Glenbow Archives: the Calgary Herald
Susan Kooyman, Glenbow Archives
During the 1970s Calgary looked pretty much like a gigantic construction site, we wore psychedelic prints and long hair, we ate our first McDonald's hamburgers, and we protested everything. We survived endless beer strikes, opened our first abortion clinic, rocked to Janis Joplin and Mashmakhan, and demolished no less than five venerable old hotels. Yes, I personally lived through it all, but now the rest of the world can also experience Calgary in the 1970s thanks to Glenbow's recently-completed Calgary Herald Digitization Project, which was funded by an ANA Grant from our favourite funding source, the Archives Society of Alberta.
This project has helped Glenbow to fill in an enormous gap in our readily-accessible images. Until recently, we offered splendid coverage of Alberta from 1871 through to the early 1950s, and extremely weak coverage of more recent decades. With researchers now clamouring for images from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, we have systematically tried to increase the number of accessible images from more recent decades.
The Calgary Herald photographs represent our richest source of photographs from the 1970s and 1980s, so they seemed an obvious choice for digitization. The other compelling reason is that they have always been hopelessly inaccessible. There are 159 metres of shelf space stuffed with Herald negative envelopes, each representing a roll of photos taken at a specific event. The sole finding aid has been a date-order listing, which is of little help if you do not know the date you want, or if you are looking for specific people or subjects. The negatives themselves are in 35 mm format, which are difficult to view even with a light table and a magnifying glass. Thus, an important benefit of this project has been to make at least a small part of this large fonds more accessible.
One of the first challenges we faced was selecting only 1,000 images from the approximately 18,000 original envelopes of negatives dating from the 1970s. Glenbow volunteers, Louise Travis and Gwen Smith, have been working for years on an overall appraisal of the Herald images, and had already preselected 6,000 worthy images from this decade. The final selection of approximately 100 images per year was made by permanent archival staff from these 6,000. We had the advantage of having newspaper clippings of the articles in which most of the images were originally published, so we did not have to make the selections from the 35 mm negatives. When it came to the actual scanning, our digitization technician cleverly noticed that the image actually published was usually marked with a little nick in the edge of the negative strip, so he too was spared premature blindness.
We tried to build in as much information as possible in the photograph description. The negative envelopes and the newspaper clippings provided us with the date that the image was published, so this was always included in the descriptions, to provide researchers with a jumping-off point if they wanted more information. We had volunteers use Henderson's Directories to look up street addresses of buildings featured in articles, and these addresses were then included in the descriptions in a standard format, so that they can be easily searched. We also included the names of any people identified in the newspaper clipping.
One decision we faced with respect to the descriptions was what to call important landmarks which have had name changes, such as the Husky Tower and the 8th Avenue Mall, which are currently known as the Calgary Tower and Stephen Avenue. We decided to include the current name in brackets after the name used when the photograph was taken.
As always, there was a bit of experimentation during the project. For example, it quickly became apparent that our norm of one photo with one description is not a perfect way to display newspaper images. Newspapers often have "features" which include several photographs in one story. An article about a show home, for example, included photos of the house exterior, the sunken living room, the cutting-edge kitchen island, and the fireplace. Which single image could adequately represent this show home? In the end, our digitization technician created a montage of all four images for this record (see NA-2864-26078). We loved the results but, unfortunately, we discovered after about 150 or so that it was taking far too long to create montages, which put us in danger of not completing the decade, so we reverted to single images. In future projects, if we think that montages are appropriate or necessary, we will build this into the budget.
The 1000 images created during this project went live on our web site on April 9th, 2003, and on April 22nd we received our first public photo order for one of the images. Janis Joplin swigging tequila on Calgary's Festival Express Stage had the honour to be the first image requested from our latest digitization project! Check it out at www.glenbow.org/archhtm/herald.htm.