Category Archives: Digital Archives

Improved online search: faster and with new features

We’ve updated our online search and we think you’ll like the changes in both function and design. Here are some of the main ones.

It’s much faster. The search engine is completely new and the difference in search times is noticeable.

Simple search gives suggestions as you type a search term. This gives you another way to find holdings.simple-search-suggestions






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2013 Association of Moving Image Archivists Conference

In early November, I attended the annual conference of the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) in Richmond, Virginia. Here are a few of the highlights.

Buttons from AudioVisual Preservation Solutions, consultants specializing in AV preservation.

Buttons from AudioVisual Preservation Solutions, consultants specializing in AV preservation.

The Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) is an association for many different types of professionals involved in the preservation and access of moving image heritage. Members come from all over the world to attend the conference.


In partnership with the Digital Library Federation, AMIA held its first Hack Day. Software developers and non-developers (like me!) spent a day solving problems. I was part of the group of non-developers that created a guide to using FFmpeg software which was aimed at archivists who would like to use it but find it too complex. We put the guide on a wiki, expecting it to become more useful as information is added. Our group won one of the jury prizes. Continue reading

Improved online search: copyrighted digital objects

When we first told you about our new search system, we said that it was on a rapid development cycle and that there would be improvements. We’re pleased to tell you about one upgrade that gives you on-site access to thousands more digital objects and another that makes it easier to do research at home. Developed for us by Artefactual Systems, these open source enhancements could be adapted by other institutions using the same database software.

The big change

Until now, digital objects that were under the copyright of a 3rd party (other than City of Vancouver’s copyright) could only be viewed online as a tiny thumbnail. Now they can be viewed in full resolution in our Reading Room through our online search. This works on your laptop in the Reading Room (using our wifi) as well as at our public computers. Continue reading

2012 Association of Moving Image Archivists Conference

In early December, I attended the annual conference of the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) in Seattle. Here are a few of the highlights.

Cinerama street view

The Cinerama has been restored to its 1963 space-age look. A showing of “Hendrix 70: Live at Woodstock” was a highlight outside of the conference program. Photograph: Sue Bigelow

The Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) is a professional association for those involved in the preservation and access of moving image heritage. Members come from all over the world to attend the conference.

Ffmpeg workshop

There was an excellent workshop on uses of ffmpeg for archivists. Ffmpeg is open source, free software for working with multimedia files. One of the advantages for archives is that ffmpeg is always adding the capability of working with new types of files, but not getting rid of any old functionality. This means that if archivists encounter an outdated type of file, ffmpeg may be able to work with it. Ffmpeg software can analyze a file and report on all the different kinds of data inside. We store the original files in our digital archives but we also create another version using ffmpeg that can be viewed on a modern computer. Continue reading

Day of Digital Archives 2012

It’s the Day of Digital Archives again! We’re featuring a glimpse at what a few of our staff have been doing for our digital archives program.

Glenn Dingwall is working on the Archives upgrade from Archivematica version 0.8 to version 0.9. Archivematica is one of the core components of our digital archives. When the Archives accepts a transfer or donation of digital material, Archivematica is the software package used to examine files to determine what they are, to produce preservation copies in file formats that are suitable for long-term access, to make access copies that are suitable for providing on our website, and to package the access and preservation copies together with metadata that explains what they are so that people in the future will be able to read and interpret them.

One of the changes that will happen when we move to Archivematica 0.9 is that it will now be hosted in a virtual machine environment within the City’s network. This will have a number of advantages over our current local area network setup, by making it easier for us to maintain and update the software, enabling Archivematica to communicate faster and more reliably with other components of our digital archives (such as our search software and storage environments), and allowing us more flexibility in apportioning processing resources to different tasks.

We are planning to go from a bare-metal development network . . .

. . . to a more powerful and complex virtual system.

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ACA Whitehorse 2012

Whitehorse was the location of this year’s Association of Canadian Archivists conference. Archivists from as far away as Brazil and New Zealand joined Canadian archivists for three days of learning, sharing, networking and debate. The theme of the conference was ‘Archival Gold.’ We were privileged to have Dr. Ken Coates, who grew up in Whitehorse, begin the first morning with a wonderful keynote speech sharing his historical knowledge of Canada’s North, his appreciation of Archives as rich sources of much of that knowledge, and the importance of teaching history to children.

Jeremy Heil, Glenn Dingwall and Peter Van Garderen answering questions at the end of their session. Photo by Cindy McLellan

The City of Vancouver Archives was again well represented at the ACA conference. Digital Archivist Glenn Dingwall was part of the panel session Developing Digital Information Infrastructure for Canadian Archives and spoke about the policy and planning decisions made at the Archives that were necessary to transition from a digitization program to a full-blown digital preservation program. Project Archivist Cindy McLellan (self-funded) shared with fellow archivists the workflow we have developed for preserving video materials digitally, using the Yaletown Productions fonds as an example. Continue reading

DigCCurr 2012

This past May, I was fortunate to participate in the DigCCurr Professional Institute on Curation Practices for the Digital Object Lifecycle at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH). Led by UNC-CH faculty members Dr. Helen Tibbo and Dr. Christopher (Cal) Lee and taught by digital curation experts, the DigCCurr Institute brings together government, university, and private-sector information professionals for a week’s study of strategies and methods for the long-term management of digital materials.

DigCCurr 2012 instructors and participants on the last day of the Institute

Of the 35 participants in the Institute, I was the only municipal government employee; other participants came from institutions as diverse as the Yukon Archives, the University of Melbourne, the Silicon Valley-based Computer History Museum, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Despite our institutions’ respective differences in size, location, and acquisition mandate, the results of the pre-institute survey that participants completed showed similarities in both the nature of our holdings and the difficulties we face in caring for them. Continue reading

Our New Online Search

The City of Vancouver Archives has a new online search! We’re excited about it for a number of reasons:

  • It allows us to show you the relationships between records and between records and their creators
  • Browsing by subject, place or creator is much easier
  • You can view and download larger digital objects, so you can study more detail
  • Search result URLs are permalinks

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Using Archivematica

UPDATE, February 18, 2015: Our January 2012 post linked to an article on As the content on that domain is no longer available, we are reproducing the article below. Our original post is at the very bottom of this page.Archivematica-logo


The City of Vancouver Archives has been contributing to the development of the Archivematica digital preservation system for the past several years and we have just started using the 0.8 alpha release for production. This is an overview of why we got involved and where we are now. Continue reading

The Archivist Detective – Digital Forensics for Archivists

It was a day just like any other at the City Archives. Archivists and researchers spoke in whispers as they gently leafed through decades-old memoranda and Kodachrome photographs. Just then, at the front desk, a mysterious stranger appeared with a hard drive and a look that said she wanted to donate it. When she couldn’t answer how much data was on the drive or how it was formatted, it was clear that this day would not be normal after all and… it would not be easy.

Examples of digital storage media - Photo by Danny Nicholson, CC BY-ND 2.0 (

Archives Manager Heather Gordon likes to say that being an archivist is like “playing detective”. There has always been an aspect of detective work in what archivists do—from digging through boxes left abandoned in a garage searching for records to helping researchers find the documentation that helps them accomplish their work. In the age of digital acquisitions, her statement couldn’t be more true. Unlike their physical analogue counterparts, donations that come to us in folders on digital media can’t be easily leafed through and assessed at first glance. Those folders and their contents are made of bits that don’t have meaning without some kind of hardware and/or software intermediary. Continue reading