Team effort creates digital feminist newsletter collection


FLAG News (May 1981)

by: Page DeWolfe (Digitization Centre Supervisor), Karen Dykes (Metadata Supervisor Digital Collections), Alix Gullen (Metadata Assistant), and Lara Wilson (Director Special Collections & University Archivist)

UVic Libraries is pleased to announce the availability of a new digital collection, Victoria Feminist Newsletters, via our digital asset management platform, Vault. As with our previous collections of digital primary sources, the creation of this new resource was a team effort with libraries personnel from the Digitization Centre, Metadata Unit, and Special Collections & University Archives. Below are reflections on the project from Lara Wilson (Special Collections & University Archives), Page DeWolfe (Digitization Centre), Karen Dykes (Collection Management Services – Metatada), and Alix Gullen (Collection Management Services – Serials Metadata).

Lara: The newsletters form a part of the Victoria Women’s Movement Archives collection, a grass-roots acquisition initiative undertaken almost 30 years ago. It was a collaborative effort between women's organizations in Victoria, UVic Archives (under the leadership of Jane Turner), and the Department of Women's Studies (now Gender Studies Department). The newsletters donated by women in Victoria, along with historical documents and ephemera, illuminate advocacy work and community-building from 1970s to the early 2000s.


SWAG News (May 1977)

For many years the newsletters were housed with Victoria Women’s Movement archival fonds and not catalogued as print materials. As our local digital collections grew, we decided these materials should be catalogued for Special Collections, to enhance their discoverability via Library Search, and digitized, to increase access to the historical information they contain. The individuals and organizations documented in these newsletters worked to improve local social, economic, and political conditions; we thank them for their advocacy and for preserving their history at UVic Libraries.

Page: The Digitization Centre in the UVic Libraries has been providing in-house digitization services for other library units, and for faculty and community partners since 2006. In that time, we’ve digitized thousands of pages of serials and books, plus hundreds of other items including photographs, maps, architectural drawings, fine art, manuscripts, biological specimens, and historical artifacts.  


SWAG News Vol. 14, No. 3 (1977)

The work of digitization is repetitive by nature. For a collection such as this, each issue is scanned page by page on a book edge production scanner, which allows us to get into the inner margin of a publication without damage to the binding. Many of these newsletters were bound simply by staples, often at a corner, so staff sometimes had to be creative about placement in order to get a readable scan. We created high resolution PDF (portable document format) files for each of the 339 issues that were then made text-searchable through a process known as OCR (optical character recognition).

We are often asked whether we get to read everything we scan. The short answer is no – if we stopped to read it all, productivity would plummet! However, the local content of these newsletters proved to be quite tempting as I kept seeing names of people who are now community leaders (including a local mayor) with bylines and editorial positions.

It was also frustrating to see how little has changed regarding fights in support of abortion rights and family rights that continue to be political issues today. More interesting to me were local details about the 2SLGBTQI+ community such as the brief existence of a lesbian gathering space (the G-Spot!) and drag kings in the 1990s, and Pride celebrations through the years which drew me in more deeply. In short, I saw myself reflected in these pages and I suspect many others will see themselves here, too.

Karen: After the digitization unit team has completed its work with scanning and editing the images, the digital collections team creates the metadata to describe the materials and then uploads it into Vault. Metadata is structured information about an object and its main goal within Vault is to make material findable. Careful thought and consideration are given by our team to what information goes into which field and how that information is formatted. A good deal of expertise and experience is needed to complete this work, knowledge of the methods and standards to create metadata is needed along with a general awareness of the material that is being described and its context within the local and global communities. Metadata is foundational to essentially all activities within a library but, the work is largely done hidden behind the scenes.


SWAG News (September 1977)

One of the tools we use to create consistent and functioning metadata is a document called an Application Profile. These documents list all the individual fields used to describe the objects like title, genre, subject etc. and give instructions and examples for how to fill in the values. There is an overarching Vault system-wide profile that gives higher level instructions for which controlled vocabularies, schemas, and standards to use for each field, and part my role as the Digital Collections Supervisor is to create a profile with instructions tailored to each collection we add to Vault. Much effort is put into the mindful curation of values added to the metadata. When we apply a subject to describe what the item is about we do our best to select terms from the required vocabularies that are precise but also are also in line with how equity seeking groups describe themselves. This is a careful balancing act where we have to be creative within the constraints of the standards and systems within which we are required to do our work. The intention is to craft metadata in a way that not only accurately represents the materials and groups associated with it, but also provides access points to increase the findability for information seekers.


Prime Time (April 3, 1978)

Once the application profile is set, then it is sometimes assigned to another colleague in our area to complete the work on creating the bespoke metadata for each item in the collection. This Feminist Newsletter collection presented an excellent opportunity to bring Alix Gullen into the digital collections mix for the first time; she is a serials cataloger who did the work on the physical newsletters. After the metadata work has been completed and checked, I upload it to Vault where it is open and available. We create metadata for material from all over the world, and that touches on a diverse array of topics.

But nothing makes me feel more professionally satisfied than working on materials from our local Vancouver Island community, especially items from people that are fighting to make the world a better place like the groups represented in the Victoria Feminist Newsletters collection.

Alix: I created the library catalogue records for the original print versions of these newsletters, so I was already familiar with the material and adapted the information for the digital format. My main goal was to add metadata that helped accurately describe the items, so they are accessible to users and reflect their proper context. One of the ways we do this is to assign subject headings. In this case, I assigned Library of Congress FAST headings to link under one word or phrase all materials on a given topic contained in this collection. This helps users determine what the items are about even when the titles might not reflect the subjects and discover other items on the same topics.


Rag: F.L.A.G. Newsletter (June, 1981)

Although all these titles fall under the general subject of feminism and women’s movements, they also cover more specific topics like prison reform, nuclear disarmament and peace movements, women’s rights, women’s physical and mental health, union activities, disability and discrimination. They were also created by and for specific demographics like workers, LGBTQ+ folks, Indigenous women, single parents, older women and much more. Because the collection is so specific to this area, it was also important to assign geographic subjects for Victoria and Vancouver Island.

It was exciting to have the opportunity to really dig into this fascinating collection and see them in their entirety. The value of this local collection is that it allows us to see the range of issues tackled by the feminist movement on Vancouver Island and the diversity of the people engaging with its activities. It was also interesting to see how many of the issues are the same as what feminists deal with today – access to health care for women and minority gender people, discrimination and harassment in the workplace, racism, and the division of family responsibilities between partners. Exploring these titles also enabled me to see the more humorous and lighthearted side to feminists who have been traditionally stereotyped as unsmiling and serious.