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Library & Archives Canada
LACLibrary & Archives Canada, 395 Wellington Street, Ottawa photo captions -- by Andrew Rodger, LACLibrary & Archives Canada, 395 Wellington Street, Ottawa Photography Archivist (retired) - dated April 2017
As is to be expected, much caption information was taken from the negatives (i.e. the envelopes, or written on the negatives), or from the reverse of prints.
The photo catalogue at the archives was based on copy negatives made from the photographs in archival holdings. Until about 1980 PA copy neg numbers were used for images for which we held negatives;
C copy neg numbers were used where copies were made from prints. Around 1980 the reprography area -- which assigned copy neg numbers -- decided to use only PA numbers for the materials held by the archives;
I don't know the reason(s) for this change. The first 20,000 or so items to be copied and included in the catalogue were in great part taken from WW I military negatives and from the Topley collection. Identifications were
evidently provided either primarily or exclusively by archivists working on the photographic collections, based on information on negative sleeves or in finding aids, and were transcribed to the index cards by a cataloguer
whose sole role was to catalogue and cross-index the copied images. Archivists worked through collections, identifying items for copying and created caption sheets which would be used by the cataloguer.
Either in the late 1970s or early 1980s it was decided that researchers would be asked to fill out caption sheets for the items they requested. This was done partly because the number of copy requests was beginning to overpower the
archivists' ability to provide caption identifications and also on the legitimate basis that probably researchers had solid information to provide (why would the spend $10 on a copy print if they didn't know what the contents were?).
Around 1981 the photo unit (called the National Photography Collection, and at that time notionally responsible for the care and feeding of all photographs collected by archivists from all divisions in the archives) acquired a computer,
and a database system (DBII) was used to create a photographic caption database. Archivists entered captions into this; other areas of the NPC could also enter captions. In either this or a subsequent system, the main caption
area was 255 characters long, and a secondary caption area of about 2000 characters (useful for identification of individuals in group photos, or for other information) was introduced. I don't know whether or not this secondary
caption area was migrated into Mikan, the singular archival database currently in use at LACLibrary & Archives Canada, 395 Wellington Street, Ottawa; the caption database in use when migration to Mikan took place (called DAPDCAP) included about 160 different fields, and one of the aims
of the Mikan developers was to collapse, reduce and integrate the number of fields in the various databases which were being migrated to Mikan. I don't know how many different fields now exist in Mikan, nor how many of these
are publicly available and searchable via the LACLibrary & Archives Canada, 395 Wellington Street, Ottawa website. (It should be borne in mind that databases from all the archival areas of the archives were being consolidated into this single universal archival database. Mikan was and
apparently still is an unwieldy system, based on a system developed in the 1980s by the National Library; data entry is slow and corrections are done on an item by item basis; it is possible that crap was introduced by migrations
from earlier databases.)
Various organizational changes from the 1980s on resulted in the photo archivists losing control of photography within the institution, while the use of Mikan has meant that caption identification and data input
could and can be made by anyone with access to the system. After I retired a senior manager decided that summer students would be used to input 100,000 captions of scanned photos, over the course of one summer.
I was told of
numerous instance of wholly erroneous information being entered, in part because the students had production targets of about a dozen captions an hour (in my experience part of that time would
be passed in waiting for the system to respond) which obviously didn't allow for much research or verification.
About 2006 I got funding for an experiment: negatives and their containing envelopes would be copied together on a light table, using a good quality DSLR camera; the image polarity would be reversed so that the negatives
would appear as positives (and the envelopes as negatives -- where the writing would appear as white on black, and thus be far more easily read than can a photographic negative!). My intent was that the images would be
placed in a system apart from Mikan, which would allow the user public to transcribe information to a database and provide further information for use in the database. The more users transcribed, the more useful the database would
become. The idea was to do a quick and dirty copy of the 600,000+ nitrate negatives in LACLibrary & Archives Canada, 395 Wellington Street, Ottawa's possession using the DSLR -- 'quick and dirty' being relative to high quality scans on a flatbed scanner. Nitrate negatives
would be out of copyright (nitrate materials having been withdrawn from the market in the early 1950s), and the copies would give people access to a wide variety of images from both government and private sources.
The Merrilees collection alone included about 160 containers of nitrate negatives -- though a number of these were panoramics primarily of First World War soldiers, which in any event could not have been copied using the DSLR technique.
The pilot project resulted in 19,000+ negatives being copied by two operators in 8 weeks, which would be equivalent to over 120,000 images per annum. The entire collection would have been copied in 5-6 years.
Searching for Photographs on the LACLibrary & Archives Canada, 395 Wellington Street, Ottawa Web Site -- by Andrew Rodger, LACLibrary & Archives Canada, 395 Wellington Street, Ottawa photography archivist (retired) - dated April 2017
If you're having difficulty finding photographic images on the LACLibrary & Archives Canada, 395 Wellington Street, Ottawa web site, your problem might be that you're using the "Image Search" function. Don't.
For some reason it doesn't (or it didn't) search all images. Instead, go to "archives search" and fill out the form, checking off boxes (like: photographs, item level, etc.). Don't try using the date function; it is (or was) a waste of time.
Use different search terms because there is no controlled subject indexing vocabulary (as there was when we had a cataloguer). And, of course, you can also search at the item level for maps, painting, drawings, prints, etc.