Title graphic for the blog post

We have come to the end processing the 2012 accrual to the Douglas Coupland fonds, but it is just the beginning for researchers- we’re looking forward to having you in the reading room! As the supervising archivist, this has been a really interesting and rewarding process. I had some questions for our student archivists that I thought our blog readers might be interested in too:

1. When you first started this project, you worked together to come up with a running title for the blog posts and a graphic. Can you tell the story of how you came up with the “This is really random” theme?

Group: When we first received the boxes and discussed our project plan, the three of us spent some time together on the first day taking an initial survey of what the accession contained – poking through boxes, oohing and ahhing, and reviewing our intended approach in light of what we found. We were amazed by the sheer diversity and seeming chaos of the accession as we first received it, and also delighted by some of the more unique finds we stumbled across! Everything seemed to be organized so, well… randomly. Naming the blog was in the back of our minds that first day, and when we came upon a box of t-shirts that contained one that said, “This is really random,” it felt like a sign. We were all very quickly in agreement that not only did it seem fitting, but that Coupland himself would probably appreciate the tongue-in-cheek humour of it.

2. Early in the blog posts, you discussed how the Coupland fonds seems to lack what archivists call “original order.” Did your opinion change as you worked through the accrual? Has this project made you think differently about how to approach arrangement with other archives projects?

Group: We are fairly certain that what we received was a product of Coupland sweeping things into boxes, and does not necessarily reflect how these items were grouped and arranged around his workspace when they were still being created and actively used. Nevertheless, we feel that our approach was effective – we maintained the received physical order, but still managed to organize the materials according to a coherent intellectual arrangement (by series) that worked well with previous accruals. This way, a researcher can view a file list to see the received (physical) order, but they can also view the material grouped by the kinds of different “work hats”  that Coupland wears (or functions he performs) – as an author, a playwright, a designer, an artist, and so forth.

This project did make us realize the critical importance of the deposit interview. We were unable to conduct an initial accession interview to  to ask Coupland about his work habits and spaces, his personal systems of organization and arrangement, etc. In the future, and especially with creative cultural workers such as Coupland, we would want to do our best to ensure that this could happen. This would give us a better sense of what we were seeing, how it was packed up, what we could expect to find, what it might relate to, and how much is likely to have changed between the original and received orders.

3. I’m guessing that before we even cracked the boxes open you knew this project would involve some pretty unique content. What is your favorite/most random/most surprising object?

DG: I’m still hung up on the bejeweled hornet’s nest – I didn’t see that one coming. But other favorites for me included the baby Digital Orca maquette (file 179-05), and the cheese-encrusted pizza box with calligraphic doodles on top (file 179-24) – you just never know what you’re going to find in an artist’s fonds!

LH: My favourite (if I have to choose) is actually a number of little things that cropped up periodically throughout the entire fonds – movie ticket stubs. Every now and then a box would produce a ticket stub (or two or three), providing a little glimpse into Coupland’s everyday life and, maybe, the ideas and images that were influencing him at that moment. These, among other things, received the tag Ephemera.

SH: I was most surprised by the crusty pizza box that Dan mentioned above. I did not expect to find an item like this mixed in with all the other records we processed. Other interesting objects include two maquettes of his Digital Orca sculpture and a styrofoam “phantom” leg from his Terry Fox memorial project.

4. Although there are standards and best practices that archivists follow as a whole, ultimately arrangement and description is typically a solo activity (archivists even have a nickname for those who work alone- “Lone Arrangers”). Did working as a group pose any challenges? Were there any points of practice or theory that you disagreed on? (Don’t be shy! We’re all friends here!)

Group: Actually, we found that our varying experiences and schedules worked really well together! We maintained a shared document throughout our work so we could discuss strategy when challenges were encountered, and generally reached consensus as to what we should do rather quickly. Because of the nature of this fonds it was actually really helpful to bounce ideas and questions off each other.

