Sunday, October 28, 2007

Digitize First, Cutback Later

Over the last couple of months, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has received plenty of criticism over their decision to reduce their hours. Frustration and dissatisfaction has been mounting towards LAC who repeatedly defends the cutbacks based on the claim that many of the archives resources are now available online. This decision was explained on their website on August 9, 2007, stating:

...we are adjusting our hours of operation, in keeping with the anticipated needs of clients and evolving information technologies. We are steadily adding documentary heritage material to our website, thereby increasing access to the collection for Canadians both in the National Capital Region and across the country.[i]

Clearly, it makes sense for LAC to encourage the public to access their expanding online collection. By digitizing their archives they are engaging in an increasingly popular conservation strategy, while simultaneously making their resources more accessible to a wider range of users. I can imagine for historians who live half-way across our very large country (or even for Ontarians such as myself who still live a solid six hour drive away from Ottawa) that it would be very convenient if researchers could gain access to the National Archives from their own homes. Furthermore, as much as LAC is currently being criticized, they do seem to be making significant improvements to the usability of their digitized collection.

LAC has stabilized their website and has improved its ability to handle the increased demand. Also, the website has replaced the outdated ArchivaNet: Online Research Tool, with the more comprehensive and thorough Archives Search, which allows users to search within archives, library, ancestors, and the website, or specify if they would like to search within one in particular. In addition, Archives Search allows for the user to make very precise searches of LAC’s holdings; researchers can specify the type of materials, the hierarchical level (such as fonds/collection, series, file, etc.), or the specific dates of the resources they seek. Finally, the search also lets the user know whether the document they want is available online or offline.

This is where things get tricky. As the Globe and Mail reported on September 29, 2007, it is currently estimated that only 1% of LAC’s holdings are currently digitized.[ii] In this way, the cutbacks on the hours of operation were not only pre-mature, but worthy of the Canadian public’s indignation. It is admirable to work towards improving the ability to search and use online collections, but until a much larger holding has been created, it is unfair to restrict the publics’ access to their national archives.

*Picture is of the sculpture “The Secret Bench of Knowledge” by Lea Vivot, which is found in front of LAC

[i] “New Hours of Operation” in What’s New, 9 August 2007 (28 October 2007)

[ii] Val Ross, “ Service Cuts at Ottawa’s Archives rile Researchers” in The Globe and Mail, Print Edition 29/09/07 Page R6

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Zotero Might Change my Life...

I must admit that I am becoming increasingly addicted to the digital world. I love the ease in which I can quickly scope out what has been written on the topics I am researching by using an internet search engine. It makes me enraged when such searches are hindered due to slow internet access, or if wireless internet is not available and I am forced to sit wherever I can plug in. I also cannot imagine what it would be like to do research without access to online journals via JSTOR. In fact, it makes me mad when I have to go to the library to photocopy journal articles that have not been digitized. Furthermore, Zotero, a Firefox extension that allows users to capture and organize web pages, is a research device which I have recently been introduced to, and is changing the way I organize my research.

I am well aware that this all makes me sound like a hypocrite after so strongly professing my attachment and enduring love for smelly books in one of my previous posts. But I am sticking with my belief that books and computers work together. For instance when it comes to a long read, I will always prefer reading off of paper as opposed to on a screen. But when doing initial research and searches for information, I always rely heavily on the internet.

In this way, I think that Zotero has the possibility of changing the way I do research. Before Zotero I filled bookmark folders with random websites that I thought I might eventually, sort of, kind of, maybe use for an upcoming project. Zotero allows the user to add notes to folders so that they can document, amongst other things, why they thought they might need that information. In addition, as my previous rage towards slow or inconvenient internet access made clear, being able to use the information stored on Zotero while offline is a major asset. The best part, however, is the cleanliness of it all. I waste so many sheets of paper jotting down bibliographic information, websites, and book titles. Now I can store all of these things neatly on Zotero. I am still figuring out all that Zotero has to offer me, but so far, I think Zotero might change my life.