Digital archives now accessible at local museum

Duane Hicks

More than 60 years’ worth of issues of the Fort Frances Times, along with information about the museum’s artifact collection, now are accessible using a computer at the Fort Frances Museum.
Jeremy Hughes, who was under contract for the past year as a digital records developer for the museum, has transferred all of its existing digitized collection data into a new, more user-friendly, more patron-accessible interface.
In simplest terms, this means museum patrons now can look up information on the museum’s collection on a new computer terminal when they visit there.
Hughes also devised a means to photograph, and then index and tag, old issues of the Fort Frances Times so that if a patron wants to search for information on a particular event, they’ll be able to search for—and find—the relevant newspaper articles.
Hughes said he was able to digitally archive every issue of the Times from 1898 to 1961—a Herculean task made feasible thanks to a set-up comprised of a vacuum table, an overhead digital camera connected to a computer, a guidance system using lasers, and an arrays of lights, which were set up in a back room on the main floor of the museum.
“I think it was successful, fruitful—it does what it is supposed to do,” he noted.
“It lets me make the one tedious part of the process as efficient as possible and automate everything that I can possibly automate,” Hughes added.
“Yes, it took a long time to set that up but I think it’s worth it.”
Although Hughes’ contract with the museum has ended, he is working at the Fort France Public Library Technology Centre and, when possible in his free time, will be able to train volunteers who want to learn how to continue the newspaper archiving process.
“We’re still looking for volunteers,” he noted. “It probably would be limited to the hours of operation of the museum at this point.
“I’ll be here to train and instruct, and if there’s issues, I’ll have limited support capabilities for that,” he later added.
There remains more than 50 years’ worth of issues to archive, but all those years probably won’t have to be photographed since the Times has its own digital versions of papers starting with 1995.
Hughes noted the Daily Bulletin also has to be archived, which will prove a larger project than the Times, considering it is a daily—not a weekly—and thus comprises many more issues.
The newspaper archiving project, meanwhile, is “easily extensible to all local or regional papers,” Hughes stressed.
He added that provided the museum has the funding, and provided it actually is staffed to allow it, the project will be a priority for years to come.
Museum curator Sherry George said the digital archives are a much-welcome, easy-to-use resource.
“It is very good,” she remarked. “It is a time-saver for anybody doing research—for the public or for exhibits here.
“We don’t have to get those papers out and start looking manually,” George noted. “We can put something into the search engine and it pops up.
“It’s going to save time here exponentially.
“And, of course, it saves the newspapers,” she added. “They were pretty brittle, and when Jeremy opened up a lot of the boxes, there was pieces flying everywhere.
“It’s nice that we won’t have to pull those old ones out anymore.”
George also stressed it would be terrific to have volunteers to help archive newspapers.
“We really would like to get it all done,” she remarked.
To volunteer to archive newspapers, or get more information, drop by the museum or call 274-7891.
The archiving project was funded through a provincial grant, with a contribution from the town.
The new public computer terminal was purchased with money patrons donated to the museum.