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Jane Turner, University of Victoria, British Columbia

"Seeking Evidence: The Aspirations and Tribulations of the Environmental Science Archives at the University of Victoria"

1.  Aspirations

The aspirations of the Environmental Science Archives at the University of Victoria (UVic) reflect the wonderful world of archivy, and seemed straight-forward and simple enough at first thought.   Our aspirations were to preserve and make accessible the history of environmental science as it has developed in British Columbia, and document the role of individual scientists in the development of the discipline.

Or should it be?

· ‘preserve and make accessible the history of environmental science’ Should it be sciences?

· ‘as it developed in British Columbia’ Is that too narrow?

· ‘and document the role of individual scientists in the development of the discipline’ Is it a discipline?

· Or could it be broader and combined with Environmental Studies?

· How do the two disciplines relate, if they are disciplines?

2.  Acquisition of Environmental Studies archives

I began acquiring environmental studies records in a 1995, quite by accident.   Hugh Taylor, retired Provincial Archivist of Nova Scotia and committed environmentalist, dedicated himself to identifying key individuals and organizations working in the environmental movement in British Columbia, with a focus on the Vancouver Island area.  Hugh worked with the donors and me to facilitate the donation of records, and arranged and listed the records once they arrived in the Archives.  It was an archivist’s dream - easy, straight-forward, and rewarding. Today we have a solid collection of archival material documenting key aspects of the work of environmentalists in British Columbia.  As far as I know, we are the only archival repository in Canada that has a major collection in this subject area.  As Environmentalism started in the 1960s, we have some major figures and organizations dating for the early years.

Environmental activist individuals:

· Pat Fogarty fonds, 1991-1993

· Paul George fonds, 1957-1987

· Roderick Haig-Brown fonds, 1967-1974

· Claire Heffernan fonds, 1980-1990

· Lavonne Huneck fonds, 1982-1995

· Derrick  and Gwen Mallard fonds, 1947-2001

· Katy Madsen fonds, 1957-1995

· Port Alberni Pollution Campaign collection, 1966-1970 (Andy Bigg, collector)

Environmental activist organizations:

· Clayquot Sound Resource Centre fonds, 1993-1994

· Friends of Ecological Reserve fonds, 1983-1993

· Ocean Resource Conservation Alliance (ORCA) fonds, 1986-1996

· Public Advisory Committee to the Forest and Wildlife Ministries fonds, 1982-1986

· Sierra  Club of British Columbia fonds, 1969-1994

· Western Canada Wilderness Committee Victoria Branch fonds, 1975-1996

3.  Acquisition of Environmental Science archives

In 1995, again by serendipity, Derek Ellis, a retiring UVic environmental scientist (Biology), approached me about donating his records to the Archives. I thought this was an obvious blend with the environmental movement records already in the Archives, providing a scientific perspectives on environmental issues.

The archival work of appraisal, arrangement and description was accomplished through donations from Placer Dome Mining Company, Island Copper Mine and Derek Ellis, that amounted to $40,000.  This allowed us to hire three Biology co-op students to do the work under our direction, and hire a web site graphic designer to set up the web site for the Environmental Science(s) Archives.

Word spread informally, and by 1998, the Archives had a small, but significant collection of archival fonds documenting 7 environmental scientists, and 4 environmental science organizations or data sets.  Interestingly, the date range of this material reflects the date range of the environmental studies records.

Environmental scientists:

· Alan Austin fonds, 1964-1997

· Carnation Creek History Project,  1998-2001

· Derek Ellis fonds, 1946-1997

· Ruth Fields fonds, 1929

· W. Gordon Fields fonds, 1929-1978

· Marine Environmental Science collection, 1962-1996 (Derek Ellis, collector)

· Margaret Newton, 1929-1949

Environmental science organizations

· Aqua-Tex Scientific Consulting fonds, 1998, 2000

· Capital Regional District Water Quality Division fonds, 1967-1974

· Island Copper Mine fonds, 1970-2000

· Western Canadian Universities Marine Biological Society, 1965-1985

4.  Expansion Plans

In 1998 the Dean of the Faculty of Law heard about the environmental movement records I had, and approached me with a plan to develop a proposal to raise money to support an expansion of the Environmental Studies focus of the UVic Archives, focusing particularly on the involvement of UVic faculty or distinguished alumni:

· Ric Careless, distinguished alumni, environmental activist

·  Michael McGonigle, Eco-Chair in Environmental Law and Policy

· Paul West, Environmental Studies Dept.

