‘YFile’ reaches 20-year milestone

YFile featured image for 20th anniversary story

York University’s source for faculty and staff news is celebrating its 20-year anniversary on Sept. 9. One of North America’s longest-running university newsletters, YFile is marking the date with this special issue.

In addition to the special issue content, over the course of the upcoming year, YFile will feature a variety of anniversary stories and republish interesting and unique articles from its archive.

Founded in 2002, YFile began with a goal of offering operational announcements, research deadlines and external news about York University to its readers, its first issue featured four short posts, including this first story 3…2…1…Launch!

This is the original version of YFile. It was distributed as an HTML newsletter
This is the original version of YFile. It was distributed as an HTML newsletter

During its 20 years, YFile has undergone three significant evolutions. Each was structured to reflect new trends in digital publishing and to reflect other communication platforms and channels aimed at external audiences. Along the way, the focus of YFile also grew and changed and the publication now provides a wide variety of informative stories. The current version of YFile offers articles about the important discoveries by York researchers, work underway by the University’s talented faculty and staff to innovate how teaching and learning takes place both inside and outside the University, congratulatory stories on awards and recognition garnered by outstanding community members, and the promotion of selected keynote events designed to bring residents of local communities onto campus.

“Over the last two decades YFile has captured York’s important moments and has recorded our shared history as it unfolds,” said Chief Communications and Marketing Officer Susan Webb. “YFile tells the stories of how the University community continues to contribute to positive change. I’m so proud of this publication, and the dedicated team that puts it together.”

Always looking to the future, YFile has continued its quest to incorporate and reinforce the University’s brand personality through interesting content, new and innovative web publishing strategies, and a continued pursuit to provide excellence in service to the University community. In its most recent iteration, which was launched Sept. 15, 2021, the publication merged several decommissioned web archives of its content into a robust archive. YFile staff are now working with experts in the Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections to match images with text and enhance the archive of its stories. You can read about this work in this special issue.

Combining award-winning writing, design and the skills of two full-time journalists – Editor Jenny Pitt-Clark and Deputy Editor Ashley Goodfellow CraigYFile continues its focus on connecting faculty and staff with each other through new innovations including special focus publications. Working with content experts in the Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation and the Office of the Associate Vice-President Teaching & Learning, YFile offers two special focus issues on select Fridays each month during the academic year. The first regular special focus issue, originally known as “Brainstorm,” features interesting articles on the exciting discoveries by York University’s accomplished researchers. In fact, look for “Brainstorm” to be relaunched this year under a new name, “Aspire.” The second regular special focus issue is “Innovatus,” and its content focuses on teaching and learning, the student experience and internationalization. ”Innovatus” will publish its first issue of the 2022-23 academic year later this month.

“There’s barely a day that I don’t read YFile. And with almost every  edition I learn something new about York University and what my colleagues have been doing and the successes they’ve experienced. I’m proud to have been able to highlight the work of my graduate students for the York community through YFile,” said Will Gage, associate vice-president teaching & learning. “I’ve also been privileged to work directly with the team who creates YFile from time to time. With Jenny and her colleague, we’ve created ‘Innovatus,’ a monthly special issue of YFile that focuses on innovations in teaching and learning. And while YFile is focused on distributing to our York community, from time to time a YFile story gets picked up by other media and shared more broadly, which is incredibly rewarding.”

Every innovation, including special focus issues, new articles and approach to presenting content, is created with York University community members in mind. “The best moments I’ve had working on YFile over the past 19 years have been when faculty and staff express their delight with our approach to their news and the stories we write,” said Pitt-Clark. “It’s gratifying and exciting to be able to interview them and a privilege for YFile to convey their news.”

YFile also reflects and promotes the key drivers of the University Academic Plan 2020 – 2025, and of particular importance is the publication’s focus on York University’s community of changemakers and their collective effort to create positive change and address the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

And finally, one of the biggest triumphs for YFile in its 20-year history has been its role connecting the University community during the COVID-19 pandemic. As people pivoted to distance learning and working, YFile continued to publish with a renewed focus on connecting students, faculty and staff with each other through informative and innovative reporting, and important communications focused on keeping everyone safe and healthy. 

To kick off the anniversary year, YFile has launched a special anniversary webpage that will capture the celebratory content available at go.yorku.ca/yfile20.

A project in preservation: archiving digital documents, articles and images

concept of digital technology

An important aspect of YFile‘s 20th anniversary is preserving its archived content for future generations at York University. What does the process involve when considering a digital publication with such a lengthy history? What should University community members consider when thinking of archiving their digital records?

