A treasure of Ukrainian culture open to the world
Oseredok is digitizing its collection of artifacts, books, artwork and photographs, using the web to broaden its reach
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It may end up being a never-ending task, but it’s one Olesia Sloboda is only too happy to oversee.
The curator of Oseredok Ukrainian Culture and Exhibition Centre has spent the last 14 months digitizing items in aid of its newly launched online catalogue.
The catalogue currently lists 1,252 museum artifacts, 1,235 library holdings, 424 fine art pieces, 4,583 photographs and 600 glass slides. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
“It’s an evolving project; there is no end date to what I started,” Sloboda says. “The online catalogue provides global access to all who are interested. As the collection grows it will need to meet the information and cultural needs of everyone.”
Sloboda, who joined Oseredok in September 2021, has spent much of her tenure tackling the mammoth task. She oversees the four collections housed in Oseredok: museum, archive, library and fine art, and quickly realized exhibition space was limited.
“We are able to display only one per cent of our collection. For photographs alone we have 60,000… our dedicated space is not big at all, it’s like a conference room. I was looking for a creative solution and the online catalogue seems a good fit for us,” she says.
Sloboda found herself having to make difficult decisions when it came to the displays, choosing to rotate the items based on seasons. She credits the board for recognizing the importance of going digital.
“Not every museum can afford to do this, and we are a small museum, but we saw the benefit for us and also for the community.”
The online depository will eventually list all 45,000 books, more than 3,000 artifacts, more than 500 linear metres of archival materials composed of memoirs, photographs and organizational notes as well nearly 4,500 extremely fragile Easter eggs; the largest collection outside of Ukraine.
Currently only five per cent of the centre’s items have been catalogued, Sloboda says, with just 1,200 books from the collection listed.
That task alone took one person five months to complete.
Cataloguing is an ongoing process — everything that is online at the moment is the result of eight digitization projects over 14 months — and there is no end in sight.
“Museums, archives and libraries are about providing access to people,” Sloboda says. “Buildings are limiting. Making these things accessible to the public globally is our goal and our mandate as an organization. Our board has a vision that this is a good way to promote Ukrainian heritage and culture.”
The labour-intensive project is dependent on community donations and grants.
The centre is currently working on one project and has already applied for grants to carry out more digitization and cataloging.
Sloboda refers to the collection as a “living thing.”
“It’s not static. We continuously receive donations from the public and our collection is changing and growing all the time. Who knows, maybe in 10 years this platform as an online catalogue might become obsolete and we may have to migrate to something contemporary that will be more relevant to people at the time.
“It needs to evolve to meet the information and cultural needs of the time.”
The need to digitize was triggered in part by the war in Ukraine. The military buildup, brewing even before the invasion, had started a train of thought on how best to promote Ukrainian culture and Ukrainian sovereignty, she says.
“We never anticipated something like this happening again… another war. When we opened in 1944 there were so many people willing to donate their treasures to us. They saw us as a stronghold of Ukrainian culture… we have things here from people whose families had come in the first wave to Canada in the late 1800s,” she says.
“In the ’50s, when around 200,000 Ukrainians were in displaced persons camps, many of them came to Manitoba and they donated a lot of their things to us. I consider Oseredok the treasurer of all these things. We are safeguarding these things and one of the ways is to do it digitally.
“We realize that not many people can visit Winnipeg but everyone with internet can access the online catalogue and see and experience these things. We have items from people who fled Ukraine in the First World War, then the Second World War. There is fear our culture will be destroyed. We want to save it from total destruction.”
The Oseredok Ukrainian Culture and Exhibition Centre online catalogue can be accessed at oseredok.ca under the Collections tab.
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AV Kitching is an arts and life writer at the Free Press.
Updated on Monday, March 6, 2023 2:34 PM CST: Clarifies quote on resettled Ukrainians; corrects number of digitized books.