In alignment with its 10-year anniversary, the York University Digital Library (YUDL) has introduced new software upgrades that bring increased accessibility and visibility to its cultural and heritage collections, protect future acquisitions and enable public exploration of more than one million unique objects.
The new extensive upgrades to the Digital Library platform include a full migration of the University’s existing collections, and the integration of a user interface that provides easy access to content by type, location, subject, and creator, and is supported by a search engine for more general queries.
The updates reflect the YUDL’s ongoing goal to be open to the public and provide low-barrier access to materials not often seen outside the walls of a physical archive, a mission it has pursued for a decade, serving as a preservation platform for unique collections of digital objects – including photos, videos, audio and text records in many formats – that reflect Toronto’s cultural heritage and the work of York researchers.
“York’s archivists collaborate with faculty and graduate students to build unique collections that preserve the cultural heritage of Toronto’s richly diverse society. The Digital Library allows us to share these documents with global diasporas to promote discussion and understanding of issues shared by people separated by oceans and continents, especially at a time when travel is more challenging,” says Michael Moir, university archivist, York University Libraries.
In its lifespan, it has grown to house 147 collections featuring a breadth of materials, including: photographs and interviews from politician and community activist Jean Augustine‘s collection; more than 1,300 recordings of Iranian radio programs from 1956 through 1979; digitized maps from York’s Map Library and the Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections; and nearly 18,000 digitized photographs.
Furthermore, the collections in the Digital Library provide visibility to the materials of marginalized and equity-seeking communities, whose histories are still under-represented in online spaces. Digital objects from BIPOC, 2SLGBTQIA+, Indigenous, immigrant and women’s communities, as well as a reflection of a broad range of social and economic statuses, can be surfaced using the platform. For example, the Burmese Colonial Cultures Collection provides access to rare books, pamphlets and journals published in Burma (Myanmar) between 1874 and 1930. The Egypt Migrations: a Public Humanities Project collection provides access to multimedia resources that document the history and activities of Coptic immigrants in Canada and the Egyptian diaspora. Other unique collections include the Kenneth Shah fonds, which provide access to organizational documents and promotional materials related primarily to the Caribana Festival, and the Mariposa Folk Foundation fonds, which provide access to digitized and born digital recordings, photos and other festival materials.
“The Digital Library offers a vital space to preserve cultural materials and make them available to groups who would otherwise be denied access,” says Alicia Turner, associate professor of humanities and religious studies. “In the midst of war in Burma/Myanmar and the military regime’s long-standing practices of censorship and suppression of education, we are able to preserve materials and make them available to students, scholars and activists inside the country and around the world.”
In addition to providing public access to rich archival material, the YUDL serves as an entry point to the much larger collection of physical items at the Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections, housed within York University Libraries.
“The UNESCO Memory of the World Programme reminds us that the world’s documentary heritage belongs to us all, and that the sharing of documentary heritage fosters dialogue and mutual understanding between people and cultures. York University Digital Library is integral in helping York University to advance this important mission,” states Andrea Kosavic, interim dean, York University Libraries.