To find out, YFile turned to the archivists at the University’s Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections Department of the York University Libraries (YUL). They are contributing their expertise to the YFile archiving project, which is of extraordinary proportions with more than 26,000 electronic posts in the publication and three accompanying binders with hundreds of images backed up on compact discs (CDs). Sitting down to answer our questions are Michael Moir, University archivist; Jennifer Grant, archivist and Nick Ruest, digital assets librarian in the YUL.

Q. Why is it important to archive electronic newsletters, images and blogs such as YFile?

A. Unlike the minutes of Senate or other official University records that the archives is mandated to preserve for the long term, content like YFile documents a broad range of activities and news relating to all members of the York community – students, staff and faculty – with an eye to highlighting the people who make the University what it is, in all its multi-faceted complexity, packaged in an easily consumable, multi-media format. So, it’s important to preserve records that capture not only the content of information communicated from the University to its communities, but also the ever-changing format of that communication. For example, in the past, this type of information may have been disseminated through analog methods like newsletters or newspapers (published weekly, monthly or quarterly), reports, departmental memoranda, etc., which were easy to store and collect for the longer term. The relative ease and frequency with which information can now be shared means that there is not only much more content out there to keep track of, but it also requires concerted effort to capture and preserve for the long term, in large part because electronic media is much more fragile and ephemeral than similar information products that once were paper based.

Libraries atrium
The Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections Department is located in the Scott Library at the Keele Campus

In the archives, we can no longer expect this type of information to just come to us like once would have happened (when a community member would have boxed up their full run of departmental newsletters and reports, for example, and transferred them to us). Instead, we all (content creators, archivists and digital preservation managers) have an active part to play in ensuring that digital content being created now, which documents the activities and functions of the University in the present moment, can be easily accessed in the future to ensure that the historical record accurately reflects how the University operated in the early 21st century.

Q. What does the process for the experts in the Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections to handle the YFile materials?

A. Like with all archival donations and transfers that come to the Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections, our focus is a dual one. Our first priority is to ensure that these materials can be safely and easily accessed. In this case, this means making copies of digital files without altering their contents and documenting what is on each photograph CD, capturing file titles and all the technical metadata that is available embedded in the CD, and creating checksums (used to verify the integrity and uniqueness of individual files). Once we’ve done this, the process begins to figure out what that content actually is and how to describe it so it can be discoverable to researchers and users (and us) via our descriptive database. During this process, we will want to match images to their corresponding issues of YFile and weed out duplicates.

Q. How long do you envision the project to archive YFile will take?

A. There is now a bi-monthly web crawl of the YFile site that takes several days to complete. This is an ongoing process. The management of the content that has been transferred via CD is a bit more complicated. As with many archival projects, the timeline will depend entirely on the availability of archives staff to do this work. In some ways, the first step, which is to copy and then transfer content from CD to server, will be the most time consuming, as it involves working with one CD at a time on a computer terminal that still has a CD drive, creating a manifest for each CD that documents its contents and creates checksums for each digital file (which will allow us to compare files to identify duplication), and then transfer these copies to a server for temporary storage. Once these digital files are backed up and more easily accessible, the appraisal work begins to determine what needs to be kept, then work to create descriptions of content that can be added to our archival database can begin, followed by transfer of the objects and related metadata to digital preservation platforms. There is no way to say for sure at this point how long this might take, but six months would be an optimistic guess, given our many competing priorities.

Q. Aside from the YFile website, where can University community members access the archived YFile materials?

A. York University Libraries has an instance of OpenWayback available here. For those unfamiliar with OpenWayback, it is the open source version of the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. Previous captures of the YFile website can be found here.

Q. Looking back, what should YFile have done with respect to archiving of its newsletters and content? What can University community members learn from the YFile experience?

A. Hindsight is always 20-20 and we all often must do the best we can with the resources available. The first step is always recognizing that something is worth saving and preserving. Once you take that important step, the next necessary step is finding allies to help you do this work. In this case, reaching out to York University Libraries will help to gain those allies and then get access to our resources and knowledge of best practices.

Q. In the last 20 years, the way we store and share information has evolved significantly. What are some methods of archiving that remain important today, and what are some of the methods that we have left behind?

A. This is a large question! I think the principles of archival practice have not changed, but the methodology and timelines for this work have. Archives still are responsible for ensuring the authenticity, preservation and accessibility of records of enduring value, and our methods for doing this work continue to change with the evolution of record formats and the progression from analog to digital. The bigger issue, however, is that people are producing these records at a rate not comparable to any moment in the past. We also don’t necessarily think about the digital records we create in the same way. Email replaced the letter, but one could argue that direct messaging and text messaging have replaced email – yet we don’t think of preserving our text messages in the way that we think of letters or even email. So, I think that information professionals have a much larger role to play in intervening early in the life of the record, in the lives of potential donors to archives (such as records creators in a university context), to ensure that we identify and then capture and preserve important information objects for future transfer to the archives. The consequences of not doing this will mean that important information either does not survive, or, if it does, it may be lost or hard to discover amidst gigabytes and terabytes of unorganized digital files. Successful archival practices will depend on archivists and records creators working together at an earlier stage in the lifecycle of the record to ensure the survival of important information, which is definitely a change from past practices where the archives would wait for the analog records to become inactive and then our work would start when those records entered our physical custody.

