Here at the Digitization Centre we are fascinated and excited by the vast amount of primary-source material that our digitization work exposes us to.  Whether a document of historic significance, a beautiful illustration, or even a particularly fine typeface, we are frequently amazed by the materials we’re working to share with the world.  So much so, that not only will we crowd around to ogle a particularly interesting specimen, but we’ve started decorating our workplace with copies of some of our favorites.  But why stop there?  Surely, we can’t be the only ones geeky enough to appreciate such “gems” in our collections, and so we’ve decided to share them here with you.  Below you will find some of our favorites, hand-picked by staff from both existing and upcoming collections.  We hope you enjoy them as much as we do!   TIP: To view full resolution versions of the images on any size screen, click to enlarge and then right-click and select “open image in new tab.”

Out with the Old in with the New!

Posted on June 15, 2016 @10:11 am by Alexandra Kuskowski

Loyal blog readers (and you unloyal ones – you know who you are) it is time for a change in regime. Every week for the past year I have been bringing you the news from Digital Initiatives. Next week you will be getting a new coop student, Alyssa, bringing the best behind the scenes look at what we do here.

For my last blog post I will share a bit of digitization humour using images from Open Collections of course. The jokes focus on what coop students do with the 96% of time they aren’t on social media– i.e. cleaning the data attached to all the content you access everyday on OpenCollections shared via our content online (read more about it here).

If you want to see the original images in all their glory, just click on the pictures!

Challenge of the metadata

First thing is first – there is always another metadata mountain to climb.

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What digitizers talk about when you are not around.

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The metadata bear – his work is never done.

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The metadata bear doesn’t take unclean data well.


Learn more about digital preservation here!

Blogging for the Digitization Centre has been a blast for the past year, and I hope you enjoyed reading the posts! If not, don’t tell me. Tell the new coop student. She will be sure to avoid my mistakes.

Hope everyone has a great summer!



Hunting for metadata inaccuracies — the good fight never ends.

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A Peak Behind the Curtain

Posted on June 22, 2016 @10:08 am by Alexandra Kuskowski

This week we have a quick peak at the behind the scenes stuff we do here at Digital Initiatives.

Some of these images are new and some are a bit older, but all give a fun look at the secret stuff that happens to get the content you see online! Scroll to the bottom to see links to our longer articles about the process behind many of these pictures.


Japanese book being translated for One Hundred Poets


A slip of paper found in the above book. Sometimes personal items are left in old books – it could be someone was practicing their writing or copying down a passage they liked!


Cool old postcard from the Uno Langmann Collection of our home at Irving K Barber Learning center – complimented by a fun libraries mug.


A picture of a map being scanned from the Uno Langmann Collection.


A cool image of a poster from the Chung collection being digitized on the TTI – click on the picture to see the image on Open Collections now.


A close up of the poster – the strip of paper helps to color correct the image once it has been photographed


A book getting disbound by one of the students working at DI. Disbound books are often easier to scan.


The fully disbound book. No fear book lovers, we only do this to books we already have copies of!


If you would like to learn more about the Uno Langmann Collection click here.

If you are interested in how we scan posters and large maps click here.

If the disbinding intrigued you click here.

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Get Wilde with our Digitized Content

Posted on August 3, 2016 @10:37 am by Alexandra Kuskowski

Way back in January UBC Library scored a rare book coup, acquiring two exceptional examples of early gay literature that share a connection with famed Victorian writer Oscar Wilde.

Teleny and its prequel, Des Grieux, were first published in the 1890s. It’s long been suspected, but never confirmed, that Wilde may have authored or contributed to the texts.


Click here to see Des Grieux.


Click here to see Teleny.

Now both of these texts are available for online study and access through Open Collections. (But be aware before you click- this literature is a bit racy – don’t let anyone ever tell you the library isn’t exciting!)

“Even if Wilde didn’t write them, the speculation is still a fascinating part of his enduring mythology,” said Gregory Mackie, Assistant Professor in UBC’s Dept. of English.

Only five known sets of the two-volume publication Teleny remain, and there are only three known copies of Des Grieux. UBC is the only collection in the world with both texts- and now you can see them too!

