Broken tiles: A retro-conversion project

Over time, certain file formats become obsolete. When ODW implemented the first pan-zoom viewer in the VITA Toolkit in the 2010s, it was based on uploading large files made up of hundreds of little tiles all zipped into a folder. The once-free tool is called Zoomify. Over the years, we encouraged our users to “Zoomify” their full images and any pages of multipage items so that those items could be zoomed into and rotated for a dynamic user experience. This was particularly useful for scrapbooks where pasted items were sometimes in different orientation within a single page. Also, detailed items like the Welland Canal Records benefitted from this “Zoomification”. However, these folders of tiles were quite “heavy”, i.e. required more storage and some eventually became corrupt. 

Zoomify Tool “tiling” an image

Luckily, as technology has advanced and streamlined, the standard is now to use JPEG-2000 (JP2) files that automatically trigger the open-source IIIF (International Image Interoperable Framework)viewer in VITA. So, any user uploading full images, details, or pages can upload the considerably lighter and mobile-friendly JP2 file and it displays with all the pan, zoom and rotate options people expect for viewing this kind of material online. The trick was that we needed to go through our system and replace the old Zoomify folders with JP2 files. We were able to do this systematically for the most part, but some stubborn items required manual intervention and conversion. We were lucky to have Christine Anderson, a Mohawk College Library Technician student, who was willing and able to take on the task. Here’s Christine’s take on the project:

In my time at ODW, I have worked on (and completed) the Dezoomify project which primarily involved using the VITA Toolkit to access and replace collection images and other software for the conversion process. ODW provided me with a list that identified records with broken Zoomify files and I got started on the clean-up-work!

My primary task was to open and convert the broken Zoomify files and then replace them with JP2 files. This was done for Full images, some Details and Reverse images, as well as for many book and scrapbook pages. Using a RecordID list that was organized by Agency, I could identify all of the records with images that needed to be replaced and re-loaded. 

This work was accomplished by:

  • Using the Dezoomify tool which works by copying and pasting the item’s public URL into the tool
  • “Dezoomify” merges the tiles that make up a Zoomify file and that merged image can then be saved as a JPG
  • I used Irfanview software to convert JPG files to JP2 files, and I assigned their original file names so that the agencies could trace the display files back to their master copies
  • In the data management side of the VITA toolkit, I then activated a task-specific button to replace the broken Zoomify files with newer (and unbroken) JP2 image files
  • When certain Zoomify files were identified as too corrupt and this simpler workflow did not work, a workaround was created:
    • In some cases, I could open the PDF file associated with pages and save them as JP2 – although these tend to be quite large, so we adjusted the quality during the conversion process to reduce the storage overhead
    • In other cases, where there was no PDF, I would open an alternate JPG file for Full and Detail images and simply used the standard “Replace” button for the Full or Details file
  • The new files then automatically populate along with their records and now remain either public or non-public according to their original setting.

The JP2 files open in a IIIF viewer and provide excellent Pan-Zoom capabilities, like the slideshow below illustrates.

The Dezoomify project concentrated mostly on file creation and replacement (for example: digital collections from libraries’ local history/genealogy departments), and to an extent included working on the Metadata for the files submitted. The project consisted of a bunch of repetitive tasks that were not able to be automated and had to be manually manipulated/updated. This was important database work that will ensure the integrity and currency of the files uploaded to the clients’ digital collections and sites going forward.

There will always be advancements in technology standards and these inevitably require adjustment and retroconversion activities. With Christine’s work complete, the ODW team was able to purge a considerable overhead of corrupt and cumbersome Zoomify folders from the database. The positive outcomes of this work is a reduction in the affected agencies’ storage and the cumulative burden of these obsolete files on the servers, plus Christine gained new technological skills that she can carry forward in her career as a Library Technician. It’s a win-win!

Building Multicultural History Timelines With VITA

Guest blog post from Victoria Scioli, placement student from University of Toronto Mississauga History Program

Over the past semester, I had the opportunity to work on the multicultural timelines with OurDigitalWorld. I became acquainted with the database and used the VITA Toolkit to implement the work. I really enjoyed having access to so much primary source material and learning how to search for appropriate sources to create the timelines.