Q. What are the risks associated with not archiving electronic materials properly?

A. There is no such thing as a complete archive of anything, so even under the best circumstances, we never save everything we should or could or have perfect record-keeping practices. However, one of the biggest challenges in preserving digital records is accounting for the real specter of technical obsolescence. Not preserving your digital records properly in a basic sense really means not ensuring that digital files of value continue to be authentic and accessible when the media that houses it, or the software that opens it, or the hard drive that it lives on become obsolete or unworkable. This is already a challenge for archives that have digital records transferred to us that are either difficult or impossible to access because of these issues. One of the main things that digital records creators can do is be aware of the need to safely migrate forward their digital records to new hardware or storage media while it is still in active use, and if you don’t have the tools to do this yourself, figure out who can help you. We have yet to really understand what impact the transition from an analog to digital world has had on documentary heritage and the historical record in general.

Q. Looking forward, what should University community members consider for their electronic documents, images and newsletters? How should they contact you and what would you need from them?

A. The York University Common Records Schedule applies to both analog and digital records, so the first thing that York University staff and faculty should do is figure out what their obligations are for corporate recordkeeping by using this as a guide. Another piece of advice is to be proactive with your digital recordkeeping, whether they are records to be kept for the long term or for the short term. Think about what information will help future users of this content understand and use these records. One of the easiest things you can do is be consistent about file naming conventions and file formats that allow discoverability and access to digital content. Don’t wait until you’re in a recordkeeping crisis to reach out to us – collaborative problem-solving and information sharing is essential to the proper management and stewardship of digital records for long-term preservation. That said, if you don’t know what something is and why it’s worth keeping, don’t assume we will either – we rely on records creators to accurately identify and name digital records to make our work possible.

Read more of YFile‘s special anniversary content at go.yorku.ca/yfile20.

Here’s how to share your story ideas with ‘YFile’

writing in notebook

The online story submission form that was launched in September 2021 has proven to be extremely popular with the University community. Accessible directly from the YFile website, the form guides community members and helps them pull together the information they need to submit a story to YFile’s editorial team. The form is user friendly, and makes the submission of stories more organized. 

The York University community is invited to share stories, promote upcoming events, highlight current research and accomplishments, and share recent innovations in teaching and learning to celebrate how York faculty, staff and students right the future each day.  

When submitting a story to YFile, some thoughts to consider are:  

  • Why will your story be of interest to the York community? 
  • What’s the news hook? 
  • Does your story promote or support the University’s strategic priorities? 
  • What makes the story compelling or unique? 
  • Is your news tip or story idea time sensitive? 

Content on the YFile website is curated into categories that best reflect York University’s priorities and goals, along with YFile’s mandate. News categories include: Teaching & Learning, Research & Innovation, Awards & Recognition, Latest News, Special Issues and Features. The popular Scoop section has featured more than 460 York University members to date.  

There are also two sections that enhance YFile’s presentation of content and answers the community’s desire to see stories featured on the website for a longer period of time. These sections, Spotlight@York and York in Focus, put emphasis on important initiatives and stories happening at York University.

Submit your story idea to YFile today! For a complete set of guidelines on submitting a story, refer to the YFile User Manual – a guide to support content creators on understanding YFile’s unique writing and publishing conventions. It provides answers to frequently asked questions about deadlines, images sizes and more. The YFile User Manual is also available on the About YFile page under YFile resources. 

Subscribe to YFile

YFile continues to serve York faculty and staff by writing, editing and reporting on institutional news, events, people and trends. The campus newsletter is distributed by email to more than 7,000 faculty, staff, students and friends of the University. New subscribers are always welcome and can subscribe here. To see previous email newsletters, visit YFile‘s newsletter archive.

Read more of YFile‘s special anniversary content at go.yorku.ca/yfile20.

Jonathan Dolphin


YFile asks the University’s community of changemakers to reflect on the past and consider the future.

Starting Sept. 9 and continuing throughout the publication’s anniversary year, YFile will ask University community members to reflect on York’s past and consider the future, specifically their thoughts on the continued evolution of York University. Jonathan Dolphin, alumni communications officer in the Advancement Division, contemplates the changes he’s seen on campus and what the future holds.

Jonathan Dolphin
Alumni Communications Officer
Office of Alumni Engagment

Vice-President Advancement

How long have you been with York University and what has been the most striking change to the campus in that time?  

