In our digital project workflow, we first evaluate copyright concerns for the submitted project proposal. Even if the collection contains historically important items to be digitized and preserved, we cannot approve the project if there are copyright restrictions or issues. This post will briefly summarize what you need to know about copyright and digitization. For more detailed information about copyright, please visit Copyright at UBC (Scholarly Communications and Copyright Office).

What is Copyright? Why do we have to care about it in digitization projects?

According to Copyright at UBC, “Copyright is the sole and exclusive right of a copyright owner to produce, reproduce, perform, publish, adapt, translate and telecommunicate a work, and to control the circumstances in which others may do any of these things. Copyright owners grant permission to others through what are legally referred to as licenses.” In the digitization context, we need to ensure the item is in the public domain or we obtain permission in order (1) to make digital copies of the items and (2) to disseminate them[i]. Making digital copies can be considered as “reproducing” the original items, and disseminating as “publishing”.

Our Digital Collection Development Policy of the UBC Library defines the collection review criteria and questions for rights issues as follows:

  1. Does the Library hold copyright for the material to be digitized?
  2. Does the Library have written documentation from the rights owner allowing it to hold a digital copy of the material?
  3. Does the Library require any other permission prior to embarking on the project?


As we state in our Project Planning Toolkit, the answers to any of the following questions should be “yes” when digitizing an item and publishing it in Open Collections:

  • Is the material in the public domain?
  • Does UBC hold the copyright to the material?
  • Will the copyright holder give permission to digitize the material?


The following collections are examples of how we have dealt with copyright:

Public Domain: Western Manuscripts and Early Printed Books

The original items in the Western Manuscripts and Early Printed Books were published between 1245 and 1680. All of the items are out of copyright, and UBC owns the materials in their entirety. Therefore, it could be digitized without worrying about copyright infringement.

[Catholicon], 1460.

Americae sive novi orbis, nova description, 1572.


Permission from Copyright holder: BC Sessional Papers[ii]

The items in the BC Sessional Papers collection are protected under parliamentary privilege, which applies to the materials printed by the Legislative Library of British Columbia (LLBC). Parliamentary privilege extended to printed parliamentary publications does not expire. In other words, intellectual property rights are held in perpetuity by Parliament.

In order to make the digital copies of the Sessional Papers and upload to Open Collections, we consulted with the Legislative Assembly Law Clerk and other copyright experts. Both parties signed a non-exclusive digitization and distribution agreement (Legislative Assembly of British Columbia and the University of British Columbia Library Digital Initiatives). By this agreement, the UBC Library has right to preserve and disseminate the Sessional Paper, and add the digitized materials to the UBC Library collections.


British Columbia. Legislative Assembly, [1929]. REPORT OF LIQUOR CONTROL BOARD, 1927-28.


If interested in completing a project with us, please consider copyright issues prior to submitting a proposal.


[i] Gertz, J. (2007) 6.6 Preservation and selection for digitization. Northeast Document Center. Available at Cited in Balogun, T. (2018). The nexus between digitization, preservation and access in the context of selection of materials for archives. Library Philosophy and Practice (e-journal), 1893. Retrieved from


[ii] Carr-Harris, M., Curry, G., Graebner, C., Paterson, S., & Rollins, C. (2011). British Columbia Government Publications Digitization Project: Proof of Concept. Retrieved from

Have you ever looked for information on your family history? Whether you are simply curious about a few relatives or embarking on an in-depth genealogy research project, there are many online resources that can help your search. If you have relatives from British Columbia, or relatives who are UBC alumni, UBC Library’s Open Collections can be a rich source for your genealogy research.


BC Historical Newspapers

Newspapers are frequently used in genealogy research. Obituaries provide information about individuals’ lives, including birth and death dates, details about careers, and information about other relatives. You can also find birth announcements and other news articles about your relatives. The BC Historical Newspapers collection contains 167 different publications from across British Columbia, with over 47,000 individual papers. The newspapers in the collection date from 1850-1995. Specific date ranges depend upon the paper, and you can check them at a glance here.

BC Sessional Papers

The BC Sessional Papers collection contains over 3,700 selected provincial legislative documents from 1865-1982. In particular, this collection includes lists of voters by district, records of land sales, and lists of incorporated companies.

Here is the list of people entitled to vote in the April 30, 1898, election in Vancouver – it even lists their addresses and reported professions:

List of Persons Entitled to Vote in the Vancouver City Electoral District. 30th April, 1898.

UBC Publications

If you have relatives affiliated with UBC, you might find relevant material in the UBC Publications collection. You can explore UBC yearbooks from 1911 to 1966, and look through back issues of The Ubyssey, from the inaugural October 1918 issue to the present. Other publications may also be of interest: you can see the full list on the collection page.

