The Hockey Hall of Fame first opened its doors in the summer of 1961. Its mandate is to collect, archive and exhibit the ongoing history of hockey. This history is comprised of trophies, memorabilia, equipment and pretty much any object that is related to the sport.
Since its inception, the Hockey Hall of Fame has faced its fair share of obstacles in its attempt at preserving hockey’s history and keeping it accessible to the public. The most recent of these obstacles has come from the simple fact that collections only get bigger. With the exponential growth of the Internet as an information tool, digitization of the collection became a high priority. As such, a digitization strategy was created not only to help organize the collection, but more importantly, to allow a greater number of people and organizations access to its contents.
The D.K. (Doc) Seaman Hockey Resource Centre & Archives opened at the MasterCard Centre in September of 2009. The 18,000 square foot facility is the home of the Hockey Hall of Fame’s vast artifact and archival collections and serves as the focal point for research into the history of Canada’s great game and cultural export. It is the most comprehensive archive in the world dedicated to collecting and preserving any and all materials related to the history of hockey. The Resource Centre houses items in the archives when they aren’t on display at the Hall or part of a traveling exhibit. Currently it contains more than 26,000 published hockey books, programs and guides; approximately 10,000 individual player files (including photos, contacts and other items); 1 million negatives and slides, 32,000 photographs and 4,000 film reels. The collection also contains 4,000 hockey sticks, more than 1,500 jerseys, and over 3,000 pieces of equipment. This archive is in a constant state of growth and continues to collect objects at an astonishing pace.
I began work at the Resource Centre in the fall of 2010 as a digitization specialist. My main role was to focus on a collection of over 900 glass plate negatives from the 1920’s–1930. The Imperial Oil-Turofsky/Hockey Hall of Fame collection was donated by The Imperial Oil Company, Limited, in 1981. The collection was com- prised of film negatives, transparencies and glass plate negatives. The latter, before my arrival, had been relatively untouched. It mainly consisted of black and white dry-plate negatives, which ranged in size from 4×5 to 5×7 inches. It also included a number of variable sized plates that had unfortunately been shattered. The Turofsky collection pictorially depicts two decades of the “original six” era featuring black and white player portraits and game action from the NHL. This collection is the largest known of original hockey related glass negatives from the early 20th Century. Other levels of hockey, including Junior, Senior and Minor Professional, were also included within this collection. My task was to organize, digitize and fabricate custom housing for this unique collection of glass negatives.
The process of digitizing a collection can be quite mundane. Though a relatively new profession, digital archivists could be compared to the age-old profession of librarian. It requires patience, care, strong organizational skills and a moderate appreciation of the subject. Each plate had to be taken from its old acidic paper envelope and carefully placed on a flatbed scanner.
When handling and storing these kinds of historic materials, great consideration needs to be taken with what other materials or surfaces come in contact with surfaces of the glass negatives. Masks were cut from acetate to elevate the glass negative above the surface of the scanner. The process would become even slower when I came across a broken plate. Some plates had broken into 10 or more pieces and took a long time to reconstruct. The plates were scanned at very high resolution to ensure the greatest quality for viewing and printing purposes. Scanning at high resolution also negates the need to ever pull the plate out again for future use.
The next step in the process of archiving is rehousing the materials into acid-free storage. Four-flap enclosures were selected to hold the negatives while I made custom boxes fabricated out of archival heritage board. The plates were transferred one by one to the new enclosures and placed one in front of the other on the plate’s longest edge. All broken plates were stored together separate from the unbroken plates. This project took me roughly one year from start to finish and gave me the opportunity to spend a lot time with a page of hockey history that very few individuals will ever have access to.
Due to the sensitivity of photographic materials to heat and humidity, the photographic collection is housed in a separate cold storage room. When preservation is given the highest priority, materials should be kept in temperatures as low at 58 °F with a relative humidity of 40%. All photographic materials are housed within Print File Archival Preserver sleeves.
The Hockey Hall of Fame collection currently contains roughly one million photographic objects, and continues to grow every year. As such, the job of archivist is critical to the maintenance and growth of the collection. Without the ability and means of documenting analog materials into digital, only a select few individuals would have access to the treasures that are stored within the vaults. This brings up many questions, among them: What is the best way to document history for access of the masses? How does one balance the equal importance of preservation and accessibility? What will be done with these collections once they’ve been digitized? These are just some of the challenges faced by collecting institutions such as the Hockey Hall of Fame.
With the shift towards a digital age, the contents of collections such as these could be made more accessible, not only for research purposes, but for the public’s appreciation as well.