Canadaís Digital Collections: Youth Employment Opportunities and Canadian Content On-line
Canadaís Digital Collections and the Canadian Museum Community
Canadaís Digital Collections (CDC), a youth employment program of the Government of Canada, has played a major role in helping Canadian cultural institutions develop web sites to fulfil their public education mandates. Since its inception in 1996, the program has supported over 400 projects. 76 have been completed using resources from museums (Appendix A). Over 350 web sites ñ"digital collections" ñ are currently available through CDCís portal site. The number of visitors to CDC collections grows by the day, with the latest data indicating that over 1.5 million pages are downloaded monthly. Also increasing steadily are the number of awards won by both CDC collections and the CDC site itself.
The digital collections themselves vary substantially in size, sophistication and subject matter. Some of Canadaís largest museums have participated in the program. These include the Government of Canadaís Museum of Civilization, National Aviation Museum and National Museum of Science and Technology as well as provincial museums such as the Maritime Museum of British Columbia, the Royal Ontario Museum and the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History. At the same time, smaller institutions such as the Fraser-Fort George Regional Museum, the Huronia Museum and the Ukrainian Cultural and Educational Centre have also used CDC support to present local or regional content.
The great variety among participating institutions is mirrored in the diversity of the subjects presented. Collections cover materials from all disciplines, including fine arts, sciences, education and political science. Indeed, many collections address Canadaís heritage and history.
Below are some examples.
Those who love science will find plenty to look at:
The unique histories, culture and environment of Canadaís regions, peoples and small settlements are also prevalent:
Canadaís national museums and major heritage institutions are well represented on the CDC web site. The Canadian Museum of Civilization has participated in several projects, including Virtual Storehouse, a site which provides a behind-the-scenes view of the museum in more than five hundred images. The Canadian Museum of Civilization also contributed objects to an experimental project in three-dimensional imaging. The Canadian Museum of Nature created Natural History Notebooks, a digital version of one of the museumís most popular publications. High Flyers: Canadian Women in Aviation is only one of several digital collections produced by the National Aviation Museum (NAM). In this case, NAM successfully employed a team of young, single mothers on the project. The National Archives of Canada worked with a school in the Northwest Territories to create The George Back Collection, which presents watercolours from the notebooks of George Back, who was a member of the first two expeditions of Sir John Franklin in the Nineteenth Century. The National Library of Canada has also worked with Canadaís Digital Collections to produce a number of web sites. Two of these collections, which could equally well have been produced by a museum, are the Glenn Gould Archive and North: Landscape of the Imagination.
Whether national, regional or local in focus, collections must all be about Canada and of a broadly educational nature. The result is a rich source for Canadian content on the Internet, enhanced, in many cases, by teaching and learning resources in the form of activities, teaching units and educationally-endorsed materials. A number of these educational components were produced by student teachers at Faculties of Education with CDC support. For example, Queenís University developed curriculum modules covering topics from Social Sciences to Fine Arts for a variety of grade levels.
By Spring 2000 a data base of CDC educational resources will be available on-line, permitting direct access to specific activities based on any or all of the following categories: subject matter, grade level and region of interest. In another welcome development, custodial institutions are partnering with provincial ministries of education to ensure that the web site they produced receives official endorsement for use in the school system.
Origin and Evolution of the Canadaís Digital Collections program
Although CDC has become one of the largest on-line repositories of Canadian content, developing web sites is actually a by-product of the program, whose mandate is to offer employment opportunities to young Canadians in the multimedia sector. Indeed, the CDC model demonstrates how much can be achieved by creative, yet appropriate, uses of public programs. CDCís origins can be traced to an Industry Canada project undertaken in 1995 to demonstrate that materials could be digitized in an economical way using youth labour. Canadaís Books of Remembrance were selected as a trial case. Housed in the Peace Tower of Canadaís Parliament Buildings, these books record the names of all of Canadaís war dead from the Nile Campaign to the Korean conflict. Each day a page is turned in each book. This means, of course, that should anyone wish to see a specific page, he or she must plan a trip to Ottawa to coincide with the date on which the page is visible. A photocopy of the page can also be requested.
