ACA Conference Bites, Stevie : Day 3 – Poster Session

Finally! The poster session. This was a new format for the ACA this year. Where normally a very few posters would be shown out in the hall with the vendors during breaks on one of the days, this year more posters were presented, and each presenter (or group of presenters) were allotted five minutes to explain their work. This was a great idea, as it gave people an idea of what was on our poster before actually reading our poster, which in turn made them more interested in reading the poster, and asking questions.poster5b

Our five minute lightning talk was on the work UASC has been doing with the Courtney Milne collection, digitizing a selection of the 486,000 35mm slides donated and making them available online.

Other topics included: Preservation, other digitization projects, the portrayal of archivists in movies, human rights and archives, Lululemon(!) and much more. It was a great session with great people, and I am happy to have had the chance to meet and work, however briefly, alongside them all!

After speaking, we went over to where our actual posters were on display, and answered questions over the next two break sessions. I really appreciated everyone who came over to discuss the project!


ACA Conference Bites, Stevie : Day 3 – LAC Plenary

fa27458fd8cd1e2e6d6f5df7109ac639 wascana-lake-is-the-centre

While Thursday evening was a time of great relaxation (good food, storytelling in the Lady Slipper courtyard, a long walk around Wascana lake, and ice cream outside of the Leg’), Friday was a day that began and continued at a higher pitch of activity. From the outset, we were, of course, prepared for but anxious about our poster presentation which would be taking place at 10:00 that morning. But before that, breakfast, and the plenary.

The 9:00 plenary on Friday June 12 was delivered by Dr. Guy Berthiaume of Library and Archives Canada. Following the massive hits LAC has taken over the past few years, this talk seemed aimed at reassuring the audience that the organization is back on track, with new initiatives that will help revitalize documentary heritage in Canada.

Two of these initiatives involve nation-wide collaborative efforts, both in the realm of acquisitions and, as was previously mentioned in Paul Wagner’s talk, digitization. LAC hopes to institute stronger collaborative methodologies in order to ensure that a) there is some national consistency in who is preserving what, and b) archives and special collections are not constantly duplicating work on the digitization front. Dr. Berthiaume admitted that Canada is lagging behind most other nations in our digitization work, and so this is one area in which LAC will be putting a great deal of effort in the coming years.

After speaking a bit on his goal to make government records more accessible, LAC’s partnership  with, and the fact that LAC has both a flickr and youtube channel, Berthiaume “dropped the mic” (as the kids say).


The moment in Berthiaume’s talk that caused the room to swell with murmurs and Twitter to explode with anticipation was the announcement of the Documentary Heritage Communities Program (DHCP).   After years under a spending freeze, the LAC is now offering a unique opportunity for incorporated and non-incorporated non-profit associations/organizations (specifically local archival and library communities) to increase their capacity to preserve, provide access to and promote local documentary heritage. This will take the form of a variety of financial contributions which will support projects which increase access to, and awareness of Canada’s local documentary institutions and their holdings; an increase the capacity of local documentary heritage institutions to better sustain and preserve Canada’s documentary heritage.

Although our own University Archives and Special Collections is not eligible for this particular source of funding, it is great to see LAC back on their feet and taking steps in a direction that will help hundreds of smaller institutions.

Another interesting idea that came out of the Q&A session after the talk was the notion that we should remember with caution that what we digitize has an inadvertent effect on what people research. Researchers will tend to look for what is online first (for reasons of ease of access, funding, etc.), and so it is necessary that what we put up online reflects an accurate representation of our holdings.


(dun dun DUNNNNN)

ACA Conference Bites : Stevie, Day 2 – Extending Our Reach

Sandwiches are great. Complimentary sandwiches are even better. Sandwiches are what we were given for our first lunch at the ACA conference. Lest you experience envy at their marbled-rye and thick egg-salady goodness, I will neglect to post a picture here. (Also, I forgot to take a picture.)

(a salad)

We also had a salad.( I didn’t take a picture of that either.) But both were very good, and lunch provided a great opportunity for all of us poster-presenters to get together and make our plan of action for the next day. It was wonderful to meet the other presenters and put faces to names (and posters). Two of the presenters I knew from my previous life in Montreal, but most of them were new to me. I won’t drop too many spoilers about the actual poster session here — that will get its own post (and there WILL be pictures)–but eating lunch with the people we would be presenting alongside helped a lot with the nerves. They were all super-nice people.

