If you’ve ventured out to visit the UBC Library Map Collection in Walter C. Koerner Library recently, you will likely have met Evan Thornberry, who joined UBC Library as the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Librarian in July.

In his day-to-day, Evan answers reference questions, plans workshops, and gives class presentations, in an effort to provide support to researchers and students across campus in their spatial research. “GIS Librarians are the face of the library for all kinds of place-based or spatial research,” he explains. “I work most closely with our GIS Analyst, Paul Lesack. We tackle all of the map and GIS-related reference.”

Given UBC Library’s extensive print map and atlas collection, Evan also gets to handle plenty of paper maps. “UBC has done a really good job of retaining their paper map collection, and a lot of libraries haven’t done that. It’s likely going to grow in value to researchers,” he says.

These days, spatial research isn’t limited to the forestry and geography departments, with whom Evan often collaborates. Advances in technology have made map data more accessible. “Researchers in other departments are interested in mapping because they’re starting to see more maps out there available in digital format. They’re getting ideas about how to apply a spatial component to their research.”

To mark this transition, Evan started the GIS speaker series, Visualizing the World, which hosts talks by selected cartographers and other geo-spatial researchers. The first talk, which was held in October, featured cartographer Anton Thomas, who specializes in hand-drawn maps, while the second showcased research from medical geographer Emily Acheson, currently enrolled as a PhD candidate in Geography at UBC. “Anything can be analyzed in a spatial sense. I want the speakers’ series to illustrate that,” says Evan.

Talking about his own geographic moves, Evan relocated to Vancouver from Boston, where he looked after Boston Public library’s map collection through the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center, a nonprofit organization. However, as a Western Washington University graduate, he isn’t new to the West Coast and is happy to be back in a city with a vibrant bicycling culture. He’s also started brushing up on his illustration skills: “I come from a family of artists, and I think making digitally hand-drawn maps would be fun. I appreciate the artistic value that cartographers give to their product.”

Learn more about the UBC Library Map Collection by visiting the GIS Lab at Koerner Library  


If you’re a fan of children’s books, you won’t want to miss From Apple Pies to Astronauts, A Chronology of Alphabet Books with Aphorisms, Amusements, and Anecdotes! at UBC Library’s Rare Books and Special Collections. The exhibit offers a selection of English language alphabet books from the late 18th century to the present day. These books illustrate the changes in alphabetic education for young children in England, the United States, and Canada. The exhibition is curated by UBC Master of Library and Information Studies candidates Sarah Bagshaw and Laura Quintana, under the supervision of Professor Kathie Shoemaker.  We chatted with Laura and Sarah about their curation process.

What inspired you to create an exhibit around Alphabet Books? 

Sarah:  The books themselves were the inspiration.  Once Kathie Shoemaker suggested the idea, I got to search for alphabet books in the Rare Books and Special Collection catalogue.  Then I got to go and look at them and was amazed by all the different styles through time, all the differences and similarities to alphabet books now.  In discussing what I was looking at with my husband, he suggested displaying them in chronological order as well as going through the alphabet from A to Z.  This turned out to be an excellent way to showcase the books and the changes in illustration, the way they were written, and their educational purpose over time.

Laura: It was Sarah’s idea, actually. I got into the project in a later stage and helped her with everything I could. I have to say that I found the project really interesting. I did not grow up with Alphabet books and during our research we found out that in countries with languages other than English it is not as common as it is here to use alphabet books as an introduction to literacy.

What intrigues you about children’s books? 

Sarah: Children’s books are amazing.  There are so many wonderful books being published for children today.  Picture books are particularly fascinating as they tell stories with both text and pictures.  The types and styles of illustration we see now in picture books is incredible.  They are a window into the cultural context of the time period they come from as well as an entertainment piece for both adults and children.  Picture books are not easy to create.  They have to tell a story well and the text cannot fall down on the job – it has to work being read out loud.  Current writers could take a page or two from the writers of the past!  The rhyming text in the old alphabet books in the exhibit was a joy to read.

