The Future of Our Digital Past: Lay-Offs at Internet Archive Canada

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Internet_Archive_book_scanner_1This is amazing. This afternoon, I read a 1854 petition written byWilliam Lyon Mackenzie to the Legislative Assembly of Canada demanding £500 compensation for travel expenses incurred during his tenure as a government director for the Welland Canal Company. I read this bizarre and fascinating 157 year old historical document on a laptop computer while sitting on my bed.

This is the kind of incredible and important historical preservation work done by organizations likeInternet Archive Canada. This week,Torontoist reported that IAC had to lay off 75% of its staff due to cuts in its funding. This is a terrible loss for Canadian historians and students of Canadian history.

I regularly use Internet Archive resources in both my research and teaching. It is one of the best digital archives for Canadian history, offering free, open access without copyright limitations or prohibitive paywalls. Because Canada has so few large-scale historical digitization projects (see my previous post on digitized newspapers), the loss of IAC would be an enormous setback to the preservation of such valuable historical materials.

The universities of Toronto, Ottawa, and Alberta were, most recently, the primary funders of IAC. Prior to their contributions, Microsoft was the major source of funding. Canadian universities across the country have a stake in this work and hopefully more of them can find additional money to support this project. Historians, through their professional organizations like the Canadian Historical Association, should make an effort to lead universities in this direction.

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Sean Kheraj is the director of the Network in Canadian History and Environment. He's an associate professor in the Department of History and associate dean of programs in the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies at York University. His research and teaching focuses on environmental and Canadian history. He is also the host and producer of Nature's Past, NiCHE's audio podcast series and he blogs at http://seankheraj.com.

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