Being a history student, much of my time is spent looking at primary sources to use in research papers, but I had never used them in a creative format like a timeline before. I spent a lot of time looking at the primary sources related to the histories of Japanese-Canadians, the Black community, and women in Ontario and trying to come up with a storyline that would best present significant information to the reader. I learned how to keep my descriptions concise and pick primary sources that could best provide insight into these different aspects of Ontario’s history.

When I was younger, I remember learning about the Japanese Internment but never any details about what the camps looked like nor images and testimonies of men and women who suffered the effects of this kind of discrimination. While working on my timeline, I was able to look at primary sources that pictured what the conditions were like for men at Internment camps like the one in Schreiber, Ontario. I also learned about significant survivors like author Yon Shimizu and Japanese Canadian politician Bev Oda. Both of these people contributed to creating awareness of the ways Japanese Canadians were discriminated against during the war and how that generation were forced to restart their lives in Canada. I learned a great deal from the research that went into these timelines, I hope that it inspires viewers to learn more on each of the subjects. 

One issue I ran into with the timeline feature was finding a proper way to begin and end my timeline that would provide the reader with context to the history before jumping into the actual items being featured. This was resolved by adding umbrella panels for my start and end dates. These allowed me to provide a short “Introduction” and “Conclusion” for the timeline. They introduce the viewer to any important information or advisory before getting into the timeline content and provide a short summary.

It was such a pleasure to work on such an interesting project! I found that the timelines are a great way to engage with primary source materials from different institutions in order to illustrate and explore significant events in Ontario’s history.

Explore the timelines:

Japanese Internment in Ontario and its Impact

The Progression of Settler Women’s Roles in Ontario From 1800s to 1960s

A Timeline of Black History and Significant Figures in Ontario

Government Information Days 2021

December 14th and December 15th, 2021, from 12:00-3:00 PM EST.

We are very excited to announce that Dr. Debby Wilson Danard will open this year’s Government Information Day(s) Conference, with a keynote on INDIGIPEDIA.CA, the Indigenous Digital Encyclopedia. 

This year’s conference will include:

  • Dr. Jill Stuart on data ownership in space exploration
  • Nicole Bonnell from the Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly on working with official languages (11!)
  • Jacob Turner on regulating artificial intelligence

Session topics include discovery services for Canadian census and geospatial data, preservation, and implementing more inclusive practices in programming and subject headings. There will also be announcements and updates on projects, including the newly-formed National Shared Print Program, North. 

Full programme details to follow on

The conference is free, but registration is required. Registration will open on December 1st, 2021. A reminder with a link to registration will be sent to the list. 

On behalf of the Planning Committee,

Sandra Craig, Ravit H. David, Loren Fantin, Simone O’Byrne

Digitizing the Angelo Principe Italian-Canadian Newspaper Collection

Adapted from The ‘Angelo Principe’ Italian Canadian Newspaper Collection by Dr. Matteo Brera

Mastehad of La Vittoria (The Victory) Italian-Canadian newspaper

In 2014, researcher and scholar Dr. Angelo Principe donated his extensive newspaper and book collection to the Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections of York University Libraries. The ‘Angelo Principe Collection’ includes materials entrusted to him for preservation by Italian Canadian activists from the first half of the twentieth century like Attilio Bortolotti and Benny Bottos, as well as the surviving documents belonging to Augusto Bersani, transnational political activist, facilitator and secret agent for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).

Six years later, a key part of the collection was digitized in a collaboration between Michael Moir, Head of the Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections, and OurDigitalWorld, resulting in a unique online collection of rare interwar Italian-language newspapers published in North America. These include Il Bollettino Italo-Canadese, Il Cittadino Canadese, Il Giornale Italo-Canadese, Il Lavoratore, L’Araldo del Canada, L’Italia, L’Italia Nuova, L’Italo Canadese, L’Operaio Italo-Canadese, La Vittoria, La Voce degli Italo-Canadesi, and La Voce Operaia. The newspapers were processed using OurDigitalWorld’s multilingual Optical Recognition Software (OCR) and are full text searchable in both English and Italian.