There were a few challenges that popped up. The most significant was probably our experimental deployment of the taxonomic subject terms. In the end, we ended up needing to delete, move, and/or modify some of the tags that we had created on the fly in order to make one cohesive taxonomy. This isn’t surprising – we were working with a new functionality, but ultimately we think it came together really well.

5. Did you learn anything about Coupland’s artistic or writing practices that you think researchers will be interested or surprised to learn?

Group: One thing in particular that amazed all of us was just how broad Coupland’s interests and artistic practices are. He’s got work in all directions, from his many novels, to his fashion and furniture design projects, to city planning – and his V-Pole project (see file 184-05), unveiled with Vancouver mayor Gregor Roberston earlier this year! As archivists though, we can’t really make claims about what will surprise researchers. Our job is merely to provide the best access we can to the materials, and leave it to the researchers to draw their own conclusions.

6. As archivists, we get the privilege of the “first view” of a person or organization’s work through their archives, but we ultimately pass the torch along to researchers, scholars, and even casual users who make the real connections. What do you hope researchers will get out of this collection?

Group: Appreciation. Coupland is such a multi-talented artist, and there are so many unexpected items in this collection to surprise and delight researchers and fans alike.

Context. To be able to see all the initial steps, the drafts, the sketches, the correspondence that precedes a finished work – this is invaluable to understanding the creative process of a creator such as Douglas Coupland.

It would also be interesting if someone took the time to compare all the dates, travel stubs, and correspondence to figure out which projects were worked on simultaneously, which led to other projects, and in what ways an idea comes to full fruition.

Best of luck to the researchers!

 

Archival storage boxes on a shelf

Coupland fonds boxes, packed up and ready for research

Archival artifacts on and beside a table

Still awaiting custom boxes for a few odd-sized objects

 

Title banner

Earlier in this blog, we posted about how we are implementing the use of taxonomies to help researchers navigate the new accrual to the Douglas Coupland Fonds. We’re just putting the finishing touches on those tags now, and thought we would offer our readers a first look at what we’ve done.

To review: taxonomies in ICA-AtoM are similar to the kind of tags you’ll see in use everywhere on the web these days, such as on Flickr photographs, Amazon albums, and even blog posts such as this. In ICA-AtoM (the open-source, web based archival description software that Rare Books and Special Collections is currently implementing), these are also known as “access points”. When we create a tag (or access point, or taxonomic term) and associate it with a file, a hyperlink is created on the description page. When you click on the link, ICA-AtoM will bring you to a search results page showing all other archival descriptions that also have been tagged.

This is useful in several ways. First, all the tags we’ve used are indexed separately than the simple searchbar results, so if for example, you wanted to find materials on Generation A, a simple search will return all entries that mention Generation A in their description, including those from earlier accruals that haven’t been retroactively tagged yet (or anything we might have forgotten to tag!). Searching this way, you might find files 181-37 and 181-38, “Generation A manuscript”. As you might expect, you’ll find “Generation A manuscript” in the “Literary projects” series of the Douglas Coupland fonds.

However, there are several files in the accrual that relate to Generation A but don’t mention the book explicitly in the description! They might be correspondence, or interviews, or book reviews, or even photographs – and might therefore be kept in a different series. A simple search for Generation A might never turn up these important related documents… but this is where the magic of taxonomies comes in. So if you are looking at file 181-37, “Generation A manuscript,” and you clicked on the Access point hyperlink, “Generation A,” you’ll be redirected to a showscreen listing all files from all series that we have tagged with the term. This way, you could find file 184-19, “Correspondence with Janklow & Nesbit Associates,” which contains a cover letter that originally accompanied Coupland’s agreement with Random House Canada for the publication of Generation A, or file 185-28, “2009 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize award finalist certificate,” which you might not have known Coupland was presented for Generation A (he didn’t win the prize that year).

