Born Digital Archives

There’s a new exhibit at the Prince of Wales Armouries! We’re featuring the work of photographer Chris Bruun, who has been donating negatives and born digital photographs to the City of Edmonton Archives since 1995.

EA-784-1130 “Chris Bruun, Photographer” 2 September 2012

EA-784-1130 “Chris Bruun, Photographer” 2 September 2012

Although retired from professional photography, Bruun continues to actively photograph life in Edmonton. He has a knack for finding surprising perspectives in everyday scenes, as shown in The Photographer’s Eye exhibit.

EA-784-1652 “Gazebo” October 2, 2013. This image was a favorite at The Photographer’s Eye exhibit launch.

EA-784-1652 “Gazebo” October 2, 2013. This image was a favorite at The Photographer’s Eye exhibit launch.

Bruun’s photographs are the first major born digital acquisition by the City of Edmonton Archives. Born digital, as opposed to digitized material, does not have a physical copy (like a printed photograph – or negative, for example). All we have are the bits and bytes and we need both hardware (computers) and software (programs) to make them understandable to humans. This means born digital materials need special care to preserve them and keep them accessible long into the future. This has significance for archives, which are mandated to keep their collections accessible to their users in perpetuity.

EA-784-1347 “Molson Sign” December 16, 2012

EA-784-1347 “Molson Sign” December 16, 2012

Recently, computer scientist Vint Cerf made headlines by warning about a “Digital Dark Age” and the reality that digital files, if unmanaged, soon become inaccessible due to a combination of degradation and hardware and software obsolescence. For example, who has floppy disks they can’t open kicking around? I do and I bet I’m not alone! Even CDs and DVDs are becoming rarer and many new computers don’t come with drives for them anymore.

While it is good to see the issue highlighted, there was little recognition of the ongoing efforts of archivists and librarians around the world to prevent such a Digital Dark Age. In response, UK and European archivists took to twitter with the hashtag #nodigitaldarkage to show their digital preservation and long term access efforts. Archives and libraries have been working to preserve our born digital heritage for years.

And we’re working on it at the City of Edmonton Archives too. We’re setting in place a sustainable program to maintain access to the born digital material in our collections. There’s a lot of work to do but I have hope for the future as well as continued access to our born digital collections.

In the meantime, please stop by the Prince of Wales Armouries to see The Photographer’s Eye!

EA-784-25 “Robertson-Wesley United Church” ca. 2008

EA-784-25 “Robertson-Wesley United Church” ca. 2008

EA-784-1299 “Bus Stop” November 9, 2012 Images like this will show future generations what life in Edmonton was like in this age.

EA-784-1299 “Bus Stop” November 9, 2012 Images like this will show future generations what life in Edmonton was like in this age.

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About the Author
Elizabeth Walker
Elizabeth has a Masters of Archival Studies from UBC and she’s been the City’s digital archivist since September 2010. She’s passionate about outreach and increasing engagement between the Archives and the community.
2 Comments
  1. Grant Pekar
    8 months ago

    I am looking for any possible maps of Edmonton in the 40s, 50s and 60s

    Thanks in Advance for your time and service.

    -Grant

  2. Elizabeth
    8 months ago

    Hello Grant,

    We have many maps of Edmonton over that time period, some are digitized and available online at https://archivesphotos.edmonton.ca/ but the majority are only available in our Reference Room. Are you able to come to the Archives?

    You can get in touch with us directly at cms.archives@edmonton.ca or at 780-496-8711 for more information.

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