Taming a monster

By Gord Carter, Photographer

Chances are, you have been involved in a digitization project. Have you ever scanned or taken a digital picture of an old document or photo either to make a safe copy or to send it to a friend or colleague? You probably have. In which case, you have taken on a small digitization project. Now imagine trying to take that image, make sure it’s of sufficient size and quality, record all of the details about it, make a few copies, keep those copies safe, associate the image with an object or person and convince others that the cost of all this is appropriate. Then repeat these steps a couple of hundred thousand times or more for all of the artifacts in a museum. This is a challenge that many of us in the museum and archive industry began thinking about a little more than 10 years ago.

Louise Renaud of the Canadian Museum of Civilization (now called the Canadian Museum of History) thought she could use some help and contacted a few of her colleagues in other institutions to see if they were also having problems starting their digitization projects. The answer she got was a resounding yes! There were no real standards or plans and people were making it all up as they went along. Many of those Louise contacted were either having some difficulty or felt they may be able to contribute to solutions. So she scheduled a meeting for 25th of May 2004, and that’s how this all started. The Digitization Discussion Group was born.

The 10th meeting of the group, Canadian Museum of Civilization, 2006. (Photo by Stephen Darby of CMC)

The first invitees began by simply talking about their projects and the problems they were encountering. Going around the table, it was obvious that most of us needed some sort of assistance. Advice was offered and taken. We quickly realized that most issues were not going away anytime soon, so we agreed to meet quarterly and encourage all institutions in the National Capital Region—large or small—to participate.

As a result of the round table deliberations, some members began participating on discussion panels or attending conferences of which they were previously unaware. There have also been some helpful presentations by companies who would not have been able to reach that many institutions at once. Keeping participation informal has made it a bit easier for some institutions to attend. For instance, the language used around the table is a choice of French and English, with members providing each other with translations if needed. The duties of host went around the table. Meetings have been held at the Canadian Conservation Institute, the Canada Science and Technology Museum, Library and Archives Canada, the Library of Parliament, City of Ottawa Archives, the Bank of Canada Museum, the Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN), the National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian Museum of Nature, the Canada Aviation and Space Museum and others.

A logo developed by George Vandervlugt of Parks Canada in 2007.

To get the word out and to share papers, we tried using a website and an online service called iCohere, but we have since settled on using Google groups, which has the added bonus of being free! All of these communications attempts inspired two of the members to get creative and produce a couple of fun logos. I think they really depict what we are trying to do.

Recently, with the tremendous efforts of Ern Bieman of CHIN, we have expanded our reach and therefore our wealth of knowledge. Ern had started, a few years back, to provide advice to smaller museums, archives and heritage preservers across the country, hosting a regular teleconference with them. After realizing we had many similar goals, we decided to hold the last three or four meetings jointly—and now we have a new name: The Digitization and Digital Preservation Discussion Group.

Throughout the years, attendance has varied with a low of about 5 or 6 on a very wintery day, to over 30 when other meetings didn’t clash. Now, with the addition of people from all over Canada, the numbers are growing—and the Bank of Canada Museum has been there right from the start.