the CDP installment is complete.