Friday, June 28, 2013

SSMARt Innovation Awards

In case you missed it, Algoma University's Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre and Arthur A. Wishart Library recently won the 2013 SSMARt Innovation Project of the Year Award.  The award recognizes an "organization whose IT/science project demonstrates leadership and/or creative use of science/technology" and includes "benefits such as the advancement of the organization, improvement of client/customer services and positive impact on the science and IT community or the community at large."

The complete details of AlgomaU project and the SSMARt press release can be seen here and here.

[Note: I've been involved with this great project since 2010, so this is a bit of shameless promotion for the work that I and many others are involved in] 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Virtual Tourism and Audience Engagement

A recent issue of The Public Historian contained an interesting article, "#VirtualTourist: Embracing Our Audience through Public History Web Experience" by Anne Lindsay.  The article highlighted the ongoing challenges that cultural heritage sites in engage new and diverse audiences.  Lindsay focused on the potential of institutional web presence in the development of audience and donor relationships. 

On a basic level the article highlights the fact that digital content has become an essential and expected part of any guest interface.  Lindsay also argues that websites have the potential to create spaces of engagement and promote different types of educational interaction. 

However, Lindsay does indicate the online tools should be used as "a gateway to a more encompassing educational environment" [1].  Essentially the narratives of online content and physical content should be interconnected.  Historical narratives of particular groups (eg. women, slaves, farmers etc) should not be relegated to purely online content.  Rather, traditional interpretation should be expanded on online and there should be clear linkages between digital and physical experiences. The two platforms can have different content but the essential mission of the heritage site should be reflected in both the online and physical presence.

Lindsay's focus on virtual narrative and the potential of virtual spaces for education and outreach is reflexive of a general feeling in the cultural heritage field.  Many smaller organizations are struggling to develop digital content and platforms that appeal to changing audience needs.  The technical knowledge and staff time commitment to create a changing web presence (something more than a digital version of a brochure) can be daunting.  The cost vs benefit of any new initiative is always in the forefront of heritage institutions who are facing an uncertain fiscal future, especially when it includes venturing into uncharted territory.

However, increasingly cultural heritage organizations are realizing the importance of digital content and digital engagement.  Countless number of articles, professionals, and organizations are talking up the potential of digital engagement.  There is a whole realm of potential donors and potential "virtual tourists" for organizations to engage on a purely digital platform.  Additionally, digital content has the potential to enrich visitor experience, provide additional educational material, and create learning opportunities that sometimes aren't feasible onsite.  For example, a seasonal site that closes during the winter can still interact with potential visitors and donors online during the off-season, opening up expanded programming and outreach possibilities.

The path to digital engagement doesn't happen over night. But low cost options and documentation surrounding planning are becoming  increasingly accessible to organizations of all shapes and sizes.

[1] Anne Lindsay, "#VirtualTourist: Embracing Our Audience through Public History Web Experience" The Public Historian 35, no.1 (Winter, 2013) , 77.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

AAO Institutional Award

In case you missed it on twitter or the archives listserv, Algoma University's Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre and Arthur A. Wishart Library recently won the 2013 Archives Association of Ontario Institutional Award.  The The AAO Institutional Award recognizes an "Archival Institution that has contributed significantly to the advancement of the archival field or community, or has demonstrated a significant level of innovation and imagination in the establishment of outstanding or model programmes or services."

 Other universities that have been awarded the AAO Institutional Award include Queen’s University Archives (2012), the Ryerson University Gallery and Research Centre (School of Image Arts) and the Library and Archives Special Collections Program (2011), Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections at York University Archives (2008), and the Trent University Archives (2003).

 The complete details of AlgomaU project and the award a press release can be seen here.

[Full disclosure: I'm very fortunate to have been part of this project since 2010, so this is a bit of shameless promotion.]

Five Years Later: Looking Back at the Residential School Apology

June 11th marked the fifth anniversary of the Canadian Government's formal Residential School apology.  This apology took place in the House of Commons on June 11, 2008 and included a number of commitments toward healing and reconciliation and redressing the historical wrongs of Residential Schools.  The full text of the apology can be seen here.

What progress has been made since 2008? The Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement that began in 2007 has played out across Canada.  Deadlines for the Common Experience Payment and Independent Assessment Process have passed and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada is nearing the deadline of it's mandate.  Despite these deadlines having passed or approaching the TRC is still struggling to gather all relevant information relating to Residential Schools, there are a number of Residential School Survivors did not participate in the CEP or IAP processes, and students who attended day schools have yet to been formally addressed by the Canadian government.

Since 2008, funding to numerous Aboriginal organizations have been cut.  Organizations that were impacted by these cuts include: the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, National Aboriginal Health Organization, the Aboriginal Portal, the health budget of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), health funding to the Native Women's Association of Canada, and many other organizations.

On June 3rd Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada announced a new slate of funding changes and cuts to 43 Aboriginal organizations. These new cuts impacts the AFN, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, the Métis National Council and ITK.

The loss of funding to health programs and continued under funding of educational programs in remote communities is a stark contrast to the promises made in the 2008 Apology.  Promises of building relationships and supporting communities are good in theory, but actions speak louder that words. Added to the historic wrongs of Residential Schools, a history of colonialism and broken promises, the recent actions of the government have the potential to have impacts of ongoing efforts of healing and reconciliation.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Sudbury: The Journey from Moonscape to Sustainably Green

I have a new post over on, "Sudbury: The Journey from Moonscape to Sustainably Green." The post looks at the impact of mining on the environmental landscape in Sudbury and the ongoing efforts to repair the industrial damage to the land.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Archival Sources: Diaries and Blogs

The Spring issue of Archivaria contains an interesting article by Richard J. Cox titled "Lester J. Cappon and the Creation of Records: The Diary and the Diarist."  The article focuses on the Lester J. Cappon's use of a diary for various functions including: a mnemonic device, documentation of scholarly activities, and a place of personal reflection.

Cappon's diaries serve as an interesting example of a diarist who was well aware of how historical sources are created, preserved, and used by archivists and historians.  This awareness is seen in Cappon's early decision to donate his personal papers and the initial access restrictions applied to diaries which contained opinions about colleagues. Cappon seemed aware that his dairies were going to be read and used by people other than himself.

In addition to Cox's examination of Cappon's diaries, Cox also draws linkages between the act of blogging and the act of keeping a diary.  Despite the somewhat obvious similarities of blogging and journal keeping I have never previously made the connection.  Perhaps the popularized connotation of diaries being the domain of teenaged girls and contain deeply personal secrets created a disconnect between blogging and diary writing in my mind.  However, many diarists (including Cappon) have used diaries to record information about professional and scholarly activities and as a place to sound out early research ideas.

Personal diaries no matter what their content or form have the potential to be interesting and insightful historical sources.  Like all sources they have inherent flaws and biases and need to be examined within their societal and historical context.  What about blogs? How do personal or professional blogs fit within the framework of historical sources? The somewhat tenuous hosting of many blogs draws into question the long term preservation of these potential sources. 

 Personal reflection and the stories of individuals have the potential to bring moments of history alive and to illuminate history in way mass produced sources don't.  With more people blogging and fewer handwritten lifetime spanning diaries being produced how do archivists capture this new form of personal history? Today, many collections of personal papers might be well complimented by a collection of born digital material.