BCHF News Vancouver Island University digitizes Canadian cultural heritage

Vancouver Island University digitizes Canadian cultural heritage

The narratives of Canada’s journey of exploration will be shared with the online world through the digitization of Vancouver Island University’s (VIU’s) Special Collections archives.

VIU is one of 21 successful candidates from 213 applications to receive funding from Libraries and Archives Canada (LAC) and the National Heritage Digitization Strategy (NHDS) to digitize collections for the preservation of Canadian cultural heritage. Thanks to an anonymous million-dollar donation to the NHDS, the organization made a call out to memory institutions to support their digitization initiatives that are both of national importance and unique. VIU was successful in securing a $17,015 grant, with the remainder of the $65,000 project budget being made in-kind by the university.

“This funding will build upon our digitization and open access content production capacity and, more importantly, it offers the potential to deepen our existing relationships with Indigenous communities,” says Ben Hyman, Chief Librarian at VIU.

The VIU Library will digitize 38 historic texts and six maps from its Special Collections – content that has never been digitized before. The collection features naval expeditions along the Northwest Passage, and carves out narratives of the journeys of what became Canada. What is missing from these texts is representation of Indigenous perspectives and contexts.
“Indigenous voices are scarce in records of this kind – even when the subject is ‘ethnographies – Indigenous Peoples’, so in an effort to elevate Indigenous voices with respect to these narratives, VIU Library will invite Elders from local communities to be aware of and to reflect on selected works and passages,” says Hyman.

Reconstructing truths through collaboration with Indigenous community members may involve challenging – but necessary –conversations. The VIU Library hopes to engage with local Indigenous communities and reach out to other institutions to collaborate in these conversations. It will seek guidance from community with respect to the manifestation of the narratives that may emerge.

According to the NHDS, “Documentary heritage is a cornerstone of all democratic societies. It supports economic, social, legal understanding and cultural growth, while also fostering innovation to ensure a strong future.”

By digitizing these materials, and through collaboration with community, “Our intent is to honour VIU’s values as an open access, special purpose teaching university,” says Hyman.

This is the second grant the VIU library has received for digitization initiatives in the last six months. The Library also received $40,000 to digitize the Nanaimo Daily Free Press (1874-1928) and the Cowichan Leader (1905-1928).

Although the digitization of the historical texts and maps will be complete by August 2019, Hyman says the collaboration between the University and Indigenous communities will be a longer commitment. The Library aims to continue finding ways to decolonize historical information and build upon its capacity to provide open access content to students, faculty and the greater VIU community.