The next session we went to was titled “Extending Our Reach — Engaging the Public with New Media and Old.” Being someone who does a lot of social media work for the University Library’s University Archives and Special Collections (and even some blogging on the side . . .) this was one of the sessions I was most excited for.

First up was Brett Lougheed from the University of Winnipeg who had some interesting and useful observations on the social media employed both at the U of W and at the U of M. He cracked open the discussion with the adage “the medium is the message.” While in many areas this can be a controversial statement, I think nowhere is it truer than with social media. Different social media platforms shape the way in which we share our thoughts–what we say on a subject on Facebook may be very different from the way we cram it into 140 Twitter characters. How we group and share images on a blog will be different from how we do it on Pinterest (I’m thinking the University Archives and Special Collections needs Pinterest in its life–is this madness?).

Some of Lougheed’s tips, tricks, and observations, as based on his years of experience working with social media in two separate institutions are as follows:

  • Be Unobtrusive – Posts should be informative and fun, spaced evenly enough apart that the user is neither over nor underwhelmed.
  • Facebook – Should not just be a place where you share your Twitter posts. There is room for exposition. Use it.
  • Fun Ideas for Facebook
    • Create an institutional timeline using old photographs and   Facebook’s timeline feature << Definitely something I’ll look into doing for the U of S!
    • Actually make use of the photo album feature (Derp. not sure why we’re not doing this).
  • Image Posts Are King
  • Play Off of the Now – If it is Valentines Day, post Valentines Day content. If the Riders are in the Grey Cup, post Grey Cup stuff (if the Riders are not in the Grey Cup, ignore the Grey Cup stuff — it will just make everyone sad).
  • Twitter Audience – Is mostly going to be people with some sort of pre-existing background in archives and special collections, be they contemporaries, or advanced researchers. This makes Twitter a less-than-ideal platform to engage with new users.
  • Youtube – Is good!
  • Blogs – Should be interactive spaces for discussion, and above all, fun!

Some of these are perhaps self-evident, but all were good points to keep in mind, and I definitely came away with some fun ideas for ways to extend our own online presence. Six months, already! It has been over six months since our Twitter feed and Facebook page and blog were born. I’m a proud Momma.

Next up Andrea Martin and Tyyne Petrowski from the University of Manitoba (interestingly, this was a very Central-Western centric panel. Are we really doing more outreach out here, or just more inclined to talk about it?) who shared their experiences using Tumblr to showcase a collection of letters sent home by Frederick D. Baragar during the Great War. I was intrigued enough by Tumblr as an interface for this sort of project that I put together my own Tumblr blog when I got home, just to get my hands in it. Rather than re-hashing their presentation, I will invite you to take a look at From the Somewhere , which is a truly fabulous example of an easy-to-use, easy-to-maintain-and-update blog that allows non-traditional (and traditional) archival users to engage with primary source materials. in a familiar format.

Last to speak was Saskatoon’s own City Archivist, Jeff O’Brien, who was introduced as having been raised in a culvert by a family of gophers. Which sort of set the tone, as such statements will. gopher_wiki Jeff is such an engaging and amusing speaker, and it is always a treat to listen to him talk about pretty much anything (the gophers taught him well.) On this occasion he was talking about his work with local media (and in particular his CTV news segment Saskatoon Stories) , encouraging those working in archives and special collections to make media relations a priority. Requests from the media tend to be highly time sensitive, and so archives and special collections need to make requests coming in from any news organ a “drop everything request.” We should also attempt to anticipate the needs of news entities (if there’s an election coming up, dig up our stuff on elections before they even ask), and never turn down an interview. He reminded us that “everyone likes a good story” and that archives and special collections, being places filled with good stories, are ideally suited for partnership with news outlets whose goal it is to share good stories.

All that being said, I’m afraid I don’t personally quite have O’Brien’s gift for gab, and I am convinced that propping me up in front of a camera for any length of time could only end badly for everyone involved.

After all, I wasn’t raised by gophers.

Dinner that night was catered by Merv’s pitchfork fondue. This is a picture of Merv. With his pitchfork. SO GOOD!


