GLAMi nomination: Ingenium’s Digital Archives Portal

nominated by: Kristy von Moos, Canada Science and Technology Museum, Canada
institution: Ingenium
category: Exhibition and Collection Extension
https://ingeniumcanada.org/archives

Ingenium’s Digital Archives portal. What is it? What it is not.

Ingenium’s new Digital Archives portal gives visitors unprecedented access to digital copies of our archival holdings.  This is not a curated image gallery. It is our naked catalogue data, made available in a digital space for those who can’t travel to our museums.

Ingenium’s archives come from our three museums: the Canada Science and Technology Museum, the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum, and the Canada Aviation and Space Museum.  Digital Archives provides catalogue data from these institutions– imperfect, often incomplete –in an easy to use website.

The portal was designed for mobile devices first, using a responsive design. A push was also made to mark copyright data using Creative Commons licenses whenever possible. Public domain materials were identified, freeing them for reuse. Ingenium’s Digital Archives portal is an open invitation to use our materials, and a window into our work.

Screenshot of Main “Explore” page, showing filters and photograph examples

Background

Ingenium’s Digital Archives Portal is part of a larger project that we have been calling amongst ourselves “Open Stuff.” This project seeks to push out working data and documents so that others may better understand our work, reuse our data, and get to know our holdings.

Traditionally archivists like to put out a perfect catalogue record so as to avoid any room for confusion.  There is fear that a scanned item presented without sufficient contextual information may lead to misunderstandings.  But now we’re not waiting for perfection before we post.  We’re putting in some scans that we’ve made that could use a crop, or were made at a lower resolution.  We’re posting scans of photographs that have no date information or strange titles.  We believe there is value in providing online access to these materials even as we continue to work on them.

Example of photographs with rough scans in the portal

This is access without necessarily mediation by the archival staff.  When we don’t have data for a field, the portal shows “N/A,” as in not applicable. This is misleading, of course – the missing data can be highly applicable! However, our position now is that what we have, however limited, may also be ‘applicable enough’ for a lot of people and their needs.

 

Access to “Open Stuff” without mediation can even help to illustrate what we’re doing when we mediate or provide information not on the original record.  By inviting visitors in, we’re hoping to be transparent about the work that is done (or is yet to be done) by an archivist.  Museums and archives are not neutral, universal institutions that transmit information automatically, without work or bias.  They are rooted in the nation-building or history-making endeavours that are their raison d’être.  If we’re clear about this, and what we do with the objects or archives in our holdings, people might gain an even clearer understanding of the material we preserve and how we do it.

Example of an incomplete catalogue record, inviting users to help full in gaps

To start with, we want to indicate what exists. How can you ask for access to an item if you don’t know that it’s there?  How will you know if there is a gap in our historical record, if you don’t know what gaps have already been filled and who has filled them?  So we’re trying to let our visitors and researchers know what we don’t know – a change in approach for sure.

Functionality

Users can use keyword searches, filters, or navigate through the portal as they like, accessing over 30,000 images (and growing). The portal lives in Ingenium’s corporate website. Users can download, print and share the digital copies on social media.  They can request better reproductions or contact us with suggestions on how to improve the metadata.

The portal has been responsively designed for desktop and mobile use.  The look is clean and the aim was ease of use.

Ready for the next step

We’ve changed our mindset, so now we’re set to develop the portal to make it more interactive.  Next up is the development of functionality that allows for participatory cataloguing and curated galleries.  We want to encourage people to tell stories and expand upon histories that have been told in our digital or physical exhibitions.  We’ll also be adding new collections regularly.

Welcome to Ingenium’s Digital Archives, we’re open!