Finding a file with a hyperlink and then clicking it is not the only way to get these results either – you can also use an advanced search to start searching with a taxonomy term right away. To do this, follow these simple steps:

1. Click on the “Advanced search” link above the search bar

2. Enter the taxonomy term you wish to search for in the blank search space provided

3. From the drop-down menu next to it, select “Subject access point

4. Click search!

 

Screenshot showing search page

Advanced subject searching

You can also use this advanced search to search for multiple terms at once. Notice the dropdown menu before the search field, that contains “and”, “or”, and “not”, as well as the “add new” link just below the search field? These are powerful tools for building complex searches! Try out searches such as “Player One OR Massey” (will return you anything tagged with either of those terms – meaning you’ll get results about Player One as a book, and possibly anything Massey-related that Coupland has done that was not associated with Player One), or maybe “Generation X AND Publicity” to see clippings that Coupland has collected about his first novel over the years.

Because ICA-AtoM’s taxonomy module is still developing, there’s currently no easy way to view all of the terms we’ve made use of in the Coupland fonds. But not to fear, we’ll be uploading a PDF of all the terms we’ve used for researchers to browse before the accrual goes live.

Happy hunting!

Unpacking the Douglas Coupland fonds

Archivist’s note: We also could have called this post, “Repacking the Douglas Coupland fonds.” We get a lot of questions from the general public about how we choose storage for archival material. Many of these questions can be answered with common sense, sometimes we use more specialized knowledge. Below our student archivists explain their storage choices for this collection:

In previous posts, we discussed preservation practices regarding some of the incredibly unique items that are part of this accrual. To switch things up a bit, we thought we would take you on a little tour of our oh-so-ordinary storage practices which help ensure the long term preservation of archival material.

The most common type of storage is the record storage box.

Record storage box

Record storage box

Typically, these boxes are used to store paper records (go figure!). In the case of the Douglas Coupland fonds, we also occasionally house other items in these boxes – such as the small canvases shown below. Note the file support that ensures the items don’t slip and slide around inside the box.

Record storage box with canvases

Record storage box with canvases

Some items are too large and unruly to be contained in a typical records box. In cases such as these, we store items in oversized boxes like these:

Oversize storage boxes

Oversize storage boxes

Items should never be placed in boxes that are too small or too large. You don’t want the material to be squashed or knocked about. If material doesn’t fit in any of the standard sized storage containers, custom boxes can be ordered to fit the exact dimensions of the items. Custom boxes not only ensure that we safely and properly enclose items, but also allow us to maximize space in the vault — a hot commodity in archives!

Some items need to be stored flat.  In this fonds, we have large photographs and poster boards that would warp if stored vertically. Map cabinets are the perfect solution for these items.

Map cabinets

Map cabinets

I bet you had no idea we put so much thought into something as simple as a box!

Unpacking the Douglas Coupland fonds

Archivists note: This past week was a busy one: the student archivists worked hard on packing the accrual into appropriate containers for storage. All collections need to be re-housed into archivally appropriate containers, but this one is a particular challenge to wrangle because of the oddly shaped and sized objects. Below the students describe some basic conservation work on one of the collection’s more atypical items…

In our last post, we talked about how we approached processing a bejeweled hornet’s nest. As it turns out, this wasn’t the only unusual or unique item that required extra thought in terms of preservation and special storage. This old pizza box with calligraphy (complete with grease stains, encrusted cheese, and lingering pizza odor) needed to be cleaned before being permanently housed as part of the fonds.

Pizza box 1

Pizza box inside

Coupland pizza box with calligraphy

In this case, the stuck-on food particles were of particular concern. As a general rule, no food or beverages are allowed inside RBSC. Not only could spilled coffee or ketchup stain or permanently damage the materials, but lingering crumbs could attract certain, ahem…undesirable patrons—namely critters like cockroaches or, heaven forbid, rodents.

So what did we do with the crusty pizza box, you ask? We began by isolating the pizza box so that it wouldn’t contaminate any of the other materials. A separation sheet marks the pizza box’s original location in relation to the other materials and directs future users to its new “home”—a special archival quality box that it gets all to itself. The next step was to do some surface cleaning to remove the crumbs, cheese bits, and as much of the grease stain as possible.

