On November 11th, 2013 a wonderful biographical scrapbook about persons from Essex county who served in World War Two was published on the web. The scrapbook belongs to The R.C. Diocese Of London (Ontario), specifically to Our Lady of the Rosary in Windsor, Ontario. At this point, it is not known who created it.
The scrapbook is extremely fragile, being comprised of highly acidic papers, inks and adhesives and for the same reason, light sensitive. After careful consideration, it was decided to create a digital file which could be displayed on the internet.
I can’t say enough about the generosity of the congregation of Our Lady of the Rosary in publishing this treasure. All things considered, they did the right thing by sharing digitally, instead of the old way through an exhibition which was often so damaging and which only provided limited access anyway. Because of its nature, the scrapbook is threatened by thousands of hands turning pages to seek information. This may now be avoided.
However, the publication of the scrapbook on the web has precipitated the usual cascade of truly stupid comments. Among them are rants against archives for failing to measure up against a parish church.
These critics need to imagine a space the size of the ground floor of their home, filled top to bottom with shelving containing hundreds of boxes of papers. Many of these papers will not be organized in a roughly alphabetical order (like the Scrapbook). Nor will it be obvious what much of the papers are actually about. The records await the archivist to sort them out and make a finding aid. But wait! The archivist must spend five out of six hours a day helping the general public with enquiries and other duties.
Yes, it is true that every Ontario archive has some trusted volunteers willing to pitch in. However, these people have their own research interests and lives outside of the archives. Faced by the reality of how long it actually takes to do a good job on a foot of original records they usually finish the assignment and then say, “There you go, but no more of that please. Let me do something else.”
I for one am tired of being cast as a villain. Our archives are choc-a-bloc with wonderful collections. If Ontarians want to see these things up online like the Our Lady of the Rosary Scrapbook, then we need to lobby governments to provide help to get the professionals out of the reading room and into the storage to arrange, catalogue and digitize as they are educated to do.
The World War Two Scrapbook belonging to Our Lady of the Rosary can be viewed at http://wp.dol.ca/webportal/diocese/content/1/5/WWII%20Virtual%20Exhibit/810