The preservation of historical Canadian data is at risk: experts’ panel

How “memory institutions” – libraries, archives, museums, galleries – share Canadian culture across the country and around the world is vastly changing in a digital world, says a Brock digital historian who is a member of a national experts’ panel.

And we need to support these institutions as they adapt to the digital age, says Kevin Kee, Canada Research Chair in Digital Humanities and Associate Vice-President, Research (Social Sciences and Humanities).

Kevin Kee

Kevin Kee

Kee and 12 other experts on the Council of Canadian Academies panel released its report February 4, which calls on memory institutions to create strategic and business plans around digital technologies.

“Canada is falling behind, and vast amounts of digital information are at risk of being lost because many traditional tools are no longer adequate in the digital age,” says Leading in the Digital World: Opportunities for Canada’s Memory Institutions.

“As one of the most wired populations in the world, Canadians expect their heritage to be accessible and discoverable online. Today, past content and new digital information are not always accessible. This matter will not fade away with time – rather, it will become more prominent.”

Kee’s research explores how best to collect, store and disseminate historical and cultural information using the latest digital technologies.

During the course of his research, Kee developed the Niagara 1812 iPhone app, an i-history tour that helped people visit places, such as Niagara-on-the-Lake and Queenston, connected to the War of 1812. It included “Roam Mode,” which provided the user, through her phone, with information about the places she was walking around, as well as Quest Mode, which took app users around town solving a centuries-old mystery in an immersive adventure.

“We’ve had these institutions in the past that were essentially brick and mortar, and we had to go to those institutions so that we could engage culture, whether it was a book or an old document or an artifact,” says Kee.

“But now we can share these. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Iqaluit or Dartmouth or Prince Rupert; you can have access to them digitally.”

The panel’s key findings include:

• To keep pace with the fundamental and unavoidable digital changes that are reshaping society, Canada’s memory institutions must exercise their capacity to be leaders within and among their respective organizations.
• Many of the challenges faced are rooted in technical issues associated with managing digital content, the sheer volume of digital information, and the struggle to remain relevant.
• The digital world has the potential to change the relationship between memory institutions and people. The integration of a participatory culture into the daily operations of memory institutions can encourage a sustainable, authentic relationship with the public.
• Collaboration is essential for adaptation. It enables memory institutions to access the vital resources required to deliver the enhanced services that users now expect in the digital age.

Kee says being one of 13 members of the Council of Canadian Academies panel was a “tremendous honour and privilege” that enabled he and his colleagues explore the challenges to, and the possibilities for, memory institutions in the digital age.

“My essential contribution was to draw upon the digital humanities literature – the insights of my colleagues – around research practices and possibilities for sharing the Arts ,” he says.

“Dr. Kee’s knowledge of digital humanities helped to enrich and deepen the analysis needed for the Council’s assessment of memory institutions and the digital revolution,” said Janet Bax, Interim President of CCA.

“He was an invaluable member of the Panel and we are grateful for his volunteer contribution. We are all confident the Panel’s work will now lead to an important discussion amongst the many actors within Canada’s memory institutions community.”

The Council of Canadian Academies is an independent, not-for-profit organization that began operation in 2005. The Council undertakes independent, authoritative, science-based, expert assessments that inform public policy development in Canada.

Assessments are conducted by independent, multidisciplinary panels (groups) of experts from across Canada and abroad. Panel members serve free of charge and many are Fellows of the Council’s Member Academies. For more information:

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