Cleaning the pizza box

Cleaning the pizza box 2

Pizza box surface cleaning

We began by gently scraping off bits of cheese and crumbs with a scalpel. We took great care to not damage the box and to fully isolate and dispose of the rogue crumbs in the nearest rubbish receptacle. Our next step was to give the box a thorough cleaning with a chemical sponge. These sponges were originally designed to remove soot and grease caused by fire damage, but they work wonders on dirty archival documents. The stain is still visible on the Coupland pizza box, but the process did remove some of the excess grease.

Before being stored in its archival box, the pizza box was sealed inside a large Ziploc bag to lock in any remaining odor or microscopic food particles that might attract pests.

Finally, this item, like all special collections materials, will be stored inside RBSC’s environmentally storage areas. This item and most other paper-based archival material will live in the Automated Storage and Retrieval System (ASRS) which maintains a temperature and relative humidity that makes it very hard for most pests to live in.

For more information on the topic of pest management, please visit the Northeast Document Conservation Center website. 

So, even though you may not be able to eat your own slice of pizza while visiting RBSC, you can always access and take a whiff of Coupland’s pizza box—the musty pizza smell is sure to cure anyone’s persistent tummy grumbles.

Unpacking the Douglas Coupland fonds

Question: What glitters and was once home to thousands of swarming insects?

Answer: The contents of file 184-38 of the Douglas Coupland fonds at UBC’s Rare Books and Special Collections.

Jeweled wasp nest

This dazzling bejeweled hornet’s nest has presented us with a unique range of questions… so let’s take a brief tour of the archivist’s approach to this wonder of nature.

Let’s face the most important question. Why is this hornet’s nest a part of the Douglas Coupland fonds in the first place? If you’re familiar with Coupland’s work you may recall his nest sculptures. This nest that now resides in UBC’s vault is not of his own making, but it does communicate his exploration and interest in these objects. But why is it bejeweled? We’ll leave that one to researchers to figure out! [Archivist's note: Coupland also made an addition to his archives in 2010 which included wasp-nest paper in various stages of being "hand-chewed" by Coupland- this material resides in boxes 152 through 154 in the collection].

The idea of bringing an object that was created by insects and has been who-knows-where into the our sterile environment made us cringe (believe it or not, archivists aren’t huge fans of pests or dirt or mould or any other force of nature that likes to wreck paper). We did some research and learned a bit about the nature of the hornet beast along the way – check out this website for more info: http://www.ipm.iastate.edu/ipm/iiin/bhornets.html. Since the nest has been around for a few years, it turns out that it won’t be a danger to itself or its new archival neighbors.

Our last obstacle in preparing the nest for its stay in the archives relates to its fragile nature. It certainly doesn’t fit in a legal size acid-free folder. Here’s how we nested the nest (opens a wmv file):

Building a nest for a nest

The fragile nest now resides in an acid-free cardboard box. We stabilized it within the box through the use of foam and tissue padding and archivally-approved bubble wrap.


Unpacking the Douglas Coupland fonds

Archivists note: This week our student archivists are going to explain how taxonomies, which is like “tagging” only slightly more sophisticated, is helping them draw out important connections in the Douglas Coupland fonds. It does make me reflect on how the technology we use to catalogue (or arrange and describe, in archives jargon) can affect both the process of arrangement and description, and how the information is displayed to our users. As our student archivists describe below, we at Rare Books and Special Collections are in the process of moving our finding aids into a database system called ICA-Atom. With more, our student team:

A word on taxonomies…

Taxono-what? Ok – so this is library and archives jargon, but if you’re familiar with tagging (who hasn’t tagged a photo on facebook or flickr?) the concept of taxonomies is the same – the only difference being that our “tags” can be organized hierarchically, with broader terms, narrower terms, and related terms. For example, the tag “JPod” could be a narrower term of “literary projects”, and could also have narrower terms to distinguish between the television adaptation script, the drafts, and the final manuscript.