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Nanitch Exhibition & Open Collections: See Early Photos of BC online

Posted on June 22, 2016 @10:09 am by Alexandra Kuskowski

We are pleased to announce the newest exhibition NANITCH: Early Photographs of British Columbia from the Langmann Collection. Here at Digital Initiatives the Langmann Collection is one of our most popular collections, one that we love to share!


“Within a man’s memory the wild was here” – Uno Langmann

The exhibition is a collaboration between the UBC Library and the Presentation House – and a chance for you to see some of your favourite images from Open Collections in person!

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NANITCH, meaning “to look” in Chinook jargon—the lingua franca trade language of the Pacific Northwest at that time.

NANITCH is on view now at the Presentation House in North Vancouver until June 26th 2016.

In the exhibition you will see the curated photos, hand-coloured albumen prints, stereocards, cartes de visite, postcards and glass negatives from the Langmann Collection. The photos on display span a sixty-year period from the 1860s to the early 1920s. They showcase the amazing transformation British Columbia when through during that time period and looks into how and why the photographs were made. The exhibition goal is to look at the “significant role of the camera in colonization and calls on viewers to question colonialist narratives of progress”.


Carlos Gentile’s photo of “The Town of Yale” – It is a bit different from now!

For those of you who can not get enough of this stuff please take a look at the 7,900 images with over 5,000 postcards you can access through Open Collections in the Langmann collection.


Klootchmen. Portrait of an older woman and a girl ca. 1910. British Columbia.

You can explore the collection by famous photographers like Carlo Gentile, Charles Horetzky, Frederick Dally, and Charles Mac Munn. Or try scrolling through our timeline of uploaded albums for intriguing browsing.


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Find out more about the Uno Langmann Family Collection of BC Photographs here. Or click any of the photos above!


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Discovering the secrets of API

Posted on June 22, 2016 @10:08 am by Alexandra Kuskowski

One of the most intriguing parts of Open Collections is the API search function. API, Application Programming Interface, is a set of defined tools that people use to communicate with a software system.

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Basically this translates to asking a data program questions in computerese* – and getting back defined answers on that data that a computer (and, with practice humans) can read and use for research.

*computerese here translating to : A request URL sent over in HTTP with data/text sent back. The URL has everything needed to make a response. It’s called a RESTful approach.

What does this mean for Open Collections though?

It means, that API can help users run queries and do advanced analysis on Open Collections data. Or if you are really technically inclined you can make custom views, apps, widgets etc with full access to all the Open Collections Data.

Cool, I’ll bite. I want to see this data for myself. How do I do it?

First step asks you to Register an API key.

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Which is basically registering your email for a short time to make sure you aren’t a robot.


Step two involves using your web browser URL to make a request ( aka your questions) you can access collection metadata  information (about our collections as a whole) or collection item metadata (information about items individually.

There are a few ways to do this – use UBC’s Query Builder for an easy input…

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Easy Peasy!

OR you can make a URL to submit an a HTTP Open query.

That’s a lot of words, but basically you use a root URL https://oc-index.library.ubc.ca/ and change it to include the collections/items you want in your query

Here we input the Uno Langamann Collection for collection metadata:  https://oc-index.library.ubc.ca/collections/langmann

and this is the answer we got back:

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And step 3? That’s obvious — Profit!

… well not really. However, you can read the response that comes back! See the answers we posted above as examples.

In case you are curious – check out items (if you are searching by collection items) by copy pasting the item number – with parenthesis – in Open Collections to see the item for yourself.

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id in our query!


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searching Open Collections

OR check out our International Interoperability Image Framework (IIIF) documentation on  querying IFF documents  which gives you access to our images programmatically

If you are interested, UBC explains the whole thing wonderfully – and in more detail – here.

Our API is pretty famous, it was even mentioned regarding Open Collections in this article.

Give our API queries a try! You never know what you might find!


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Posted on May 18, 2016 @10:13 am by Alexandra Kuskowski


We’ve got another new (but actually really really old) addition to our digital collection. We’re excited to share that we have digitized a rare Latin Bible from the 13th century! You can check it out in out Western Manuscripts collection where many of our oldest books live.



