Assignment #1 Community Engagement – City Directories and the Local Researcher

Please note:  the following is submitted as an assignment in the Hyperlinked Libraries MOOC (San Jose State University, School of Library & Information Science) and does not form part of the library’s current plans. 

1. Identify User Communities – Individuals/organizations: Community of Researchers using City Directories 

City directories are often a key component of historical and genealogical research.  The Vancouver Public Library’s (VPL) collection of city directories is a highly used resource, available to our community in print, website (limited years) and microfilm.  Directories were created by asking the residents/owners of real estate their name, profession, nature of business, etc.   The directories would be published with several indexes, including individual’s names, street addresses, company/business names, government offices.  In B.C, they can extend from 1890’s to the last editions published in 2002.

Title Page from 1890 Vancouver City Directory

ScreenHunter_25 Sep. 29 19.30

Street Address Detail from 1890 City of Vancouver Directory

Existing Communities 

A wide cross section of individuals and organizations use city directories:  genealogists, genealogy societies, scholars researching development of Vancouver, individuals researching their old(er) home, engineering firms conducting environmental due diligence on property prior to redevelopment, individuals seeking specific names (e.g. family connections, adoption reunion searches, asset reunification for wills/probates), and individuals creating artistic content (e.g. film production company recreating an authentic city block at a point in time,  authors seeking information about a city block/building for historical fiction works). Other libraries and archives also hold and use city directories or work on their digitization:

These communities communicate by traditional methods: email, printed announcements /notices / newsletters, associations, relevant websites and blogs (e.g. BC Genealogical Society).  It is possible that some members are not able to communicate with others, either because they don’t know others exist or due to competitive nature of their work (e.g. engineering firms). If a virtual community could be created, members could

  • share knowledge of existing city directory sources: location, holdings, access, formats (print, database, microfilm),
  • share tips & tricks on using / printing from city directories
  • leverage the expertise* of the library`s InfoAction staff who perform fee-based city directory searches on a daily basis.  Staff knowledge could be used to assist community members who cannot or do not wish to pay for InfoAction`s fee-based service. *Expertise includes knowledge of abbreviations, years of directories with ADDRESS indexes, streets that disappear and reappear, advising on the comparative speed of completing microfilm searches vs. online searches)
  • share different applications of city directories (e.g. following history of advertising by studying ads placed in directories)
  • access a much richer collection of resources beyond city directories (e.g. historical buildingshistorical photos)
Lions Gate Bridge Typical Vancouver Apartments

Lions Gate Bridge
Typical Vancouver Apartments

2. Select One Community and Analyze It:  The Individual genealogist/researcher

Individual researchers are (mostly) aware that the library holds city directories.  Through the virtual community, members could learn more about the range of directory holdings (years held, years not published, years missing) and learn the tricks of using city directories to make their searches more effective and less time consuming.  The major improvement would be the additional resources that could be created / linked  in the virtual community:

Creating the Virtual Community; Required Resources (& No Limits!)

Ideal Project:  Create a webspace similar to the ChicagoAncestors website and the Dok Delft Heritage Browser

that will:

  • provide easy access to existing resources (e.g. city directories currently online, historical photos)
  • allow/provide for sharing tools such as blogs, wikis
  • allow the addition of significant quantities of image content (i.e. fire insurance maps)
  • allow communication/sharing between community members
  • allow community members to contribute their stories, photos
  • allow community members to create their own links between the resources that are most useful to their personal history

Resources Required:

Staffing Requirements:
  • project coordinator: librarian, 6 months full time during intial setup phase, followed by part-time (.50) for 6 months
  • graphics technician to work on interface – (part time for initial phase of project, perhaps 3 months)
  • systems staff member (for back end technology – part/time for 6 -12 months)
  • library technician: full time basis for the first 6-12 months – this depends on quantity/complexity of additional resources that the library contributes, the amount of digitization required and the needs of community members.  After the virtual community is established and populated with resources currently identified, position will shift to part-time (.66)  to monitor virtual community, seek out relevant content for future digitization, etc.
Webspace and domain

Location/management/control of webspace may require diplomacy, patience and creative negotiations.  The library controls/produces all web content related to the city directories and historical collections.  Currently the electronic tools that patrons can use to contribute/ communicate to the library are: email, Facebook, Twitter and library catalogue (OPAC allows patrons’ reviews, comments on specific items).  The project coodinator will need to consult and collaborate with staff in Special Collections, Learning Services, Web Services and Systems Services.  