Laura: There is a common misconception that understands children’s literature as a second class kind of literature, as if authors and publishers were lowering their scales to produce books that appeal to children but are not good enough to engage adults. And it often happens that adults who read children’s literature are seen as infantile. Children’s literature has a specific audience, and that audience is the most demanding and honest of all. Authors need to really address a particular need and satisfy very high expectations. Children know what is good and what is not, and they won’t read a book that does not give them what they are asking for. Another important think to highlight is that children are still able to see the marvels of the world. Children’s books authors need to honor the splendour of that point of view and produce books that fully satisfy the children’s need for beauty, and that is not an easy thing to do. Alphabet books address a learning expectation, but they also appeal to children through illustrations, text, reading rhythm and originality. They are a learning tool and also a source for enjoyment. Alphabet books these days can be simply amazing.

How did the two of you come to work on this project?   

Sarah: Kathie Shoemaker approached me last summer while I was taking her Illustrated Materials for Children course about possibly putting together an exhibit of alphabet books in the Rare Books reading room.  This sounded like such a cool idea!  Everyone in the West who speaks English is familiar with alphabet books, we all grew up with them and there are so many different kinds.  To be able to look at old alphabet books as well as find beautifully illustrated new ones was so much fun. 

Laura: Sarah had already created the concept, and her enthusiasm and passion was contagious.


How did you select the books displayed in the exhibit? 

Sarah: Once we had the idea for a chronological tour, we selected books that best represented different eras or decades in the development of early childhood learning and alphabet books.  Some of the more recent alphabet books are very well known, but we felt that they should be included as they represented either specific ideas about children and learning, or a change in illustrative style.  Everyone knows Dr. Seuss, so did we need to have him in this exhibit?  Yes!!  He represents a big shift in the thinking about children, learning, and books.  Each book has a reason for being in the cases even if we didn’t create a lengthy item label for it. We were really lucky that Kathie has an extensive library of alphabet books to choose from and I also asked friends and family to search their libraries.

 Laura: We looked for the most appealing materials, and also for the ones that best represented a particular moment in time and in the evolution of Alphabet books.

Do you have a favourite alphabet book? 

Sarah: That’s hard.  There are certain books that have a nostalgia for me, like Cecily Mary Barker’s Flower Fairy Alphabet because I grew up with it, as well as Dr. Seuss.  Chicka Chicka Boom Boom  because we read that to our daughter and the rhythm in it is so spot on.  However, now that I have seen all these old alphabet books, I find the Battledoor fascinating for what it is and for showcasing street vendors from the early 19th century.  Wanda Gag’s ABC Bunny is such a good example of picture and text working together to tell a story.  The old alphabet books I got the most excited about are the ones illustrated by Walter Crane, who was part of the Arts and Crafts movement.  He worked with William Morris.  So many interesting things to read about him and his art!

 Laura: I fell in love with several of them, but if I have to choose it would be Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, with all its rhythm and freshness. I also love The Neverending Story since I was young, and until now I have never thought about the fact that it was written as an alphabet book, with chapters that start with a letter of the alphabet, in order. I found that very interesting.

What was your favourite children’s book as a child? 

Sarah: Another hard question!  My family is British and so I grew up with books from England.  I still have the copy my Granny sent me of Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree.  I blame this book for my love of fantasy and my fascination with doorways to other places.  I also have a soft spot for Wind in the Willows, original Winnie the Pooh, and A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson.  I pinched the family copy of The Real Mother Goose illustrated by Blanch Fisher Wright to use with our daughter and love looking into the history of weird and obscure nursery rhymes.  Clearly the rhyming and rhythm of text read out loud is important to me!