The pages are made from vellum or dried calf skin as most books were at that time.

This Bible is an amazing addition to our collection for a few reasons. First, it was a Student Bible made in Oxford England around 1250 AD, something that at the time was pretty remarkable. Back then most Student Bibles were produced on the continent, typically in Paris, for university pupils and professors who used them for their studies. This makes our Bible unique – and the only one like it in a Canadian collection.


This book contains a fair amount of marginalia! Check out all the faded notes on the side.

A second special aspect of this Bible is the concordance at the end of the book. The concordance, pictured below, is an index created for the Bible on where to find certain words or phrases within the book.


Click here to see the concordance for yourself!

One of the early owners created this concordance shortly after the book was finished. The concordance is obviously not part of the original book. We don’t know exactly when or who created it – and if any of you scholars out there want to try to find out, take a shot and let us know about it! We wholeheartedly support you!

Even you are not a scholar take a look at the book for yourself, or take a look at the UBC press release on this book. It might make you into a bibliophile!

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More Digitization of BC Sessional Papers!

Posted on May 24, 2016 @1:18 pm by Alexandra Kuskowski

Digitization of BC Sessional Papers, from 1933-1952,
 is on its way.

Phase 3 of Sessional Papers has been approved and digitization will start this summer! This phase will look at 41 bound volumes from the British Columbia Sessional Papers. It will increase our current collection by 19 years – and as an added bonus there will be fold out maps and charts to check out.


More maps like this are coming to you soon!

The Sessional Papers are important provincial legislative documents that capture the economical, historical, political, and cultural atmosphere of British Columbia history. The Sessional Papers include official committee reports, orders of the day, petitions and papers presented, records of land sales, correspondence, budgetary estimates, proclamations, maps, voters lists by district, and departmental annual reports.


There’s tons of historical content! – For a belated celebration of International Women’s Day – Sessional papers has women petitioning for the vote in Canada

Click here to visit our digital collections page to view the volumes we have digitized.

Click here to read more about what sessional papers are and how they can be utilized for research.


Right now digitized content in Sessional Papers runs from 1878 to 1931


You can find all sorts of things in Sessional Papers – take a look now and keep your eyes peeled for more coming soon!

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Transcription, Tradesmen, & Troublesome Murders: A Gold Rush Letters Blog

Posted on May 18, 2016 @10:12 am by Alexandra Kuskowski

The Royal Fisk Gold Rush Letters are collection of over 900 original manuscript letters from the Cariboo Gold Rush period, 1862-1868.  Merchants in the Victoria area wrote the letters to Royal Fisk, a shipping agent in San Francisco, during the height and decline of the Cariboo Gold Rush.


Take a look at these letters! Most are written in cursive, and many with handwriting that is practically unintelligible today.

To transcribe the letters – hopefully making it easier to access our content – we partner with the UBC History 305 course. Each the letter is scanned and uploaded to Open Collections the students in the History 305 decode and transcribe the scanned letter for a class project. In order to match the transcript to the letter file all of the transcripts are labeled with a code of numbers eight numbers 01-01-001 –the first four digits of the number code is used to match the file name of the letter which are labled fisk_XX_XX. The last three numbers are for the pages within the letter

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For example the letter here is Fisk_ 02_014_002 – meaning we are on the second page on the 02_014 letter.

Then the transcript of the letter makes its way to us at DI, where one of our coop students, Carolina, double checks the transcript of the letter matches the real thing. The transcript is put into the “Full Text” field; complete with manual line breaks input by the long-suffering Carolina. These line brakes help readers navigate the (mostly) cursive lettering. A block of text would be difficult to match to the original letter!


Check out the two transcribed the letters of J. A. McCrea to Royal Fisk by clicking the images.

Both of the letters in this post were written James Alexander McCrea  an upright auctioneer and merchant from Victoria.  Surprisingly he was involved in not one but two murder scandals!

(You were wondering when we’d get the murder part weren’t you?)

McCreas Signature

McCrea’s signature and date May 32, 1862 – He’d live another 26 years.