The significance of this donation cannot be overstressed. Thanks to Michael Moir’s vision in working with OurDigitalWorld, and to Dr. Matteo Brera for his work adding rich contextual and descriptive metadata to the collection items, Dr. Principe’s legacy for the study of the construction of the Italian Canadian identity and transcultural exchanges between the Old and the New World is manifest in this online collection, providing an invaluable research tool to be used and enjoyed by scholars and the community.

Explore the collection at

This research and digitization project was conceptualized and directed by Dr. Matteo Brera ( and was made possible by generous funding from the Zorzi Family Italian-Canadian Archival Fund, established in 2017 and dedicated to encouraging the study of Italian-Canadian archival materials. The project was also sponsored by York University’s Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies.  

ODW Quarterly Newsletter September 2021

courtesy of the Alpena Public Library Great Lakes Maritime Collection

This autumn, the ODW Quarterly Newsletter knows no borders!

Learn more about our US partner collections, from Chicago-area newspapers to Great Lakes history, these extensive sites are one-stop research goldmines.

The Fall conference season will see us speaking at the Creative Commons Global Summit with “GLAM Project for Access to Community Newspapers” and at the Access2021 Conference with “Revisiting the Paper Files:
OCR from paper versus microfilm

As well, we’ll be virtually exhibiting at the Michigan and Illinois Library Association conferences in October.

Stay tuned for the Government Information Day(s) 2021 in December that OurDigitalWorld is co-hosting with the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks.

Have your say and learn more about the National Heritage Digitization Strategy community calls for feedback on their Strategic Plan.

Back to School with OurDigitalWorld

SS#7 – Humphrey-Rosseau 1946 School Bus with Bill Gates and girls
courtesy of Rosseau Historical Society Digital Collections

Whether you’re homeschooling, heading back to class or helping others with their research, ODW has school project resources for librarians, teachers and students of all ages…


Ontario Community Newspapers and INK
Two major gateways to hundreds of digitized Ontario newspaper titles, full text and index records, over 200 years of publishing history, ranging from Windsor to Waterloo, Thunder Bay to Petawawa!
See a full list of regions covered here

Illinois Newspapers
One place to search digitized newspapers with index records for access to dozens of Chicago-area publications from Algonquin Area, Downers Grove, Glenview, Highland Park, Libertyville, McHenry and Wilmette.

Local History portal
Search across 2.5 million photos, documents, oral histories, paintings, postcards, exhibits, newspapers, scrapbooks and more!

Contributions from 300 heritage organizations in Ontario, including more than 200 VITA Toolkit partners

Community collections from Canada & the US
Explore local history collections, heritage and current newspapers covering military, maritime, women’s and multicultural histories, built heritage and community contributions from the past and current day.

Special Collections & Exhibits

Three virtual exhibits highlighting items from the VITA Toolkit user collections, arranged and researched to tell the chronology of multicultural experiences in Ontario. Both the Exhibits and Curriculum Resources are a great starting point to learn about topics like the Abolitionist Movement, Japanese Internment, Women’s Rights, and the evolution of Ontario as the home and product of our multicultural histories.

Explore the site and download Curriculum Resources

Agnes Macphail Digital Collection
Explore the life, history and politics of the first woman elected to Canadian Parliament.

Indigenous Histories
Community collections from Six Nations and Kanhiote Tyendinaga Territory Public Libraries.

Italian-Canadian newspapers
Search across 12 publications in Italian and English for news covering 1930-1946.

Holodomor Digital Collections
Learn more first hand history and about the impact of the Famine in Ukraine, 1932-1933.

ODW Quarterly Newsletter June 2021

Four Port Perry area newspaper mastheads overlapping

Our Summer Quarterly newsletter highlights some exciting new collections as well as our recent activities and upcoming events including:

A recent digitization project of newspaper collections thanks to the perseverance of the Lake Scugog Historical Society of Port Perry, Ontario, bringing four new titles online:

Ontario Observer (1857-1873)
Port Perry Standard (1867-1868)
North Ontario Observer (1873-1919)
Port Perry Star (1907-1933)

More work has been done to enhance the Ontario Scrapbook Hansard, the earliest reportage from the Ontario Legislature captured in clippings, now full text searchable with enhanced metadata for easier linking and browsing.

