Collections of the United Farmers Historical Society now online

by Kathy Bryce Friday, April 11, 2014 7:25 PM

The history of the United Farmers of Alberta (UFA) is fascinating. I suspect not too many people are aware that from 1921 to 1935 UFA was a political party, and actually formed the provincial government of Alberta.   From its formation in1909 as a lobby for farmers’ interests, UFA has grown from a small-scale local co-operative into an extensive retail operation with 120,000 active owners. UFA businesses include agriculture, petroleum, construction and outdoor adventure.  The need to provide better access to the wealth of historical information was recognized by UFA, and we are delighted that we have been able to work with them to create this new website at http://archives.ufa.com  to showcase their collections.

Andornot has worked with UFA for over 5 years, including converting various databases and spreadsheets to our Archives Starter Kit, and creating a runtime version of DB/TextWorks with selected records for the UFA 101 Years of History virtual exhibit that toured Alberta in 2010. The United Farmers Historical Society (UFHS) was started as a board within UFA in 2001 and was incorporated as a non-profit in 2002. Last year UFHS approved funding to create a searchable web interface to the archival descriptions database. However, while sitting in the UFA reception area waiting to meet to discuss the project, I started flicking through the beautiful coffee table book prepared for the centennial, “Deep Roots, Promising Future”. I asked about the availability of this book now that the centennial celebrations were over and whether they had a digital version available, as it looked like the copyright was owned by UFA. I explained that Andornot could provide a search capability for the text of this book and for any other publications they might want to digitize, to provide a much richer experience. This was met with excitement and it was agreed to totally revamp the scope of the project and try to capture a much broader range of information and documents surrounding the history of UFA.

Our key consideration for the design of the search interface was that it should be geared imagefirstly to UFA members and staff, and secondly to researchers and students. We know that UFA members especially will likely never have used an archives, and will be unfamiliar with archival terminology. We anticipate that their main interest will be related to specific farm stores and especially the people who ran them. Previous archivists had concentrated on describing the 40 or so fonds within the collection so these records are of course included, along with file and item level records detailing store openings and events. Only a relatively small subset of the UFA photo collection has been digitized so far, and continuing this process will be a focus for ongoing updates. Thumbnails are shown on the results screen or for a file box icon is used to indicate that only textual, non-digitized materials are available.

We were able to take the Adobe InDesign files for the “Deep Roots, Promising Future” book and imagecreate separate PDF’s for each chapter as these each covered a specific period in the history of UFA. After discussions with local digitization vendors, UFA contracted with the Internet Archive to digitize back issues of the “U.F.A. Co-operator” and the “United Farmer” magazines. Working with the University of Toronto IA office was a very cost effective and positive experience, and they will be digitizing additional publications for inclusion on the UFHS site over the summer. If any of these publications are retrieved by a search, the image of the page is displayed thus giving the site more visual interest, and a snippet shows the search words in context.

imageAll digitized publications can be read online and search terms are highlighted on the page. Users can scroll through page by page or see all the pages as thumbnails.clip_image006

An exciting benefit of utilizing the Internet Archive for the digitization process was the ability to add links to download the entire magazine issue in PDF, E-Book or Kindle format.

The UFA site design was created with the Twitter Bootstrap framework and Sesamo theme and is responsive, meaning the site will display nicely on large screen monitors, tablets and smart phones. The search interface is built with the Andornot Discovery Interface (AnDI). AnDI is an ASP.NET MVC web application that leverages the open-source Apache Solr search engine. Solr is fast, can handle very large data sets, and has excellent and highly configurable search algorithms and relevancy rankings.  AnDI adheres to the Smithsonian schema based on the Dublin Core Metadata standard, with imported data mapped to fields in this element set. This enables the creation of facets to narrow searches down by collection, format, subject etc. Dates are searchable by decade.

This has been a delightful project for us, as we have thoroughly enjoyed working with UFA staff, who have been receptive to changes in scope as new opportunities for enhancing the site were identified. We have also come across some hilarious articles and comics and learnt about the history of Alberta along the way. We look forward to continuing to work with UFA as new content is identified for inclusion in the search interface.

“I would like to thank Kathy and Peter for their work in making our archives’ online search interface take shape over the last few months. UFHS had completed over a decade of work in arranging and describing our records, but access to this data was limited to the archivist’s computer. Our archives site now allows UFHS to provide access to materials from the UFA’s long history to our co-operative’s staff and members, as well as sharing our story with the general public. Our initial testing around the office has generated a lot of interest from different business groups in the potential for using our archival materials in marketing and presentations.

Kathy and Peter have been accommodating and helpful with our specific requirements in simplifying archival terminology and usability for novice researchers, while maintaining features that more advanced users would want to see.  They have also been a tremendous value in helping me problem-solve and prioritize my work in cleaning up data and digitization. It has been an absolute pleasure to work with Andornot on this project.” [Sven Andreassen, UFHS Archivist]

This project and our recent work for the Ontario Jewish Archives demonstrate the possibilities of a utilizing a single interface to search multiple disparate data sources with our Andornot Discovery Interface. Please contact us if you are interested in discussing possibilities.

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