Fire Insurance Maps Requirements

additional resources/expertise will be needed to digitize fire insurance maps (e.g. better digital camera, dedicated map table, seeking advice from institutions* that have already digitized their collection:  University of North Carolina, University of Florida, University of Georgia

Access to City of Vancouver Archives
  • historical content that adds to city directories collection, e.g. building permits, water service records, historical photographs
  • to link from their online holdings to our new virtual community
Cooperation of City of Vancouver computer systems and City Archives Staff
Cooperation of the Heritage Vancouver Society to allow links to Historic Vancouver Building Permits Database Project Pre-1929
Cooperation/consultation with UBC Aerial Photos Collection and the BC government agency, GeoBC

Possible Platforms:

ScreenHunter_28 Sep. 29 22.08

Chicago website

Islandora  open-source software framework designed to help institutions and organizations and their audiences collaboratively manage, and discover digital assets using a best-practices framework. Built on a base of  Drupal*, Fedora, and Solr  (*Drupal used by The Newberry Library for development of


Chicago (The Newberry Library) Fully accessible via the Internet, includes these resources:

  • Chicago city directories, including business and social directories
  • Fire insurance maps
  • Street Name Changes, street renumbering
  • Architecture & Building History
  • AND the ability for users to add their own photos, stories and comments

Platform/Technology: The Chicago Technology Cooperative created the technical design; the site uses Drupal, an open-source content management platform.

Community Sites: Community archive and heritage websites that encourage your visitors to add photos, memories and historical information, e.g. ‘living history’ of Brighton & Hove in the U.K. which encourages community contributions Flickr Commons

Our Town Stories (Edinburgh Libraries):  the plotting of historical photos and stories on a virtual map, features resources held by the library service, but library users can also contribute to the map. Navigate the map via a sliding timeline bar, or click on pointers on the map that open up the images and stories. Once you’ve opened up an old photograph, click on the sliding bar above it and watch the image fade from view into an overlaid shot taken from the same perspective but from the modern day. (  See also:

NOTE: In addition to the library website, VPL currently uses FlickrCommons to upload some historical photos (after confirming that the photo is in public domain or the library owns the copyright).  FlickrCommons requires that all contributed photos be identified as “no known copyright restrictions”. If the new webspace does accept members’ photos, an additional process/tool would be required to determine copyright and to host the images.  This could also include additional staff time.

 3. Engagement Plan

The Project Coordinator would contact a wide variety of individuals and organizations:

  • Organizations: VPL Special Collections, Surrey Public Library Family History Centre, BC Genealogy Society, BC Historical Society, Vancouver Historical Society other local history societies, BC Archives,  local municipal archives, and other public libraries in the Greater Vancouver area as most libraries deal with genealogy research questions
  • Instructors/professors teaching Canadian/local history at academic institutions in Greater Vancouver area
  • local history websites (e.g.
  • individuals who have registered for VPL’s genealogy workshops
  • researchers registered as ‘Independent Search Agents’ with the BC Archives

The coordinator would make the initial contact by email, and then followup with telephone call to explain the potential of the virtual community.  The coordinator would emphasize that the webspace provides access to additional resources online that may have only been available in print format before, benefits of remote access, ability to share knowledge with and learn from others in the community.  Also, if numerous groups come together to create a single digital access point they all benefit from the decreased labour costs of creating this resource.

The coordinator would emphasize that the library brings a wealth of resources to the virtual community but these resources are most valued when they are made accessible and they are used to explore and explain a city’s past . The library needs community members to use the resources and create their own links (both literal and figurative) between people, between neighbourhoods, and between communities.  The Library and the Community will be partners in creating an enriched virtual community that opens doors to electronic resources and encourages members  to add their own personal stories.