Check out this issue of the Annual from 100 years ago – it even includes brief profiles of each member of the senior class:

The Third Annual of the University of British Columbia, [1918]

Other Collections

The BC Historical Documents collection contains selected documents from the forestry, fishing, and mining industries in British Columbia, education development in the province, and British Columbia’s early history. If your relatives attended the Provincial Normal School between 1918 and 1936, you may find them in the selection of digitized yearbooks in the collection.

Many of our collections include photographs and correspondence (both handwritten and typed). Depending on your family history, you may want to explore the Japanese-Canadian Photograph Collection, the UBC Archives Photograph Collection, and BC Historical Documents for photographs and correspondence.



Keyword searches can go a long way in Open Collections. To perform a general keyword search, start with the search box on the Open Collections home page:

Because all of our text collections have optical character recognition (OCR) applied, keyword searching allows you to search the full text. This applies to newspapers, other publications, and most typed documents, but not handwritten documents.

The above search yields 984 results across Open Collections. There are several ways to narrow your search. For genealogy research, the Collection and Date range filters on the left are particularly useful:


To use the Collection filter, you can start by selecting any of the collections featured above, or other collections that might be relevant to your relative’s life.

For the date range filter, note that the end date is January 1st of that year. For example, if you want to bring up results from 1890 through all of the year 1920, you would enter 1890 to 1921 in the date range, pulling up results from January 1, 1890 to January 1, 1921.

If you know your relative’s full name, as in this example, you will want to use quotation marks. When using quotations, it is important to try several variations, since the full name may not always be printed. For example, Hannah MacMillan could be referred to as “H. MacMillan”, or her husband’s name could be used – as in, “Mrs. John MacMillan”. You may also want to try a common misspelling, like “McMillan”.

For this name, using quotation marks narrows our pool down to one result, from the BC Historical Newspapers collection:

Clicking on the result opens up the newspaper.

The search box can be used to search within the newspaper text itself, and is automatically populated with your original query. The highlighted pages contain your search term(s). If you click on the à arrow, it will bring you to the first occurrence of your search term:

You can zoom in using the buttons on the right to read the section containing your search.

The search turned up an obituary for Hannah MacMillan. From this short obituary, you can learn her date of death, how old she was when she died, where she lived, her husband’s initials, and where she was buried. In addition to being key information about Hannah, this information can help you continue your search.

Have you used Open Collections for your own genealogy research? Let us know in the comments – we’d love to hear from you!



We are pleased to present the Digitization Centre Impact and Activity Report for 2016-2017!

This report highlights the Digitization Centre’s key projects, partnerships and user engagement trends for the 2016-2017 fiscal year.

In 2016-2017, Open Collections accounted for 15% of the Library’s unique pageviews. That 15% totals 3.9 million pageviews on Open Collections alone!

The breakdown of where those 3.9 million pageviews were spent.

Other highlights detailed in the report:

  • Our work with Archivematica and our continued contributions to UBC Library’s digital preservation program
  • News about our web archiving work, including updates on some of our new collections
  • The Digital Himalaya Project being done in collaboration with Mark Turin (Chair, First Nations & Endangered Languages Program; Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology)
  • Our ongoing partnerships
  • Our efforts on metadata updating and cleaning



New additions to our digital collections included:

BC Sessional Papers

Phase IV of the BC Sessional papers was completed, adding material from the Legislative Council of British Columbia from 1933 to 1952. Phase V began in May of 2017.

Hawthorn Fly Fishing & Angling Collection

A selection of 23 titles from the Harry Hawthorn Fly Fishing and Angling Collection housed at Woodward Library.

Rainbow Ranche

An archival collection from the Lake Country Museum and Archives, chronicling one of the first independent fruit ranches in the Okanagan.

The Pedestal

Canada’s first feminist periodical was fully digitized in partnership with SFU Archives and will be available through Open Collections soon.

Journal of a voyage to the Pacific and American Shores

UBC Library acquired and digitized the journal of Susannah Weynton, wife of the captain of the Hudson’s Bay Company supply ship Cowlitz.

BC Historical Newspapers

The BC Newspapers collection was completed this year. Encompassing 163 titles, these newspapers are utilized by researchers around the world. All pages have been run through OCR (optical character recognition) and are full-text searchable.

To learn more about what we’ve been up to over the past few years, check out all of our Impact Reports dating back to 2011 under the “Reports” section of our website’s Documentation page. Many thanks to all of our partners over the past years. We look forward to continued collaboration on all of our current and future projects!

a place of mind, The University of British Columbia

UBC Library





Emergency Procedures | Accessibility | Contact UBC | © Copyright The University of British Columbia

Spam prevention powered by Akismet