In collaboration with Veterans Affairs Canada and the Sergeant-at-Arms, custodians of the Books, Industry Canada contracted with two Ottawa-area high schools and a middle school in Newfoundland to digitize the Books, using full-colour photocopies as the source material. The resulting digital collection remains CDCís most popular site. Moreover, since the Books have been on-line, requests for photocopies of pages have jumped.
Having proved that economical digitization was feasible, Industry Canada then tested this approach further in a pilot phase. Other federal government departments and agencies, including the National Archives, the National Library and major Government of Canada museums, were asked to participate. The results were, on the whole, impressive and these departments and agencies continue to seek support from CDC to help in their on-going digitization efforts. Some 21 federal departments and agencies have partnered with CDC.
The completion of the pilot project coincided with the introduction of a new federal initiativeñthe Government of Canadaís Youth Employment Strategy (YES)ñwhich offered a potential opportunity for continuation of CDC. YES was created in 1996 following cross-country consultations with young Canadians to discover their views on their employment situation and to identify potential barriers to securing jobs. "No experience, no job and no job, no experience" described the biggest barrier they face in getting career-related jobs: there needed to be a better transition from school to initial employment opportunities. In response, the Government of Canada developed YES, which is delivered in partnership with business, labour, industry, not-for-profit organizations, communities, and provincial and municipal governments. Since 1996, CDC has received YES funding to provide short-term (maximum 16 weeks) employment to over 2,300 young Canadians, 15 to 30 years old.
CDC Program Model
The basic CDC program model is straight forward. Contracts of up to $25,000 are available to create web sites with Canadian content, the funds to be used to pay the wages of the young people who undertake the digitization and web site development work, plus a premium for administrative costs. Custodial institutions may compete for a contract to receive funding to hire the young people, and other potential contractors like schools, non-governmental organizations, firms or teams of young people may partner with a custodial institution but submit the proposal themselves. In the latter case, letters from custodial institutions are required to ensure the necessary access to materials and the continuing professional supervision of the content of the collection. Contractors are required to ensure that they or their custodial partners own copyright to the materials to be digitized or have secured permission to include the materials in the digital collection. Copyright in the digital collection itself remains with the legal entity that owns the copyright to the original materials.
Proposals are submitted at three deadline dates a year and selected for support through a competitive process. All proposals are reviewed by one of three independent, armís-length adjudication committees from the archival, library and museum communities.
CDC Benefits to Participating Institutions
Since $25,000 is not a large amount of money, it may be asked why and how this program has managed both to attract the participation of so many cultural institutions and other contractors and produce so many publication-quality web sites. There are two key reasons apart from the obvious one that institutions are financially-constrained. First, a felicitous mutual benefit is at work. Museums, libraries, archives, universities and other custodial institutions want to produce web sites. Teams of young people need material to work on. Hence, custodial institutions both benefit from and contribute to CDC. Youth receive cutting-edge employment experience and have the opportunity to enrich their knowledge of Canada by working on the project. Second, CDC offers participants a highly structured support system and detailed program and project guidelines. An in-house technical team monitors the progress of every site under development on a weekly basis and provides assistance at any time by e-mail or telephone. Similarly, CDC program officers monitor the development of the content on a weekly basis and ensure editorial and quality control (e.g. navigation of the site is easy and logical, writing is of a good standard with proper grammar and spelling, appropriate references are made, content is acceptable for general public viewing). Current CDC officers include professional archivists, librarians and editors.
This concept of on-going review was introduced following the pilot phase of the program. As the pilot came to a close and sites were examined, it quickly became apparent that contractors had underestimated the amount of time needed for editing and that a substantial amount of clean-up work was needed on many collections if the web sites were to be published on a federal government site. Weekly monitoring catches problems in the early stages when remedial action can be undertaken easily and cheaply. It also enriches the business and technical experience of the young people working on the project.
Experience with the pilot resulted in two improvements to the program guidelines:
CDC also provides a number of on-line documents useful to both applicants and contractors. Along with the program guidelines, the most important documents include:
This combination of documentary and professional CDC staff support means that no team or institution is obliged to try to complete a project all on its own. This is especially important considering that CDC projects represent first experiences in web site development for most youth team members and many contractors. Although the multimedia knowledge and skills of young people and in cultural institutions today is vastly superior to that of 1996, the value of CDCís support systems in ensuring quality control is demonstrated daily.
