CMBS-Winnipeg credited for innovative work in CL USB drive project
by Connie Faber
Photo: CMBS-Winnipeg volunteer Susan Hiebert spent about two years scanning CL back issues as the first step in the process of digitizing the magazine. Photo credit CMBS-Winnipeg
Five years ago, the Center for MB Studies in Winnipeg, Manitoba, together with the Center for MB Studies in Hillsboro, Kansas, and the Christian Leader began the process of digitizing 79 years of the Christian Leader, the publication of U.S. Mennonite Brethren.
While Peggy Goertzen, director of CMBS-Hillsboro and CL editor Connie Faber were involved in finding back issues of the magazine that could be “destroyed” in the process of digiziting the CL, the bulk of the project was handled by CMBS-Winnipeg staff working at the Canadian Conference of MB Churches (CCMBC) offices in Winnipeg.
"This project offered a unique opportunity for North American ministries to work together," says Faber. "This was a joint effort between our two USMB ministries and both CMBS-Winnipeg and the Canadian Conference. Our Canadian partners deserve a huge thank you for their creativity and for spearheading this project."
When the CL digiziting process began in 2011, CMBS-Winnipeg was also working with MB Herald (MBH) editors to scan the magazine’s archives to increase access to its contents. MBH is the CCMBC magazine and was first published in 1962; up until then the CL had also served Canadian Mennonite Brethren readers. Because the CL was the official publication for North American Mennonite Brethren for a time, CMBS-Winnipeg archivisit Stoesz was interested in also digitizing the CL.
“The MB Herald, and publications like it, carry a vast amount of important information to the community,” says Stoesz in an email interview. “Not only information about people but about issues and documents. It documents issues that at one time were ‘hot button’ items and others that remain contested today.”
Although MBH was the first project the CMBS-Winnipeg staff undertook that required placing a large amount of information on a memory stick, Stoesz says the MBH was not the first periodical they scanned.
Prior to digitizing the MBH and CL, the CMBS-Winnipeg staff had scanned various other Mennonite publications, including the Mennonite Encyclopedia, which was incorportated into the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Enclyopedia Online (GAMEO); Mennonite Mirror, a publication of the Mennonite Literary Society; and an index for Die Mennonitische Rundschau, a German-language publication for Russian Mennonites in North America and elsewhere.
Stoesz says these projects educated the CMBS-Winnipeg staff about a number of issues: “We learned that changes in paper used affected the rollers in the page feed scanner differently. We learned that sometimes we needed to turn the paper so the scanner would pick up the pages properly but then (we had to) adjust the image digitally so it came out correctly. During these scanning projects we learned the advantages and idiosyncrasies of three to four different machines.”
The MB Herald project was completed in 2013 and CMBS-Winnipeg has sold about 100 USB drives.
With the MBH project several steps ahead of the CL project, CMBS-Winnipeg had “the experience needed to tackle the CL scanning project,” says Stoesz.
Going from hard copies of the two publications to digitized collections stored on eight-gigabyte USB drives involved solving more than one problem. As a CCMBC ministry housed in the main Canadian Conference office, CMBS-Winnipeg has access to CCMBC staff who contributed in a variety of ways to the digitizing projects.
Thanks to the connections CMBS-Winnipeg has to The Christian Press, a local book publisher, the Center was able to use an industrial page cutter to trim the binding of several years worth of the CL and MBH in one chop. A CMBS-Winnipeg volunteer used the conference’s page feed scanner to scan individual pages that were then saved to a portable document format (PDF).
Stoesz recruited John Hiebert, CCMBC computer staff member, to find a software program that would index MBH and CL PDF files and allow those files to be saved to a disk as a searchable version of the index linked to those PDFs. Stoesz also consulted with Tony Schellenberg, and Kyle Thomas, CCMBC computer and website staff members, before purchasing a software license for Wrensoft, a software to index websites and PDF collections made by an Australian company.
In the summer of 2012, CCMBC communications staff member Kate (Woltmann) Regier wrestled with the technicalities involved in running the index and created the interface between the search engine and the batch of magazine PDFs. The result of her labors was a seven-gigabyte (GB) collection.
Next up was Jon Isaak, the CMBS-Winnipeg director who figured out how to produce the searchable collection. This involved buying eight-GB drives, learning how to copy them, adding a welcome page and marketing the USB drives.
Issak says the most time-consuming part of the project involved someone standing by CCMBC’s page feed scanner and feeding the magazines into the copier for scanning. That someone was regular CMBS-Winnipeg volunteer Susan Hiebert, who spent about two years scanning MBH back issues and another two years on the CL.
After the intial scanning, Hiebert reviewed the scan to make sure the pages scanned properly before running the pages through optical character recognition (OCR) to make the image scans readable as text and useable by the search engine that made the document searchable.
“Conrad and I took over from here and ran the PDFs through a third rendering—optimizing the scans,” says Isaak. Isaak explains that the OCR process typically adds size, making the files too large. The optimization process reduced the PDFs and made the files more manageable.
When asked about funding for the years-long digiziting process, Isaak says that CMBS-Winnipeg is financial supported by the Canadian Conference and no additional fundraising was needed. “We are a conference agency,” says Isaak.
“I am thankful that CMBS-Winnipeg and the Canadian Conference for shared their resources with the Christian Leader during the digitizing process,” says CL editor Faber. “Interested individuals, reseachers, schools and other agencies will benefit from their generosity.”
A searchable, digital collection of 79 years of the Christian Leader, the award-winning magazine for U.S. Mennonite Brethren, will be available Aug. 1.
Thanks to a conversation between Canadian archivist Conrad Stoesz and Peggy Goertzen, director of the Center for Mennonite Brethren Studies (CMBS) Hillsboro, while riding a ferry to Vancouver Island, BC, a searchable digital collection of 79 years of the Christian Leader is being released this summer.