On Wednesday, August 28, I attended and video recorded a meeting at the TRC office in Winnipeg to discuss and view the server that houses the records related to the Indian Residential Schools. One of the main issues that continued to surface surrounding the transfer of the server from the TRC to the University of Manitoba was security. Seeing as these records are electronic, new threats emerge that include computer hacks and the physical security of the server. At one point during the meeting, it was suggested that the server be locked up in “a cage on the floor” to ensure maximum security. Seeing as this was a concept that could be understood by my limited understanding of server technology, this was the single point throughout the meeting that pulled me away from my camcorder to jot down a quick note.

For more information on this meeting please view the short clip that I have uploaded to YouTube from the original video file.  The complete recording will also be kept as a record of this meeting.

The server tour portion of the meeting was particularly insightful for me, considering I had only previously seen a server on TV. Prior to the meeting, I had created an image in my mind of what the TRC server might look like, although instead of leading us into a large, dimly lit room littered with electronic equipment and blinking lights, Ry Moran, Director of Statement Gathering and National Research Centre, lead us to a small, well lit room with a single “rack” of equipment. Although this moment felt quite anticlimactic, I was impressed with the highly sophisticated cooling system that was being used to ensure that the server would not overheat. This system consisted of two Walmart issued table fans, along with a gaping hole in the ceiling where a suspended ceiling tile once resided. All joking aside, we were reassured that this setup was sufficient, and the University of Manitoba’s IT crew members who were also attending the meeting did not seem concerned. They actually looked more like kids in a toy store, or archivists with a never before opened box of records for that matter.

Following the server tour, Greg Bak, Brett Lougheed, Peter Houston and I met with Ry Moran to view the current setup of the TRC’s database, or as I soon discovered, multiple databases. The front end of the main TRC database has a keyword search engine that leads to six distinct databases; three of which list the records of the federal government (Federal Government (NRA), Library and Archives Canada (LAC), and OGD (Other Government Database)). The remaining three databases display the school authority records, the video interviews along with transcripts, and the church records. This meeting brought to the fore another issue surrounding the transfer of these digital records; to keep or not to keep the existing database software. On one hand, it would be free and easy to set up seeing as it has already been established. On the other hand, it is being envisioned that the National Research Centre be established differently than your average archive, and along with this vision comes certain ideas that are simply not possible with the TRC’s current database. For example, it would be ideal to have a database that would allow for participatory archiving, or co-curation if you will. Archivists can only fill in so many historical gaps, and having a system that allows for residential school survivors, their families, and general researchers to help describe, arrange, and even add new records to the NRC would be an invaluable tool that cannot be overlooked.  My next blog post will touch on the concept of co-curation as well as other functional requirements that will be important in the creation of the NRC’s database. 

Please stay tuned for more NRC updates. 

Jesse Boiteau