In addition to providing youth employment opportunities and on-line Canadian content, CDC has spawned the development of several youth-run multimedia firms. Here are two examples.
Troy Whitbread is a young man from British Columbia who worked on two YES-funded CDC projects under contract to the BC Department of Small Business, Tourism and Culture. The experience gained on these projects helped him set up his own multimedia firm, Heritage Alley Internet Productions, which is running successfully today. Heritage Alley has in turn been parent to five other grassroots Web design companies in British Columbia. Several of the sites on which Troy worked have received awards and accolades from a wide variety of sources, including Yahoo Canada and the BC government. Troy is currently working at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., where he has developed "Moving On-line: Crossing the Digital Divide," a program to train museum technicians in Internet and HTML skills for digitization of holdings.
At the other end of the country, in Prince Edward Island, a group of young people recently established a new media firm called Silverorange, based on its experience with CDC projects such as The Potato: Then and Now. This firm designed the new look for Veterans Affairs Canada web site in the summer of 1999.
Canadaís Digital Collections as an Exportable Program Model
The CDC program design has been used as a model for other programs at the Canadian federal and provincial levels. The pilot Aboriginal Digital Collections program (ADC) was the first exported use of the CDC program model. Introduced in the 1998-1999 fiscal year, ADC aimed to increase the number of collections focused on Aboriginal topics and developed by Aboriginal contractors and youth. The reasons for pilot testing a targeted program were several. First, there were few proposals submitted to CDC by Aboriginal groups and on Aboriginal topics of importance to the community. Second, there was an urgent need in Canada to ensure improved communication of Aboriginal concerns, history and culture both among Aboriginal groups and to the broader public. Third, the proportion of young people within the Aboriginal community as a whole was much higher than in the rest of Canadian society. These young people will soon be coming on the labour market and need opportunities to gain skills and experience if they are to find meaningful employment. This is especially critical because the unemployment rate among Aboriginals is also much higher than in the Canadian population as a whole.
CDC implemented this pilot program in partnership Aboriginal Business Canada (ABC), a special operating agency of the Industry Canada. ABC was interested in collaborating because the program met a variety of its own objectives e.g., aboriginal youth employment, entrepreneurship training, establishment of youth-run firms in the information technology sector and dissemination of information about aboriginal business on the Internet. The pilot proved very successful with some 130 proposals submitted, 38 contracts issued and 152 Aboriginal youth employed. Over 30 resulting web sites are displayed on the ADC web site (http://aboriginalcollections.ic.gc.ca) and Spirit of Aboriginal Enterprise web site (http://sae.ca). The Aboriginal Digital Collections pilot is being evaluated. In the meantime, CDC is accepting proposals for projects of the type funded under the pilot project.
A second spin-off is the recently launched BC Heritage Web Sites program. This program is a collaborative effort of Industry Canada, BC Heritage Trust, the BC Ministry of Small Business, Tourism and Culture (MSBTC), the BC Ministry of Education and the BC Museums Association. One of its goals is to encourage more web site development by smaller and rural cultural institutions in BC in order to encourage a stronger regional on-line presence in the province. The BC Heritage Web Sites program follows the CDC model in most respects, including its focus on youth employment, but offers a maximum of $15,000 per project. The first competition was held in January 2000. Further competitions will be held throughout this year. This partnership between federal and provincial governmental organizations is a prototype that, it is hoped, will lead to similar arrangements with other provinces.
Design of the CDC Program: Objectives, Components, and Delivery
The remainder of this paper explains the CDC program design in greater detail for readers who may be interested in implementing a similar program.
CDC Program Objectives
The Canadaís Digital Collections program aims to:
CDC Project Proposals
Canadaís Digital Collections holds three competitions per year for distribution of project funding to organizations via contracts. Prior to submission of project proposals, applicants are required to develop detailed plans for the execution of projects. This planning is somewhat time-intensive but ensures that proposals are immediately realizable. Proposals may be submitted by custodians of material to be digitized or by third parties acting in partnership with custodians. Third parties include multimedia firms, public and private institutions, organizations, and individuals. Custodians may act as contractors and manage the digitization teams as well. The level of support and funding that custodians or other partners contribute to a project is taken into account in selecting the projects to be supported. Maximum leverage of the federal investment is sought.