Laura: My favourite book as a child was Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. I’m still in love with this concept of Peter Pan as a newborn child who can fly, who used to have wings and is able to fly because he does not know that that is impossible. In this book he does not need fairy dust or the help of Tinker Bell to be able to flyI felt so sad when I first read it: to think about a child who flies away from his mother and finds out later, when he wants to come back, that the windows have been barred and that his mother has a new baby that has taken his place. I think that it is a wonderful book with an extraordinary, powerful and heartwarming main character.

From Apple Pies to Astronauts is on display at UBC Library’s Rare Books and Special Collections on the first floor of the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre from February 27 through April 30, 2017, and can be viewed Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays from 12-5 p.m. The exhibition is free and open to the public, and people of all ages are encouraged to attend. For more information, please contact Rare Books and Special Collections at (604) 822-2521 or rare.books@ubc.ca.

Student Profile on Roxanne Kalenborn

UBC Library offers work experiences to undergraduate and graduate students in a variety of roles, from book shelving to assisting with reference questions, conducting assessments of library web resources, and helping with collection development projects.

Roxanne Kalenborn, a current graduate student in the UBC Master of Library and Information Studies (MLIS) degree program, has held many positions at the Vancouver campus of UBC Library since 2015 including:

Roxanne also has the distinction of being an inaugural winner of the 2016 Tremaine Arkley Croquet Collection Prize.

We spoke to Roxanne about her experiences working with various library departments and her advice for students interested in roles with UBC Library.


What was the most interesting part of your roles with UBC Library?

Coming from an undergraduate background in History and now as a graduate student in Library and Information Studies, my experience with academic research thus far had been mostly limited to those subjects. During my work as a Student Reference Librarian, I gained exposure to other academic disciplines through the questions patrons would ask. I particularly liked the questions I got at the David Lam Library concerning marketing trends and product research.

What has surprised you most about the Library?

Before I worked for the Library, I had no idea just how many services and resources are available beyond books, movies, and electronic resources. I think it is really neat that students can check out everything from headphones to Arduino boards and even iPhone chargers. It shows that libraries can provide so much more to patrons than traditional materials, in a way that serves modern students’ needs.

Of the Library’s six aspirational values, which one most describes your experiences as a student employee and why?

One of the best parts of having a variety of roles within the UBC Library system was gaining experience in many different departments. This was great because these roles suited both parts of my personality and work style. Being an extroverted introvert, I’ve enjoyed positions like providing reference, where I get to interact with students and know that I helped someone that day.

On the other hand, in the positions where I digitize materials and write online content, I love getting to dig into a project and feel ownership over it. In all of these positions I have felt supported by my supervisors and coworkers, which I think speaks to the library’s aspirational value of community.

How will your work experiences help your career? Has it influenced the direction of your career or specialization of your work?

I came to graduate school from a background working in history museums. My goal in earning a MLIS degree was to gain skills and experience in the digitization of special collections. Working at the Digitization Centre has only affirmed that I made the right choice to come to UBC for my career path. However, as I got my positions with the Small Business Accelerator Program and the David Lam Library, I was pleasantly surprised to find out how much I enjoy business librarianship and providing reference, and I like the thought of helping someone start their own business. It has inspired me to think about possibly launching my own business where I can work with institutions like libraries or museums to provide historical research content to their exhibits or publications.

What advice would you give to other UBC students interested in working for the Library?

I would tell other UBC students interested in working for the Library to be open to trying jobs in a variety of departments. I came into graduate school completely focused on a digitization path, but based on my positive experiences with reference and business librarianship, I now feel that I would be really happy working in one of these capacities after I graduate, which I would not have discovered if I hadn’t branched out.

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Shannon Selin and her novel Napoleon in America

After a successful and varied career that included non-fiction writing, university research, technical writing, and working for the Canadian government, UBC alumna Shannon Selin finally returned to her first love — writing fiction. Her first novel Napoleon in America imagines what might have happened if Napoleon Bonaparte had escaped from exile on St. Helena and wound up in the United States in 1821.  We spoke with Shannon about the extensive research she does for her books and how UBC Library and Collections have played a crucial role.