McCrea moved to Victoria from the southern US states in the 1850’s. You can see our letters are dated in the 1860’s. In Victoria he auctioned off materials damaged in shipping such as rope or coffee. Respected in the community he was part of the fire department and a teetotaler. In 1869, after his wife’s death, he sold out his business and moved back south to the states. That is where the trouble started. In 1870 it was reported in Victoria that McCrea had been killed in Arizona or New Mexico by an Apache tribe. The rumor was revealed later to be false in the papers– there was still hope! – at least until 1881. That was when he was shot in Deming, New Mexico. He made the mistake of asking a cowboy in a saloon “Does it pop?” about his gun. How’s that for a wild west story?

If you’d like to learn more about the fascinating lives of the Victorian Gold Rush Tradesmen check out :

Green, Valerie. (2000). Upstarts and outcasts: Victoria’s not-so-proper past. Victoria, B.C: TouchWood Editions.

See if you can find anyone else in our Royal Fisk Gold Rush Letters collection who appears in this book – then let us know.

Thanks to Carolina for her help on this article!

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Happy Reading Week!

Posted on March 4, 2016 @12:39 pm by Alexandra Kuskowski

Here at UBC it is Reading Week, which means of course most students book it to the library… kidding! Nearly every person on campus has escaped the ivory tower for greener pastures, but that doesn’t mean our faithful readers can’t take a look at our collections still. Did you know since they are digital accessible online, for everyone all over the world? Of course you did!

For our blog this week we’re going dive right into reading theme across the ages in our digital collections.



The Reading Room in the Library in 1919 at UBC – this is how librarians dream Reading Week turns out



A Chinese English Reader from 1890 – translating the words you need to know, like ‘pig’ and ‘a good new tea-pot’


The Great battle of Messines Ridge : Reading the news from the trenches 1,000 yards from the Bosch present position – That is some dedication to reading!



Students taking a reading test . Who knew you needed such complicated machinery to read?



Fun literary celebrity intermission! – Allen Ginsburg reading his poetry to a number of UBC students in 1963

Or, if looking at people reading or books about reading isn’t your bag check out this article on the cultural production of reading and readers from UBC Theses and Dissertations – one of the many in our collection.

Of course… you don’t have to take my word for it – check out the collections for yourself by clicking on the images or searching Open Collections!


This is what everyone should be doing to celebrate Reading Week: Relaxing on a cruise!


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Poem Packs an Epic into a Tiny Package

Posted on April 7, 2016 @9:56 am by Alexandra Kuskowski

Forget watching Star WarsAvengers, and Lord of the Rings on your cellphone– if you are looking for a larger-than-life story delivered to you in a small container check out our newly digitized epic poem Orlando Furioso in Western Manuscripts. The full size of the book is only 11 by 5 cm.

This preciously small package packs a punch though! Orlando Furioso is an Italian epic poem written in 1516. With 46 cantos (or chapters) this is one of the longest poems in literature. Our version, one of the earliest, was published in 1577.


Orlando Furioso – when translated in to French became “Roland” – so a more apt translation of the title into English is “Raging Roland”

The poem follows Orlando, a singular knight involved in the war between Charlemagne’s Christians and the Saracen army that attempted to take over Europe. The setting ranges over the whole world, with a trip to Hell and the moon thrown in! As befitting any epic there are also soldiers, sorcerers, gigantic sea monsters, and even a hippogriff.


This is the Canto where the main characters go from Hell to the moon. Hard to tell which one it is from this picture!

The poem focuses romantic chivalry, especially on Orlando’s love for a princess, which among other things drives him into a mad killing frenzy – romantic enough for Valentine’s day?


A female knight is also one of the main character of the poem. Here she she is taking down a foe!

For us the tiny, tightly bound book was a challenge to digitize. Not only was it old, small, and fragile- the print often goes very close to the center binding, making it difficult to get a complete picture of for digitization.


Can you spot the sea monster in this canto?

However here at the Digitization Centre we are nothing if not dogged in our pursuit of world digitization. To bring this epic poem to you in a digital format we used our ATIZ machine, shifting the book cradle from side to side as we digitized. It may have taken a few tries and a long while but, and this is a direct quote from our main digitizer, Leslie Fields “all in all it was really worth it”

So check it out for your self to see what all the fuss is about!

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