· Vick Husband, Sierra Club of BC

· Anne Hillier, Forest Renewal

· Judge Peter Fraser, founding member of Green Peace

· Greenpeace

· Sierra Legal Defense Fund

· Western Canada Environmental Law Association

I called the scientists about coming to a meeting to discuss this new venture, and assumed an enthusiastic welcome.  I couldn’t have been farther from the truth.  The scientists met with me, and expressed grave concern about being linked to environmentalists.  They told me that scientists observe, measure and record, while activists influence politics.  They had both experienced many battles at public meetings when they presented scientific data to outraged the environmentalists. From the scientists’ perspective, it was all about politics versus science.  This conflict was inherent in the very formation of the UVic Environmental Studies Department - it has a multi-disciplinary focus, not a scientific focus.  UVic scientists were divided over the formation of the department from the very beginning.  Clearly, Environmental Science was not the usual ivory tower avocation, as it drew scientists directly into political discourse, however reluctantly.

 Above all, the scientists wanted to ensure that the archives were preserved in a neutral place.  From their perspective, that meant they wanted no connection with the environmental studies records, and no joint planning.  It was the first hint that this was no ordinary kind of ivory-tower science.  It was a science that both the scientists and public cared passionately about.

5.  Moving towards the Environmental Science Archives

The Dean of Law got a better job and moved on – so the incipient environmental lobby group crumpled.  In 1999, the science group met for the first time.  It included three scientists studying water quality (one government, one private consulting, one at the RBCM), one environmental historian, Hugh Taylor and myself.

It was a very moving experience.  The scientists held the floor, committed and desperate – sounding more like archivists than scientists.  They talked about how valuable their data was for their research, and for society, and how they had not been able to convince their employers to spend the money needed to preserve their research.   Records were being destroyed as we talked.  Data from the 1960s no longer exits, or if is in electronic form, can no longer be read because of obsolete systems, no metadata, no protocols.  Money and expertise was a problem for the electronic records; space was a problem for the rest.  They have large quantities of water samples from the 1960s that still exist.  They were looking into miniaturization, but they first wanted to verify that this could be done without loss of data.  There was no question in their minds – the water samples were archival records – they were original, unique, time sensitive, and could not be duplicated.

They earnestly put their case to me, arguing for preservation, as if this was their last chance:

…while preserving data in an archival repository might be expensive, this cost is just a small fraction of the resources to which these data pertain.  If, for example, we mismanage the watershed, then massive amounts of money will have to be spent to repair or build treatment plants. But, if the records had been preserved, the problem could have been tracked, identified and corrected.  Money spent on preserving the records is, in fact, a quality assurance program for society.

The long-term value of these records is not recognized by our employers, and much of it has already been sent to the dump, against our will and urgent advice.  We take some small comfort in the fact that the records went to the dump in plastic garbage bags, and so would remain intact for many years.  We have collected enough data, they said.  Now, we have to interpret what we have.  But, the question is, will we be able to access the data to interpret it?  In the twenty-first century, wars are going to be fought over water quality.  We need the data.  Society needs the data.

We met regularly for the next several years, and in the end identified several key priorities for long-term planning:

· we needed an advisory group of scientists to advise on acquisition and appraisal decisions, and to advise on policy matters.

· we needed to develop a list of key supporters on campus

· we needed to begin a search for the archival records of individual scientists before the records were irretrievably lost.  We could register the records we identified as archival, describe them to some level, and gradually move them to an archival repository, as appropriate and/or feasible.

· we needed to consider a centralized bibliographic control system (possibly with digital access to records), with a regional distribution of records if an appropriate archives could be found – or at UVic Archives if no place could be found.

