UBC students Emma Smith, left, and Eamon Riordan-Short scan historical material at Peachland’s museum as part of the Okanagan Region Historical Digitization Project. -Image: UBC Okanagan

UBC Okanagan Library enhances access to valley history

Student digitization team visits community archives and museums

The rich and varied history of the Okanagan Valley will be easier to discover thanks to a project launched by UBC Okanagan’s Library in partnership with various regional organizations.

A private British Columbia-based foundation has donated more than $94,000 to help UBC launch the Okanagan Region Historical Digitization Project.

The goal—which will result in the digitization of thousands of photographs and textual documents held in archives and museums throughout the Okanagan Valley— is to make these important local historical resources more broadly accessible to the public, says Paige Hohmann, UBC archivist and special collections librarian.

“Not only will we be making this material more readily available, but we will also be rescuing a lot of material from obscurity and opening a window into events that helped shape the history of this region,” says Hohmann.

Hohmann, along with UBC graduate co-op student Alexandra Neijens and three other students are travelling to municipal museums, volunteer organizations and privately-operated historical sites throughout the Okanagan to digitize material that has been pre-selected by museum staff. Once the project is complete, this material will be accessible online around the clock.

“Before digitization, if someone wanted to see specific material in a small regional museum, they likely needed to visit that museum. Many such repositories are managed by part-time staff and may have restricted hours,” says UBC’s university archivist Chris Hives.

“This project provides an unprecedented level of access, largely removing the spatial and time constraints associated with locating and then travelling to where this material lives.”

Although there is an increased demand for access to historical information, the cost of digitization, preservation and storage can be a barrier for smaller organizations with limited budgets, explains Hives. This project offers additional expertise and equipment, which could be otherwise unavailable to many of these small museums and archives.

“I am honoured that UBC Okanagan can play a coordinating role, promoting the wonderful resources held, and work being done, in some of our region’s most interesting and important locations, ”says UBC Okanagan Chief Librarian Heather Berringer. “I hope this will encourage people, whether visitors or local to the area, to further explore the historical treasures of the Okanagan.”

To date, the project team has visited museums in Peachland and Summerland, as well as the Historic O’Keefe Ranch. Further summer visits will include sites in Armstrong-Spallumcheen, Keremeos, Osoyoos, Naramata, Sicamous and Lumby.

The project’s digitized collections will be freely available online early this fall.