ACA Conference Bites: Stevie, Day 2 – Digital Preservation

The first session I attended at the ACA conference was titled “Where We Go From Here: Challenges in Digital Preservation.”

Adam Jansen spoke first, an enthusiastic fellow in a Hawaiian shirt who is affiliated with UBC’s InterPARES (International Research on Permanent Authentic Records in Electronic Systems) Trust. He emphasized the importance of preserving documentary evidence–be that document electronic or physical–and discussed the inherent differences in the ways electronic records must be preserved. Unlike their analog counterparts, electronic records all but demand that preservation begin at creation, with the production of accurate metadata. They also require the early employment of systems (intellectual systems as well as hardware/software) which will accommodate swiftly growing and ever-changing collections of digital media.

In an effort to meet the increasingly rigorous demands of preserving electronic records, some archives (and many individuals) have turned to the cloud. “The Cloud” or cloud computing focuses on maximizing the effectiveness of shared resources, which can be dynamically reallocated per demand. The end result is that vast amounts of information (from multiple sources) can be stored in a flexible shared space which may exist either on or off site.

While there are obvious benefits to cloud computing for preservation (the storing of electronic records at a secure data center, for example, which may otherwise be far outside of the financial means of the institution) there are also great risks. Jansen was keen to impart the dangers of relying upon the cloud as a means of electronic record preservation (making that face << images and an “EAUGH!” noise of frustration and despair at some point in his discussion). Questions of ownership, jurisdiction, and privacy all become complicated with the introduction of cloud computing to e-records management and, as has been demonstrated time and again (remember the celebrity icloud hacking scandal of last year?) the cloud is not necessarily as secure as we would like to think.

In many ways, cloud computing was not designed for preservation (as my Computer-Science genius-brained fiance was quick to point out to me). The system was designed to meet the needs of rapidly fluctuating processing power demands (e-mail servers, for example), not the more-or-less steady processing needs of long-term data storage.  Nevertheless, the potential for a fruitful partnership between cloud computing vendors and archivists should not be ignored. The key to ensuring that important data is not lost when applying preservation principles to the cloud lies in the metadata–which, Jansen assured us, is where InterPARES Trust plays a role.

The trustworthiness of an electronic document–its documentary integrity–lies in the completeness and purity of its metadata, and InterPARES Trust has made it a goal to work with users and cloud vendors in order to regulate the preservation of that metadata in the cloud. The group has identified 6 preservation services which are necessary to ensure data integrity within the cloud, including: 1) ensuring that what was sent to the cloud was received intact 2) ensuring that metadata has been accurately imported with the digital object 3) ensuring that what has been imported is authentic 4) ensuring that users receive a report on the status of the physical storage space of the data-center 5) ensuring that there is data being generated reflecting any migrations and emulations that occur and 6) ensuring that there is data on how materials are being disseminated.

Jansen, then, sees archivists and information professionals as the bridge between the cloud provider and their audience when it comes to safely preserving electronic records for the long term. We have seen some of the fruits of this sort of union in our own unit with the introduction of Archivematica, a platform for the long-term preservation of “trustworthy, authentic, and reliable digital content,” which makes use of cloud-based technologies. Although not yet fully implemented at UASC, the benefits of Archivematica in keeping our digital (and particularly born-digital) records accessible, safe, and clean is inarguable.

(If you couldn’t guess, Jansen’s talk sparked a ton of subsequent discussion, which is why I’m rambling about it here. For the others, I’ll be brief: )

Next to speak was Paul Wagner from Library and Archives Canada, who focused on their shifting digital strategies. Of particular note is the attention LAC is going to be paying to digital initiatives across the country, attempting to sort out who has digitized what, and thereby cut down on the amount of overlap in digitization projects occurring between institutions. He also reminded us that “context improves content” when it comes to digital material, and that it may be fruitful to ask clients what they want to see digitized. A very down-to-earth and helpful talk.

Finally, Allana Mayer, an independent researcher, discussed her survey which asked archivists about the nature of their digital holdings : What do we have? How much are we holding? How often is it asked for? How are we preserving it?  She also encouraged archives to treat their digital records like nitrate film : swiftly and with constant vigilance. These are all important questions to be asking; however, Allana’s impatience with archivists and records managers for not dealing more effectively with their electronic records seemed symptomatic of a non-holistic view of archival work. With so many archives and special collections facing years and kilometers of physical backlog, it is perhaps unsurprising that the thought of tackling electronic records in full-body contact sport makes us cringe.