Last post we talked about the challenges in organizing Coupland’s wide variety of materials into an order that maintains a link to how we received the materials, but also organizes them in a way that makes the fonds accessible and understandable to users. Since we have decided to process the materials in the order received, how then will researchers be able to see the relationships between items? Our solution: taxonomies!

Here at RBSC, we are also in the process of migrating our descriptions to a new platform called ICA-AtoM that allows for the use of tags and web-based navigation. ICA-AtoM is an open-source, web-based archival description software that is based on International Council on Archives (ICA) standards, freely available to users (and created by a graduate of UBC’s School of Library, Archival, and Information Studies!). In addition to a lot of other great features, ICA-AtoM also includes a taxonomy module, that will allow us to use a controlled vocabulary of tags when processing the newest Coupland materials.

So how will we go about doing this? First, we’ve created a subject list in ICA-AtoM based on the contents of Douglas Coupland’s material. For example, we have “tags” called Generation A and Girlfriend in a Coma that will be used for all files related to these two literary projects. Collage and Calligraphy are two more that will be used for materials related to some of Coupland’s visual art projects. Clicking on a taxonomy word within ICA-AtoM will reveal all other files related to the same subject. The taxonomy, then, is another  avenue of access that patrons can use in addition to the finding aid/file list to find what they’re looking for. Because we are still in the process of figuring out all the projects and subjects covered in this accrual to the Coupland fonds, we are also creating tags “on the fly” as we work; once we’ve finished the initial process and are working on updating the series-level descriptions, we’ll also be managing the hierarchical relationships between the tags, so relationships between tags are maintained as well. This way, if a patron wants to see everything we’ve added about say, Coupland’s Firefighter’s Memorial in Ottawa, they can search the term “Firefighter Memorial” and all the related records will appear. Further, any of these records will have a tag-link included in the description to all the other related records, as well as listing any other related tags.

Screenshot showing taxonomies in Coupland fonds

Screenshot showing taxonomies in Coupland fonds

We’re excited to be implementing the first use of taxonomies here at RBSC, and we’ll be sure to update you on our progress as we carry on!

Unpacking the Douglas Coupland fonds

Archivist’s note: When you tell people you’re an archivist, they often assume that we spend a lot of time meticulously re-organizing documents into some kind of “correct” order. This is a misconception- as our student archivists will describe below, maintaining original order is actually an important tenet of archival theory and practice. Here are Dan, Laura and Sarah with more:

Perhaps you are wondering what it is we (student) archivists do when a new set of boxes is delivered? What actually goes on in that processing room? And why is it important? If these questions are keeping you up at night, read on for a look at the first step in processing a new accrual….

The first challenge we faced with the Douglas Coupland project was figuring out how to arrange the material.  We can’t just dump it into acid-free boxes and call it day! One of the fundamental principles of archival work is respect for original order. This states that records should be organized in the order established or intended by the creator. So no alphabetizing! No rearranging by date!

Why is original order important? In a nutshell, it preserves the relationships between records and any evidence that could be gleaned from those relationships. Context is key.

Determining original order isn’t always easy. Sometimes the intended order gets jumbled before or during the transfer of the material to the archives. Other times, if the creator had no system of arranging their own records, there is no original order. In the case of the former, archivists would spend some time analyzing the material in order to restore the original order. In the latter, archivists could impose an order to facilitate arrangement, description, and access.