The first person accounts of the Ukranian famine of 1933-34 are captured in the Maniak Collection, a recent and growing addition to the Holodomor Digital Collections.

Learn more about the funding opportunities from the Digital Museums Canada for online exhibits.

June is Indigenous History Month and OurDigitalWorld is taking steps to update the VITA Digital Toolkit and support our users to decolonize their collection descriptions.

Join ODW at our virtual booths at the American Library Association Annual Conference and the Manitoba and Saskatchewan Library Associations’ joint conference.

ODW Quarterly Update March 2021

Image of multiple speech bubbles with the the word Newsletter on top

Check out our Spring Quarterly newsletter, showcasing the recent Cemeteries Module event and our panel presentation at the Ontario Library Association’s Super Conference about Capturing COVID-19 as a Community Collection.

Read more and link to the final report from the Heritage Content Priorities Task Group.

Welcome new collections from Smiths Falls Public Library.

Visit us at spring conferences with the British Columbia Library Association and the National Council for Public History.

Also, learn more about a call for proposal for the Digitizing Hidden Voices grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR).

Unburying the dead: Bringing cemetery records to life

Cemeteries Module Think Tank

Cemeteries are being documented across Ontario often in inconsistent styles and platforms which means users can’t find information easily and efficiently. For example, the Chatham-Kent and Oxford County Public Libraries provide limited access to thousands of grave site records created by community members; the Ontario Ancestors also hosts multiple headstone and cemetery recording projects; and OurDigitalWorld has clients entering or migrating cemetery and headstone data into their VITA Toolkit collections. However, the dense data being captured in these and other projects around Canada and the World are disparate, often unstructured, and sometimes only searchable using browser search options.

Thanks to the Government of Canada’s Department of Canadian Heritage First Spark grant, ODW recently co-hosted a one-day heuristic think tank during which, a group of key genealogical, heritage and community members explored the needs and requirements to consider sustainable systems for capturing and sharing cemetery, headstone, and related genealogical resources.

Canadian Headstones site, Ontario Ancestors

The challenge of the day was to:

  • explore existing efforts of Genealogical society members, Public Librarians, community members with gravestone data collections, and software developers
  • identify the challenges, opportunities and requirements to improve recording schema and standards, and
  • consider how to improve public access and discovery of local cemetery and headstone databases.

Using real life cemetery and gravestone records, private and organizational databases, and other international examples, we analysed and discussed best ways forward to capture local cemetery history and content, identify schema and standards that satisfy stakeholders from different disciplines, and what the development implications are for creating solutions.

Cemeteries Index, Richmond Hill Public Library

There was no expectation of arriving at any single solution, rather the group discussion flowed across many subjects, including data input standards (e.g. geolocation/GPS input), multi-lingual requirements, OCR options (i.e. text recognition from headstone photographs), hierarchical and lateral record linking, crowdsourcing options, increasing search and discovery options, and the challenges of preserving and storing the vast quantity of information generated by these projects.

The conversation helped us recognize a few common themes: that user expectations are for in-and-out access, requiring straightforward search and discovery tools and access to actual data like headstone photos, rather than finding aids; that there are opportunities for encouraging or implementing Linked Open Data mechanisms within systems to help with inter-connectivity and aggregation; and, that most existing systems are databases and websites, not archives, so there is an opportunity for wider discussion about preserving the information at a national level.

Thanks to co-hosts Megan Cowan & Andrea Johnson, Chatham Kent Public Library and Jess Posgate, OurDigitalWorld, and our participants: Steve Fulton & Joe Wilson, Ontario Ancestors; Ryan van Leeuwen, Oxford County Library; Jane MacNamara, cemetery and headstone transcriber; and Walter Lewis, OurDigitalWorld.

We welcome your thoughts, please contact ODW for more information.