· we needed to sort out jurisdictional problems between federal and provincial governments and UVic, as many projects were jointly commissioned

· we needed to look for funding to support this initiative, as it was beyond the present capabilities of the UVic Archives – at a minimum, a dedicated archivist and IT support.

We also identified the most valuable and vulnerable records, based on their knowledge:

· first generation computer data from the 1970s and 80s, particularly time-sensitive data that cannot be re-collected

· limited distribution documents - often the only remaining record of research findings (grey literature)

· draft reports (many federal reports retained a draft status to save on translation costs, so were only released as a single copy

6.  Tribulations

In February 2002, frustrated by our lack of any major progress, we decided to tackle a salvage operation as a test case.  The entire process has been filled with a litany of errors and omissions that underscores the difficulties and challenges of preserving electronic records.   Over a year later, with a great deal of effort, we have not yet accomplished our goal.

The test case was an old at-risk data set of time-sensitive biological data (EQUIS) collected from BC sites by the Ministry of the Environment.  Dr Malcolm Clark (a member of our ESA advisory group), was a retired water quality biologist, who served as the Ministry’s database manager and scientific authority on the EQUIS project. The information available in the data files (1971-1984) included inventories of effluent, air emission, and refuse discharges throughout British Columbia, plus inventories of physical and chemical parameters of environmental samples, both ambient water and ambient air.   In 1974, the capability to store and retrieve biological data was added, and by the termination of EQUIS in 1985, Ministry scientists had organized data for some 7,000 biological samples, including plankton data, benthic organism data, aquatic weeds data, and metals in fish.

Clark believed from the beginning, and continues to believe, firmly and intensely, that EQUIS contains extremely valuable information, which is imperative for our society to retain in an accessible electronic format if we are to effectively manage our looming water problems.  In limpid scientific language, Clark states the scientific problem that has huge, explosive repercussions for human society:

comparisons of historical plankton data to present-day results yield important clues as to environmental changes or pollution impacts.  Not only is it essential to retain the biological data stored in EQUIS, it is imperative to retain these data in electronic form. The static microform record is too labour intensive to use.  That is, the microform record appears to preserve the information, but is not practical to utilize.  If we do not preserve the records, we compromise our ability to identify and address current problems with water quality.  For example:  During the last 10 years serious problems with the plankton Didymospenia have been identified on Vancouver Island.  By checking old records, it was established that this problem did not exist prior to 10 years ago.  That is, a new problem has emerged, indicating a major shift in the environment.  Hypothesis: rise in ultra violet B (ozone depletion).

From the beginning, all the scientists who worked with Clark on the project were convinced of its unique long-term value, and carefully set aside for preservation the original manuals for users and programmers.  This material has recently been transferred to the Archives from Clark’s basement where he has been preserving it in the hopes of someday getting access to EQUIS. 

7. Searching for distributed copies of EQUIS

We started the exercise by searching for distributed copies of EQUIS that in the public domain.  Extracts were sent to the UVic Biology Dept, the UVic Geography Dept; and microfilm copies were distributed to public libraries across the province.

In 1983, a large quantity of the biological data was extracted out of EQUIS and sent by the Ministry to Dr. Hagmeier of the UVic Dept. of Biology to analyze and interpret the data.  Due to personal family problems, Hagmeier withdrew from the project.  He handed over the project to a professor in the Biology Department, who worked with Clark to set up the files on the UVic mainframe, using Austin’s account.  They assigned the data analysis task to a student assistant, who left before the project was completed.  The project was left in limbo, and Austin retired.  Clark requested return of the tape, but UVic refused because Clark was not authorized to use the account.  Clark asked Austin’s assistant, Patrick Lucey, to ‘please take care of this valuable tape, and make sure nothing happens to it….’

Soon after, UVic Computing notified Lucey that they had changed their system, and the EQUIS biological data set had been removed.  They had a new format and new technology, and the tape format utilized by EQUIS was obsolete.  At Lucey’s request they gave him a copy of the tape, and he stored it at his home, just in case a way could be found to migrate the contents to the new format.  In 1999, Lucey moved to the interior of BC, and carefully packed the tape for the trip.  When Lucey heard of our project, he donated it to the Archives, but the tape had disintegrated, and could not be read.