Jonathan Dolphin

I started at York University back in 2005 as a work study student – seems like a lifetime ago. A few years later I started working full-time with the University and will be celebrating more than 15 years here. I’ve always loved the Keele Campus and as much as things have changed, they’re the same. I love the striking architecture and greenery and find that it really does feel like a “home away from home” here.

What is your vision for York University looking ahead 20 years from now?  

I’m so excited to see how York University grows over the next 20 years. In the short term I can’t wait to visit Markham Campus and see a medical school finally come to fruition. In terms of the more distant future, well, I truly think the sky is the limit and I can’t wait to see what’s in store next!

Weiling Li

Weiling Li

YFile asks the University’s community of changemakers to reflect on the past and consider the future.

Starting Sept. 9 and continuing throughout the publication’s anniversary year, YFile will ask University community members to reflect on York’s past and consider the future, specifically their thoughts on the continued evolution of York University. Weiling Li, director of internal audit, considers the changes she has witnessed since joining York University in 2006.

Weiling Li
Director, Internal Audit
Vice-President Finance and Administration

How long have you been with York University and what has been the most striking change to the campus in that time?  

Weiling Li
Weiling Li

I have been at York since 2006 and have enjoyed all my time. I have witnessed many significant changes over the years, so it’s hard to choose but if I had to it would be between the following:

  • The buildings and infrastructure have changed dramatically with the York Lions Stadium (formerly the Pan-Am Stadium), the Bergeron Centre for Engineering Excellence, and the Subway Stations on the Keele Campus. They are not only visually beautiful additions to the campus landscape, but have also improved the quality of the overall campus experience and have added to the University’s academic strengths.
  • York’s focus on impact and how it has pushed everyone, whether in their academic or administrative activities, to think about how to support a better University and a better world.

What is your vision for York University looking ahead 20 years from now?  

I see an entire community working together to support the priorities of York University and making a meaningful impact on the local community while continuing to be a world-class institution of learning.

Read more of YFile‘s special anniversary content at go.yorku.ca/yfile20.

Paul Mayol

Paul Mayol

YFile asks the University’s community of changemakers to reflect on the past and consider the future.

Starting Sept. 9 and continuing throughout the publication’s anniversary year, YFile will ask University community members to reflect on York’s past and consider the future, specifically their thoughts on the continued evolution of York University. York is a community of dedicated employees, one is Paul Mayol, a York alumnus and a long-serving staff member, for his reflections.

Paul Mayol
Project Lead, Divisional Initiatives
Vice-Provost Students

How long have you been with York University and what has been the most striking change to the campus in that time?

Paul Mayol
Paul Mayol

I’ve been at York since 1981, first as an undergraduate student. I then started a grad program, but did not complete it. Finally, I have been an employee since 1986, and yep that’s a really long time! I’ve seen a lot of change in the built environment, that is obvious. As a student at the Keele Campus, I remember the underground tunnels, a pub in every college, the ramp to the Ross Podium and the enormous mound/round about that used to be part of what is now the Harry W. Arthurs Common in front of Vari Hall. There has been some type of construction on campus continuously since I was a student. I’ve seen many new buildings, a couple subway stations, the common, new student residences, roads and more. It’s been a frantic construction phase, but I do miss some of my favourite spots on campus that have disappeared to make room for new spaces. For instance, there was once one of the best family run restaurants in the basement of Atkinson College, and above it was the best vegetarian student-run spot on campus.

But I think what has struck me most over the more than 35 years I’ve been here as an employee, has been how York has evolved as a community. In my opinion, we have evolved as a mature institution committed to certain values that are the core of our identity. Today, our campuses reflect the multi-cultural and diverse identify of Toronto. We have become a very inclusive institution, grown our teaching and research, developed new Faculties, and new campuses. I feel truly privileged to have been a part of this journey of positive growth

What is your vision for York University looking ahead 20 years from now?  

In terms of built space, if I’d been asked this question prior to the pandemic, I would simply have answered that York University will continue to grow, infilling, building academic and residential districts and following the Master Plan that has been the template for its physical development. I think that physical development will still take place, but perhaps at a different pace, and perhaps with different emphasis. I believe the growth will continue in terms of ensuring that this is a more diverse community, one that provides more access to post-secondary education to students from less advantaged families. I also see York becoming a more progressive employer. Academically, York will continue to mature by developing a new Faculty of Medicine, and creating new and innovative programs. But, like all educational institutions in the province, York will also need to tackle chronic and sustained underfunding, aging infrastructure and an increasingly competitive provincial and international market to attract and retain students.

Read more of YFile‘s special anniversary content at go.yorku.ca/yfile20.