CDC funding only covers the youth wages and a small administrative overhead. Consequently, participating organizations must also provide financial and/or in-kind contributions such as equipment, infrastructure and salaries. These contributions from partners or program participants ensure leverage of 100% to 250% of CDC funding and help make CDC a cost-effective government program.
Key program documentation is described below and may be found at: http://collections.ic.gc.ca/E/program.asp:
CDC Competitive Selection Process
Proposals are subject to a competitive selection process. CDC is able to fund approximately one-third of proposals. Submissions are judged by three armís-length evaluation committees composed of experts on content in the archival, library and museum fields. Committees rank order all proposals submitted to a given competition, taking account of the following criteria:
Industry Canada then makes a final selection, taking account of the need to assure regional balance and of each projectís potential for youth employment, enhancement of local economic initiatives and private sector development.
CDCís Fee-for-Service Contracts
CDC funding is provided through contracts of up to $25,000 between Industry Canada and an institution, organization, private firm or individual. Monitoring of contracts is rigorous and follows established business practices. This approach ensures that CDC experience provides the youth team members with business skills and knowledge in addition to multimedia expertise.
There is no provision for advance payments under CDC. However, the first of three payments, 20% of the contract value, can be paid based on two weeks of satisfactory progress and submission of youth entry surveys, project storyboard and a detailed project time line. The second payment of 40% of the contract value is made at the mid-point of the contract provided that the contractorís survey, the home page, site navigation and content indicates acceptable progress. Final payment of the remaining 40% is made only on CDC approval of the final product.
Youth hired under the terms of the contract must submit both initial and exit surveys. Contractors must submit interim and final reports, including survey questions, to allow CDC to evaluate the program. These surveys and reports are deliverables incorporated into the terms of the contract. Funds may be used only for youth salaries and a 20% overhead to cover statutory benefits. Members of the digitization teams are paid $8.00 per hour. Young people with significant previous experience who are hired to manage projects and provide technical support to digitization teams are paid up to $12.00 per hour. Only one such senior youth may be hired per contract.
CDC Time Frames and Quality Control
The time required for digitization depends upon the number, nature and complexity of the material to be digitized, as well as on the number of youth team members. CDC experience shows that a team of four to five young people works well for most projects. Team members generally work an average of 450 hours or 12 weeks full time. The maximum period of employment is 16 weeks full time or an equivalent number of hours of part-time employment. This ensures that the limited funding available to the program, some $3 million per annum, provides employment to a large number of young people.
To receive the initial payment by CDC, the contractor must provide a storyboard and timeline within the first two weeks of the project. These deliverables are reviewed by the technical and content specialists on staff at CDC. Where necessary, suggested improvements to the storyboard and timeline will be forwarded to the contractors. Mid-way through the project, teams must transfer their homepage and content to the CDC development site (a password-protected site). The content and navigation of the web site are reviewed by the technical and content specialists to ensure that the publication quality standards of CDC program are met. Contractors are informed if there is inadequate editing and proof-reading of the content. In some cases further assistance is given to contractors with projects showing extensive grammatical errors or bibliographical citation problems. Project teams themselves are asked to edit continuously throughout web site development but also to set aside 75-80 hours of each team memberís work plan for final edit and quality control. It is the contractorís responsibility to submit a fully edited publication-quality web product for review by the CDC officers and technical support.
CDC Web-to-Database Transaction Processing and Data Management System
Canadaís Digital Collections has developed a leading-edge, web-based data management system which generates detailed statistics and creates reports that evaluate program impact and delivery. Project officers use the data to create lists and reports for managing their projects. This efficient data management system eliminates routine data entry so effort can be directed towards service delivery. The software used is the Relational Data Management System (RDMS), SQL version 7, and the Crystal Reporting System. The information in the database comes from the following forms and reports:
CDC Staff Resources
In addition to the structure and the documented technical guidelines that enable even novice participants to execute publication-quality web products, CDC provides contractors with guidance and expert advice throughout the process of developing a Web-based product. Each project is assigned to a project officer and to a member of the technical team. Program staff are available to provide assistance whenever needed.. Frequent project reviews by the technical and project officers ensure that novice web workers are given assistance and on-the job training throughout the whole development of their web sites leading to the consistently high quality of the CDC web sites.
Appendix A: Museum Based Collections