A handful of history

Mary MacKay
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The free new Telling Island Stories iPad app developed by a team at Robertson Library at UPEI opens a whole new mobile world to Prince Edward Island history

Courtney Matthews, left, Nelson Hart and Kris Bulman, not shown, worked on the development of the new Telling Island Stories iPad application, which is now available for free at Apple’s App Store.

A handy mobile app now puts the pulse of Prince Edward Island’s local history pretty much in the palm of one’s hand.

The free Telling Island Stories (TIS) iPad application, developed by a Robertson Library team at UPEI and now available worldwide at the Apple’s App Store, links users directly to a massive stockpile of digitized archived information, such as audio, books, photographs, documents and much more.

“The impetus of the project was that we wanted to present these things mobilely. We wanted people to be able to interact with our collections in basically what is a virtual landscape . . . ,” says Courtney Matthews, who is community liaison librarian at UPEI’s Robertson Library.

TIS is a collaborative community digitization and economic development project led by Robertson Library. UPEI’s Robertson Library and Discovery Garden Inc., and the Islandora services company partnered for the project, which received a Rural Broadband grant from Innovation P.E.I.

Student developers Dylan Sawyer, Peter Workman and Nick MacAulay completed the proof of the concept for TIS last summer.

Team members, including UPEI developer Nelson Hart, Robertson Library digitization technician Kris Bulman and Matthews, then transformed that into an easy-to-use discovery tool.

The Telling Island Stories app is a digital overlay for UPEI’s extensive digital archival collections. The university has developed a digital preservation framework called Islandora, which is used to create large, searchable collections of digital assets.

TIS draws on an existing digital archive of books, reports, letters, diaries and other print material produced by and about P.E.I. that is presently available online through UPEI’s IslandArchives.ca project.

“It’s more than a technical project focused on exposing our digital collections, it’s about skills development and economic development in rural P.E.I.,” says Matthews.

At present, student intern Mark Cousins is working at the Alberton Museum and Amanda Creamer is at the Robertson Library, where each is adding more content to the TIS app.

“They’re engaging the community and trying to source new content and create community digital preservation partnerships. Amanda and Mark have also been working hard to expose our existing collections,” Matthews says.

“The whole idea is we go out there and try to tap these historical materials and resources that people aren’t aware of; things that people’s grandparents have in their attics, like old photo albums. It’s more of a community kind of crowd-source idea where we’re trying to pull in content from anyone who has something that they want to contribute.”

UPEI also had a huge partnership with the local Community Access Program’s (C.A.P.) Island Narratives project, for which the C.A.P. regional co-ordinators across the province pulled in loads of digital content from various communities.

Its website is housed by UPEI’s Robertson Library, and when it came time to test actual data for the new TIS app it seemed a perfect opportunity to tap into that.

“We wanted to include everything that we have. The main things were covered were photos and they predominately came from C.A.P.’s Island Narratives project. The audio comes from IslandVoices.ca, which is an archive of interviews that Dutch Thompson has done over the years so it’s an incredible tool for exposing oral history to visitors,” Matthews says. “A big part of this project is to get visitors to be aware of what’s happening or what has happened in communities and the historical significance of the communities, just to get a sense of and a lay of the land.”

Because the memory requirements for this extensive stockpile of information pertaining to the 3,000 objects available now are massive, the app draws information directly from the Robertson Library’s digital libraries.

“There is nothing actually being stored on the device. It’s all being dynamically pulled out (from UPEI’s archives),” says Hart.

One key aspect of the app is that it is map driven. All the content is presented on a map of P.E.I. and that map is the primary method for accessing and displaying the content. A generous number of P.E.I. communities are now represented in the TIS app with more content being added weekly.

“The driving force behind the whole thing was to get people into rural communities, to get people to understand their surroundings and to be more aware of where they are,” Matthews says. “It’s (also) an incredible educational tool. There are applications for this in elementary through high school, even researchers who are doing some aspect of P.E.I. history, very regionalized history where there may not be texts that talk about everyday life. This is the type of content . . . and resource that would be incredibly valuable.

Organizations: Robertson Library, Apple, App Store Discovery Garden Rural Broadband Alberton Museum

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island

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Recent comments

  • Elaine
    June 29, 2012 - 07:45

    Sounds great. !! Can you download to your laptop?

  • Diane
    June 28, 2012 - 11:35

    Thanks for the article. Downloaded the app immediately.