Canadian War Museum wins digitization battle

If you think your company’s Web site is complicated, try undertaking a project that requires you to digitizing about 8,000 vintage artifacts from the First World War.

That’s exactly what the Canadian War Museum did for its newly launched “Canada and the First World War” Web site. The online resource will allow the public to read and view thousands of war-time photographs, art, letters and diaries. Kathryn Lyons, senior interpretative planner at the Ottawa-based museum, said the massive collection gives users an amazing look into the day-to-day lives of Canada’s soldiers circa 1914.

“The thing that sets us apart from other Web projects is that we have hundreds of objects – lots of real stuff,” she said. “We took really great, high-quality photos of all the objects we have in our collection as a way of rounding out the story for visitors to our site.”

But with a project of such massive scale comes serious technical issues. “Size was really the biggest challenge for us and probably the one we were least prepared for,” Lyons said. “We had to edit and translate about 100,000 words of text and keep track of the thousands of images we created. It was about 925 pages of Web content.”

For museum staff, once it solved the problem of creating and compiling the digital artifacts, the focus shifted toward how to manage the content.

“Our artifacts, images and archival material already have databases,” Lyons said. “It’s how the content is managed – both in-house for us and for researchers who want to go through our catalogues.”

She added, “The material is separated between two database systems – one is a more conventional library-style database and the other is an artifact database.”

Because pieces of the databases used software held by an outside company, simply feeding all of this content onto the new site was out of the question for the museum.

“There were some restrictions placed on what information could be displayed due to the outside company that was supplying the support for the databases,” she said. “We decided to get our Web design company to basically take all of this raw content we collected and build a brand new database that would serve the site.”

Gatineau, Que.-based web development firm Id

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