U of C spearheads cyber-Canadiana

By Eric Fung

Those searching for Canada’s presence on the web may soon have to look no further than a single database.

The University of Calgary’s Canadian Heritage project is an endeavour to document and organize Canadian content on the Internet. By its completion in 10 months, 35,000 Canadian Web sites will have been evaluated and assembled into one central location known as Canada Place.

“We started this project in June as an initiative out of Canadian Heritage,” said Project Director Paul Stortz. “There has been a positive response to everything we’ve done. People see this as a worthwhile thing to do.”

While this project is important in a technological sense for finding and accessing Web sites, it also has a cultural significance.

“This project has a focus on the social implications of the Internet,” said Dr. Janice Dickin, associate Dean of Research for the Faculty of Communication and Culture. “It has changed lives and education. Everyone has to deal with the challenges it presents.”

Even with the enormity of the task ahead, Dickin is confident about the success of the project, explaining that the project researchers have exceeded every deadline they set for themselves so far. The project began in summer 2001 with the cross-referencing of the Canadian Encyclopedia www.histori.ca. Currently, the project is in its second phase, with 24 student researchers looking at Web sites supplied by the Department. Future steps include further evaluations and the assembly of the Web sites into a database.

“We’re very pleased with the quality of the work we’ve done so far,” said Stortz. “We’ve received a lot of positive feedback, including some from the Canadian government.”

The Canadian Heritage project goes hand-in-hand with another upcoming event, the Information Deficit: Canadian Solutions conference. On Oct. 29 and 30, 350 academics and other experts will be in Calgary to discuss issues relating to information and access to its sources.

“We’re trying to get people to talk with each other and develop a strategy for promoting Canadian content,” says Dr. Fritz Pannekoek, member of the steering committee. “There’s a sense of urgency: our students will be leaders of tomorrow, running the country. If they need access [to information], the knowledge base needs to be there.”

A notable aspect of both the conference and the project is the strong representation of students. The conference gives students the opportunity to speak with experts and to speak out on issues, while the project gives researchers skills and income. In the end, both events will give all students and anyone else with Internet access easier and more reliable access to Canadiana.

“This is a great breakthrough,” said Dickin. “It can be difficult to go into a field where you don’t know what you’re doing half the time.”

For more information on the Information Deficit conference, visit www.ucalgary.ca/idcs-disc/. The Canadian Heritage project plans to have a Web site available within the next four weeks.

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