(Edmonton) As the world continues to run on Google, databases and web searches, searching for information, more and more researchers on campus are finding ways to make their materials and results available in a digital form.
Last week, a gathering at the University of Alberta’s Telus Centre took stock of some of those projects and began building connections between researchers and the facilities available to help that process.
“There is a significant amount of digital research activity on campus. This is stuff is happening all over, by people in native studies to computing science,” said Geoffrey Rockwell, a professor of philosophy and humanities computing and director of the Canadian Institute for Research in Computing and the Arts. “We can learn from each other and build a community so we can support each other.”
The CIRCA Histories and Archives group hosted a U of A Digitization Day on Dec. 16. The one-day event was a chance for people on campus who are working on research projects that are digitizing evidence to meet up with other units on campus that provide relevant research services.
“People in humanities computing often get requests from people elsewhere to consult on projects, and for information on the same things. It occurred to us that there seems to be a whole mess of projects going on�and they’re all alone,” said Rockwell. “So, what we wanted to do was find projects that were digitizing research materials and creating archives, and try to bring them together with units on campus that provide support for research computing.”
Twenty presenters from a dozen different areas on campus met to discuss issues around archiving, metadata, formats, copyright, ethics and community. They also learned about what kind of resources are available on campus. Attendees also learned about services offered by groups like campus Academic Information and Communication Technologies and U of A Libraries.
“For example, I had heard about Intermedia Research Studio and wanted to know about it, so inviting them was a chance to learn about something we’d been curious about – and for all of us to learn about as many projects on campus as we could,” said Rockwell.
The Intermedia Research Studio in the Department of Sociology is a research facility for work on visual culture, including photographs, film, video, advertising, television, the Internet and the built environment. It provides a state-of-the-art technical infrastructure (computer hardware and software, still, digital and video cameras, video and data projectors) for accessing, producing, manipulating and employing visual imageries in social research, a first in Canadian sociology departments.
The breadth of projects at the university isn’t surprising to Rockwell.
“I think we’re way ahead of a lot of other places, certainly in Canada,” he said. “And there’s more happening in Canada around humanities computing per capita than almost any other country in the world.”
The U of A has three things that make it a very strong place for humanities computing and digitization work, said Rockwell. “The first is a humanities computing graduate program, and having faculty who are associated full time with that program.”
That sheer amount of activity on campus is the second thing, said Rockwell. “We’ve got a whole mess of really significant projects, and a history of significant projects, from Orlando on, that brought in lots of funding and built infrastructure on campus.”
Finally, one of the major things that makes the U of A a centre for digitization research is the library’s investment in Education and Research Archives, a database with robust supporting storage and preservation infrastructure, said Rockwell. One of the main reasons for bringing everyone together at the conference was to get them to start thinking about migrating projects to ERA for long-term preservation, he said.
“That is the very important anchor that allows us to do all sorts of stuff,” he said. “The library isn’t the only entity on campus that’s been providing really good support; but having that trusted digital repository makes a huge difference.”