11 thoughts on “Assignment #1 Community Engagement – City Directories and the Local Researcher

  1. Avatar of Carlie GrahamCarlie Graham

    Fantastic community engagement plan, Susan! Love that you included images and links too, very beautiful as well as informative and well thought out! You could get grants for this kind of widely encompassing community project. It’s such a positive start that you’ve recognized a need and are proposing to facilitate resources–what librarians do best! :-)

    1. Avatar of SusanSusan Post author

      Hi Carlie: Thank you for the kind words – if you knew how much time I spent trying to get the images, resize and paste them – I have never blogged before this project so am learning the hard way!
      I`m looking at others` assignments and found impressive submissions and things that I *wish* I had thought of, such as Andrea`s project on local history at Berkeley – liked how she dealt with patrons wanting to donate materials and how she planned for potential patron objections to her plan and what tools she would use to persuade them to contribute. (
      So much to read, so much to learn!

  2. M. Diane Rogers

    Hello, Susan. Interesting – if this were more than hypothetical, some of Vancouver’s historical researchers (like myself) and related groups would be eager to comment/participate right from the start. If potentional users (and other contributors and technical advisors) are involved early on, and listened to, there is more chance of a truly successful long term project. To me, there is a world of difference between the ChicagoAncestors website and the Dok Delft Heritage Browser. Chicago Ancestors (when it’s all working) is a great entry point to information on-line, but the Dok Library Delft project allows for users to add to and/or enhance the site’s offerings, however, the emphasis is more on in-library experience. Looking to the City of Vancouver’s own on-line mapping projects and at the many commercial online sites that allow for user contributed data, or even depend on it, for example, HistoryPin and, and Flickr, of course, might enhance the concepts. M. Diane Rogers (Editor, British Columbia Genealogical Society)

    1. Avatar of SusanSusan Post author

      Hi Diane:
      Thanks for your comments – much appreciated. I should let you know that this is very much my imagined webspace and not based in a real library plan (at least at this point!).
      As we work with city directories in my division, we have come to understand their great value, so much more than a phone book!
      I forgot to add in HistoryPin – and it’s a great example – I saw a good collection of images there from Vancouver City Archives. And I should have added in when I discussed the library’s genealogy collection. I included Dok Delft as this type of hands-on engagement with the public within our physical building would be well received. Of course there are technology issues to be conquered first and perhaps even more important, issues of privacy surrounding links from patron’s library card to their address and civic records. And yes, Flickr is definitely a good tool but I suspect for the library to be involved, this would require vetting of copy right on each photo before posting.

  3. M. Diane Rogers

    Re Flickr (and other on-line photo collections) Yes, copyright is certainly an issue, but then for collections like that at VPL, this work is done for much of the collection or on-going. More importantly perhaps for some institutions like VPL which have some income from selling copies and licences for various uses, besides the staff time to set this up, once you post a photo on the web you lose at least some control over copying. There are different permissions that can be set for a photograph on Flickr, but that may not deter all. VPL has just recently joined The Commons on Flickr (in Flickr since August 2013) and has some great Vancouver neon photos there (and others, but I love neon). To join The Commons an institution’s posted photos must have “no known copyright restrictions”. Overall, the aim of The Commons is: ” To increase access to publicly-held photography collections, and To provide a way for the general public to contribute information and knowledge.” Although VPL has some of its photographs on-line on its own website, this is a way to reach other sets of people, interact with them, and draw attention to VPL collections. And along the way, maybe to gain new information about some of the photos. (And by the way, don’t discount phone books! At the BC Genealogical Library we too have collections of city and regional directories, phone books, and other types of directories – these are being well used.) Good luck with your course.

    1. Avatar of SusanSusan Post author

      Hi Diane: Thanks again for your thoughts – I have edited my blog to include your suggestions wherever possible. It’s been a real learning experience in this course – all of it positive. Best wishes, Susan

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