Building Community Memory through On-line Technology

Ted Leath

December, 1999


 
 

Abstract

Around the world, communities are examining the issues of preserving cultural identity, documenting local history, promoting tourism and examining their shared heritage. Until now, many communities have relied on official records, tradition, customs, stories (both oral and written), language, myth and similar means for the preservation of cultural identity and community memory. It is proposed that on-line technologies can provide a means of augmenting community memory through the provision of highly interactive and widely distributed means of gathering, indexing and archiving multimedia assets.

Some communities currently have no multimedia assets archived. Some communities simply want to organize the materials they already possess into a cohesive whole. It is intended that the possible tools, implementation of these tools, processes and the documentation of processes involved in building community memory through on-line technology be researched.

In as much as is possible, concepts, tools and processes should be easily transferable and applicable across different communities. While primarily examining the augmenting of community memory for geographically based communities; the development of on-line communities based on mutual interest should also be considered along with overlapping areas. It is hoped that a cohesive process and associated tools for gathering, indexing and archiving multimedia assets for community memory will emerge.

Introduction

"The new electronic interdependence recreates the world in the image of a global village"

- Marshall McLuhan

Marshall McLuhan originated the now popular phrase "global village" in the early 1960s.

This was certainly visionary for the time, and the phrase has now entered general usage. In the 1990s the popular perception that the world is becoming "a smaller place" has been pressed upon our consciousness through advances in transportation, telecommunication and information technologies. Is the world to become a global village? What was not expected in the 1960s (or at least fully appreciated) were the following factors:

  1. The use of global communications to enhance local communication.

  2. As well as connecting people in diverse places around the world, the wide availability of telecommunication and information technologies has also encouraged geographically local communication.

  3. The fear of cultural imperialism.

  4. Is there to be only one village with uniformity of language, culture and custom? Concern over cultural dominance by the more technically advanced has promoted efforts toward the preservation of cultural heritage.

  5. The economic importance of tourism.
Improvements in transportation and greater disposable incomes for much of the more developed world have increased tourism and itís resultant economic importance. In considering these trends, it is proposed that on-line technologies can provide a means of augmenting community memory through the provision of highly interactive and widely distributed means of gathering, indexing and archiving multimedia assets.

Some communities currently have no multimedia assets archived. In this case, methods for gathering of multimedia assets are required. Other communities have analogue assets requiring digitization. These communities need digital conversion methods. Other communities simply want to organize the materials they already possess into a cohesive whole. To make the most of multimedia assets, all communities will require highly interactive on-line tools to promote community involvement.

The aim of this project is to explore the possible tools, implementation of these tools, processes and the documentation of processes involved in building community memory through on-line technology. It is hoped that a cohesive process and associated tools for gathering, indexing and archiving multimedia assets for community memory will emerge.

In as much as is possible these concepts, tools and processes should be easily transferable and applicable across different communities. It is proposed that where possible, open source software be used.

Methods

Gathering Material

The Magee College campus of the University of Ulster is fortunate to possess a large collection of nearly 4,000 photographic negatives of pictures of Derry and the Northwest of Ireland, dating from the 1860s up to about 1970. A unique feature of this collection is the fact that it relates exclusively to the Northwest region of Ireland centred on the city of Derry and encompassing Counties Derry, Donegal, Tyrone and Fermanagh.

Digitizing Material

Around November 1996 a call went forward to invite institutions to consider inclusion of their digitized images in what was to be known as the Knowledge Gallery Project. At the time, there was considerable interest from commercial organizations including large multinationals like Kodak. In the meantime, the U.K. Joint Information Systems Council approved approximately £350,000 for an initial digitization and cataloguing programme. The Magee Photographic Collection was submitted for consideration, and was ultimately one of the collections across the U.K. accepted for inclusion in what was to be known as the JISC Image Digitization Initiative (JIDI).

Gathering Material Descriptions

While most of the images in The Magee Photographic Collection had accompanying descriptive information, some images had none and means of providing descriptive information had to be developed.

Results

Gathering Material

The images in The Magee Photographic Collection were gathered many years before digitization, and the other processes documented here, but the process is worth documenting.

The Magee Photographic Collection began after the New University of Ulster set up the Institute of Continuing Education in Magee University College, Derry, in 1972. A small photographic studio and film processing unit were included as part of the facilities in the ICE Learning Resources Centre. ICE also inherited the administration of the University's extra-mural programme in which courses in local history were represented. The idea of setting up a central collection of photographs relating to the Northwest seemed to be complimentary. Other contributing factors were:

  1. There existed no single centralized index of materials for local historians.
  2. A collection with the strength and durability of an institution behind it seemed more likely to survive.
  3. As a result of the civil unrest throughout Northern Ireland at the time and consequent redevelopment, great physical changes were taking place in the cities and towns of the region. Photographs only a week old could be suddenly elevated to the status of historical records and this further underlined the urgency of undertaking the setting up of the collection.
Before digitization, the collection was indexed according to a system consisting of a set of index cards colour coded according to subject (Buildings, Events, Personalities, Ephemera, etc.) and number coded for location. In addition to this coded information each entry will contain such details as the name of the donor and any copyright restrictions governing the use of the material."

Several other means are being considered for the acquisition of additional materials.

Digitizing Material

While the Magee Photographic Collection contains materials of differing formats, the majority of the images were in 35-mm negative strips. A Nikon Super Coolscan 2000 was purchased. The scanner had an optimum scan resolution of 2,700 dots per inch. Approximately 3,700 images were initially scanned. The JIDI Quality Assurance Officer who received images on CD conducted Independent quality assurance. Apart from the high-resolution digital images, two further reduced resolution copies were made for each image. The reduced resolution images were for use with the World Wide Web.

Production of Metadata

The JIDI Project established core elements, which were required to accompany each image. These elements drew heavily from the Visual Resources Association (VRA) Core Categories describing visual resources. These elements are collectively referred to as the image metadata. JIDI metadata is divided into three areas:

  1. Descriptive metadata
  2. Administrative metadata
  3. Structural metadata

Gathering Material Descriptions

A process was devised which involved the Foyle University of the Third Age. The Foyle U3A membership consists of men and women aged 50 years or over from all sections of the local community.

Three sessions were scheduled with the Foyle U3A. A buffet lunch was provided, and members viewed projected images, which had no accompanying descriptive information. Members were invited to volunteer descriptive information, which was transcribed by 2 researchers. This proved to be a very effective means of eliciting information, while also entertaining and bonding through members shared memories.
 
 

References

Mac Gabbann, R. (1978). Photographic Resources and the Local Historian. Ulster Local Studies, Volume 4, Number 1, Winter 1978, 14-20.

McLuhan, M. (1962). The Gutenberg Galaxy. London : Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1962.
Visual Resources Association Home Page. http://www.oberlin.edu/~art/vra/vra.html