Still, if there’s one thing this session assured me of, its that digital preservation is not as unmanageable as we may fear.

ACA Conference Bites : Stevie, Day 2 – Gail Bowen

Anyone who loves books and lives in Saskatchewan is bound to have read, or at least heard of the detective fiction of Regina-based author Gail Bowen. On the first morning of the conference the plenary was delivered by this mistress of intrigue who, true to form, kept the ballroom spellbound with her tales of serendipity, working with archives, and meeting royalty.

I think her best line (and twitter seemed to agree) was the notion that “archivists are alchemists.” Aside from the obvious ways in which this analogy would resonate with a group of document-loving history buffs, it was adept in its comparison between the disorganized haystack that our documents often arrive in, and the golden order we transmute them into. It is often the task of the archival worker to take what seems like an impossible mess of highly valuable research materials, and convert it into something that will be clean, tidy, well-documented, and–above-all–accessible to researchers.

img520Heavily present in Gail’s talk was the notion of serendipity–a sort of stumble-across-good-luck which has, she claimed, played a huge role in her life and in her writing. She gave as an example the first book to which she had been invited to contribute: The Easterners’ Guide to Western Canada / The Westerners’ Guide to Eastern Canada (1985).  A random request from a friend to write a small chapter in a little-known “airplane book” sparked a writing career that would span three decades and over twenty novels.  (Interestingly, I myself had serendipitously found this book in our holdings a few months back and enjoyed a few moments reading Bowen’s segment “A Letter from British Columbia.”) In many ways, Bowen credits the success of her career to serendipity. The right person standing by the right fax machine at the right time has culminated in the adaptation of her novels into movies ; the right people becoming interested in the right play has led to her taking lunch with Prince Charles (who, as it turns out, isn’t much a fan of lunch–in Gail’s words “Clean your plate, boy!”).

Bowen’s focus on the power of serendipity was interesting given the loaded nature of the term within archives and libraries, and perhaps an unintentional nod to a major topic of discussion in information theory. In a recent C-EBLIP article, Frank Winter discusses the (perceived) conflict between the desire to maintain serendipitous information discovery (as by reading shelves) and the need for more efficient resource allocation in the academic library (as by moving resources off-site to provide better student study spaces, or relying upon electronic copies) (Winter, 2015).

The struggle to allow for serendipitous discovery in any type of research in which the user is not handling the material from shelf-to-table is a familiar one in the world of archives and special collections. Archives and special collections, being spaces where the bulk of information is kept behind locked (or at least heavy) doors may seem singularly unsuited to the coincidental uncovering of information–however, this is not the case. Serendipity can and frequently does occur within the archival context. In her 2011 essay “Serendipity in the Archive,” Nancy Lusignan Schultz names two elements essential to fostering serendipity in archival research : “good sleuthing” on the part of the researcher (Bowen would love that) and “the expert guidance of a willing archivist” (Schultz, 2011). Here, the reference assistant must become an active accessory to serendipity–providing the user not just with what they ask for, but with a few shots in the dark besides.

Serendipity, then, takes a different form in archives and special collections than it does within the library stacks, being reliant not only on the keen eyes of the user as she rifles through files, but also upon the initial decision made by reference staff regarding which finding aids she may find on-topic.  The reference staff must have a broad enough understanding of the unit’s holdings to provide guidance, yet be unfamiliar enough with the specific contents of each fonds to allow coincidental discoveries to occur. In many ways, each file within an archival fonds presents an ideal vehicle for serendipitous discovery, as its contents can be as varied as the interests of the person that created it.

In his article, Winter acknowledges the value of serendipity in research, but ultimately concludes that  there are “so many variables that determine whether a user stumbles across something relevant that they are almost impossible to identify,” and therefore serendipity should perhaps not be invoked as an “operating principle when deciding how to manage down print collections”  (Winter, 2015). His assertion about the nature of serendipity is in line with the vast difference between the kind of serendipitous discovery we see in the library stacks, and that which is found in archives and special collections. Serendipity is the result of a near-infinite chain of coincidences, and therefore can take a on near-infinite number of forms. Perhaps with the changing library landscape will come a shifting in the nature of serendipitous discovery in libraries themselves. As print collections shrink and move, we may lose the thrill of being accidentally (and literally) struck  with a relevant top-shelf book as we reach for another. The question is, what other form of coincidental discovery will take its place?