A small sampling of the variety of material received

A small sampling of the variety of material received

 

Our first order of business was to survey the material in an attempt to discern the original order.  This proved difficult. Why? Each box of material appeared to be a veritable mishmash of non-related items. Manuscripts next to a hornet’s nest next to doodles next to fan mail. At first, we thought it might be necessary to impose an order by arranging the material by artistic medium. Upon closer examination and reflection, we could not be sure there wasn’t significance to the apparent random nature of the material. Because we were concerned we would break important archival bonds if we physically (re)arranged the material, we came up with the following solution:

  • process the material according to received order (right down to the individual movie ticket stubs)
  • using ICA-AtoM (an open-source archival description software), intellectually arrange the material into series based on artistic medium without physically disrupting the physical order
  • create a taxonomy within ICA-AtoM to link materials to other related materials
The archivist's natural habitat

The archivist's natural habitat

Curious to find out what a taxonomy is? Stay tuned for our next exciting blog post to find out!

Coupland_blog_banner

We’re very pleased to announce a recent addition (or accrual to use archival language) to the archives of Douglas Coupland (or the Douglas Coupland fonds, again to use the archival terminology). We have been very fortunate to continue our relationship with Doug Coupland since we first acquired his archives in 2008, but for the first time we have decided to shine a light on what happens to archival material between coming in the doors and being made available to users in the reading room.  We think it’s particularly interesting and exciting to do this with the Douglas Coupland fonds because of the wide range of documentation he creates.

We’re fortunate also to have three student archivists jointly handling this project over the summer: Dan Gillean, Laura Hebert and Sarah Hillier are all students from the School of Library, Archival and Information Studies. They will be writing posts on this blog every week or so to keep you updated on their progress. You can see all of our posts on this project by browsing for the Coupland tag on our blog.

Without further adieu, our student archivists:

“On Thursday, June 21st a large shipment of banker’s boxes and strangely shaped packages arrived at UBC Rare Books and Special Collections. The twenty-six pieces comprise the recent accrual to the already substantial Douglas Coupland fonds. Because of Coupland’s varied range of medium (and we mean varied – everything from large-scale sculptures to screenplays to clothing lines) the contents of these boxes present many unique questions from the archival perspective.

“So how to tackle such a diverse accumulation of content? We have been tasked with the arrangement and description of this material and hope to collaboratively produce a clear picture of Coupland’s creative process through our treatment of the accrual. A little about us…

“Dan Gillean - MAS/MLIS Student at SLAIS, entering 3rd year
I’ve been working as a Student Archival Assistant since September of 2011, processing a large accrual from the provincial New Democratic Party. I’m particularly interested in the arrangement challenges we will encounter with this project – for example, how will we know if that flattened box of macaroni was meant for a collage, used in one of the Canada photographs, or kept as a reference item for one of his many narrative projects? What if the answer is all three? More importantly, how can we best indicate these linkages and conjectures to our patrons at RBSC?

“Laura Hebert - MAS/MLIS Student at SLAIS, entering 3rd year
I began my work as a Student Archive Assistant at RBSC just over a year ago. In my time here I have worked on the processing of a number of fonds and collections, both of a personal and organizational nature. Of particular interest to me are the items in this accrual that are atypical in terms of what we see in Special Collections. What are the best ways to treat these items that are so far from the textual record and how can we effectively communicate their context?

“Sarah Hillier - MAS/MLIS Student at SLAIS, entering 3rd year
I started working at RBSC as a Student Archives Assistant about a year ago. Most recently I’ve worked on the arrangement and description of a new accrual to the Arsenal Pulp Press fonds.  Of interest to me regarding the Douglas Coupland fonds is tackling the challenges associated with the proper storage and preservation of non-traditional archival materials, i.e. a bejeweled hornet’s nest, a digital orca, and a styrofoam leg

Our student archivists: Sarah, Dan and Laura

Our student archivists: Sarah, Dan and Laura

“Influenced by Coupland’s own fondness for the blog format, we will chronicle our journey here. Follow our progress as we unpack the work of the prolific writer and artist.”

Accrual to the Douglas Coupland fonds, awaiting processing

Accrual to the Douglas Coupland fonds, awaiting processing

a place of mind, The University of British Columbia

UBC Library

Info:

604.822.6375

Renewals: 

604.822.3115
604.822.2883
250.807.9107

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

Spam prevention powered by Akismet