In 1985, an entire copy of the EQUIS database, including the biological data, was supplied to the UVic Department of Geography at their request.  In 2001, Clark approached the Department to ascertain whether the data still existed, but was informed that a graduate student had accidentally over-written the tapes, and no backup had been made.

In the same year, 1985, the Ministry migrated EQUIS to a new computer system (SEAM) which could not store taxonomic data, so the biological data were stripped, and stored on back-up tapes.  Clark began a concerted effort to convince the Ministry of the necessity of preserving the data in electronic form.

The government had its own view of the value of the data. It decided it was too expensive and onerous to maintain the old data set for a few scientists.  If the information was so valuable, they would microfilm it.  And so, in 1985, they did, and sent copies around to several libraries, including UVic.  The BC government felt their responsibility toward the record was complete.  Clark immediately tried to scan the microfiche via OCR technology, but was unsuccessful.  We contacted all the libraries who received copies, and none had any record of this material in their collections, including UVic, and certainly no record of receipt.

8. Salvage Exercise

In March of 2002, having exhausted attempts to salvage distributed copies of EQUIS, Clark and I approached the BC Water, Air and Climate Change Branch, who now had custody of the tapes.  They agreed to donate an electronic copy of EQUIS/Biological data set to the UVic Archives.  After it became apparent it would not be possible to transfer the data electronically, the Ministry suggested that the best way to proceed was to lend us the old original IBM 3420 tapes for converting to the new IBM 3480 cartridges.  The Library agreed to provide technical support to migrate the data from an old mainframe environment to an Oracle platform, and to work with the Archives to ensure preservation and access.  I thought everything was in place.

I contacted the Ministry, and they agreed to convert them, as UVic no longer had 3420 tape drives – and asked me to phone back at the end of May.  At the end of May, the Ministry spokesman apologetically told me that there had been a complication since we had last talked.  The government had eliminated all 3420 drives in the last month, so the tapes could no longer be read. After some frantic digging, we discovered there was one remaining 3420 drive in the city, and the company would happily convert the tapes for a fee.  In the end, 18 of the 36 tapes were converted, the remainder had turned to gum.  Fifty per cent of the 18 year old tapes had disintegrated.  I was disturbed at the high degree of loss of data, and shocked at the $1,300 price tag, but again, thought we were home free.

We decided the next step was to test the cassettes to see if we could read them, review the structure of the files, define the data elements, and then decide on how to proceed.  We met with the only remaining UVic computing technician would works with and understands mainframe programming and technology.  By the end of October, he told us he was unable to read the files, as there was not enough metadata to de-code the files.

Fortunately for us, the original Ministry programmer (now retired) agreed to join our efforts.  With the financial support of the Ministry, she is working on decoding the files.  We do not yet know if she will be successful.  We do not yet know if we will be able to ensure preservation and access to these vital records of society.

In the process of my work with the scientists, I have learned a little bit about:

· science and scientific disputes

· political ramifications of water quality science

· the stark division between environmentalists and environmental scientists

· the complex nature of scientific records that run the gamut from traditional textual records to electronic records to water samples to herbariums – the management of which requires broad spectrum expertise, including archival, museum, library, conservation and IT expertise.

I also discovered the expensive, complex, bureaucratic, capricious and fragile world of electronic records, and am left with endless questions.

· How do we convince government of the value of scientific records?

· How can we ensure that the scientists assessment of value become an essential part of the appraisal process?

· When different levels of governments work with University scientists on the creation of scientific records, how can we manoeuvre the complex jurisdictional issues that result?

· How can we ensure that valuable electronic records are preserved in a timely manner?

· How can a small archival repository with limited funds, staff and resources (including access to IT expertise) manage the complex technical issues of electronic records?

If EQUIS ends up being saved in some diminished capacity, it will be entirely due to the diligence and vigilance of the scientists who have struggled for years to preserve the archival record in the face of galling indifference.  I am afraid that the capricious events that led to the diminution of the EQUIS record reflects a re-emergence in the current electronic age of the old discredited archival theorum of the survival of the fittest.

I have come to this conference, with great hope, to find a better way.