Bowen, Gail. “25 Years of Writing Joanne.” ACA 2015 “Perspectives on the Archival Horizon”.
(June 11, 2015).

Schultz, Nancy Lusignan. “Serendipity in the Archive.” The Chronicle of Higher Education 57.37 (2011). Canadian Periodicals Index Quarterly. Web. 17 June 2015.

Winter, Frank. “Serendipity, Algorithms, and Managing Down the Collective Print Collection.” Brain Work.  (March 2015). Last accessed: 17 June 2015.

ACA Conference Bites: Stevie, Day 1

From the 10th to the 13th, co-worker Laurie Wing and myself had the opportunity to attend the Association of Canadian Archivists Conference in the exotic locale of Regina, Saskatchewan.

Over the next several days you, dear readers, will be regaled with tales of our adventures in that far and distant land and (more importantly) will be made privy to some of the professional insights shared by the conference presenters.

For now, Day 1:

June 10, 2015

I arose early this morning to a blue sky and the sound of birds singing their morning aubades to the heavens (well, crows cawing, anyway). All had been put (frenetically) into readiness the evening before, and so I loaded my suitcase and purse and non-laptop sized laptop bag into my trusty blue RAV and puttered out in quest of my traveling companion.

My traveling companion, it quickly became apparent, lived in a complex labyrinth of new developments where Google maps was hesitant to guide me and the four way stop was King. After a few wrong turns and a couple of meditative pull-over stops I was greeted with Laurie’s smiling face and we were ready to hit the road. 

And hit the road we did, pulling into Regina around noon with (I thought) plenty of time to get to the Saskatchewan Council for Archives and Archivists Annual General Meeting downtown at 1:00. The impenetrable fortress-like nature of the building the AGM was being held in slowed us down somewhat, but we arrived just as a representative from Sask Culture was starting his talk on some of the incredible cultural initiatives they have going on (with the potential for funding for archives and other heritage institutions). One major Sask Culture initiative in which the SCAA is becoming involved is the Multicultural Inclusiveness Strategy which aims at engaging emerging demographics in Saskatchewan’s population, with a particular focus on its rapidly growing aboriginal population.

In many ways, the existence of the SCAA is largely made possible through the support of Sask Culture, and Saskatchewan Lotteries. The mission of the SCAA is to foster the development, cooperation and advancement of Saskatchewan’s archives and archivists through leadership, support, education and promotion. It is an invaluable resource for “developing a cooperative and successful archival network in Saskatchewan, encouraging the establishment of new archives in Saskatchewan, promoting and developing standard archival policies and practices, and promoting public understanding and use of archives and historical resources in Saskatchewan.” Under the guidance of the SCAA board and the indefatigable efforts of the province’s archival adviser Cameron Hart, the SCAA provides advice and assistance to archives, sponsors outreach events, and maintains the Saskatchewan Archival Information Network, a network of information about archival holdings in Saskatchewan, including a photo database.

IMG_0829After the Sask Culture talk there was a brief intermission during which Laurie and I filled our plates with cabbage rolls, perogie, salad, and watermelon (a true Saskatchewan spread), and we likewise filled our stomachs while listening in on the meeting. As a new-ish member, this was my first opportunity to exercise my right to vote, which was exciting. Also, my efforts in helping to revive the SCAA newsletter were applauded, and I was voted in as Member-At-Large (1 year term). They even gave me a nifty “Director” pin. Which makes me sound much more important than I am (but I won’t complain). I am looking forward to becoming further involved in the SCAA as the year unfolds.

Following the meeting Laurie and I were able to check-in to our rooms at the Hotel IMG_0830Sask (where the conference was being held), and also registered for the conference–receiving our swag bags, which included the typical array of writing implements, along with a USB car adapter (surprise! not a jump drive!), and this cute stylus and notepad from the SCAA and the SAB.

After a delicious dinner in downtown Regina (pulled pork and vegetable poutine, anyone?) we put our road-weary and food-heavy bodies to bed in preparation  for the first full day of conference presentations.

Swag bag on a fancy couch