Which sources did you use in your research for Napoleon in America

UBC Library has been invaluable to my research. I write historical fiction set in Europe and North America in the early 1800s. Since I try to make my novels and short stories as believable as possible, I use only actual historical characters and embed them very carefully in the social, political and geographical context of the time. I am thus particularly interested in relevant letters, diaries, memoirs, travellers’ accounts and newspapers, as well as historical maps, paintings and drawings. In addition to standard books about European and North American history, the library has a marvelous selection of relatively obscure works that I was surprised to find in Vancouver. Three of my favourites are: Papiers Intimes et Journal du Duc de Reichstadt by Jean de Bourgoing, a collection of letters, diary entries and schoolwork by Napoleon Bonaparte’s son, who died at the age of 21; The Indians of Texas in 1830 by French naturalist Jean-Louis Berlandier, which includes gorgeous plates and descriptions of the native Americans Berlandier encountered during an 1828-29 expedition; and Mexico 1825-1828: The Journal and Correspondence of Edward Thornton Tayloe, the record of an American diplomat who had adroit powers of observation. The real “shivers up the spine” moment came when I was holding a letter from Napoleon, written in 1814, and three letters from the Duke of Wellington, written in 1824, all part of the Derek Lukin Johnston collection housed in Rare Books and Special Collections.

A letter dictated by Napoleon c 1814. Note his signature at the bottom right.

A letter dictated by Napoleon c 1814. Note his signature at the bottom right.


Do you use UBC’s Open Collections?

I do, particularly the Andrew McCormick Maps and Prints from RBSC, which has excellent 19th century maps of the British possessions in North America. Having online access to these resources is extremely helpful. I can zoom in to see features even more clearly than I could if I were viewing the maps in person.

Can you shed some light on your research-to-writing process?

For Napoleon in America, I started by reading a lot of books about Napoleon, particularly about his time on St. Helena. What physical shape was he in? What frame of mind was he in? If someone plucked him up and carried him away, what would he be likely to say and do? I then read up on the other characters who appear in the novel – people like the Duke of Wellington, Louis XVIII, Napoleon’s siblings, the Marquis de Lafayette, John Quincy Adams, pirate Jean Laffite, and the French officers who fled to the United States after Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo. Since the book moves between St. Helena, various European settings and North America, I also did research on each of these places in the early 1820s, to help me imagine what it might have been like to be there. As I read, I made notes on each topic and jotted down ideas of things that could happen in the book. Based on this, I came up with an outline of the plot, and then started drafting the novel. When questions came up as I was writing each chapter, I delved into more esoteric topics: early 19th-century medical practices, the history of voodoo in New Orleans, the diplomacy surrounding the Congress of Verona, etc. This in turn sparked more ideas for scenes in the book. It is really a continuous process, in which the research and writing are closely intertwined. For Napoleon in Texas, the sequel, I have six books from UBC Library open on my desk right now, looking at questions like: What plants and animals would one encounter on a trek between Laredo and San Antonio in the early 1820s? How long would the journey by horse take, compared to the journey by mule? What kind of kit would a Mexican officer be carrying?

Do you have a favourite spot or branch of UBC Library?

Given my interest in history, it’s probably no surprise to learn that my favourite place in the UBC Library is the part that remains from the old Main Library – what is now the Chapman Learning Commons. During my first summer at UBC, I worked as a research assistant to Professor Paul Marantz in the Political Science Department. Part of my job entailed making notes from books that could not be taken out of the Ridington Room. Not to be confused with the current room of that name, this was the old humanities and social sciences reading room, located in the north wing of the Main Library. I sat at one of the long wooden tables, with the light streaming through the high windows, surrounded by portraits of UBC chancellors and the smell of old books. It was peaceful and beautiful, and being in the heritage core of the library reminds me of that space.

Borrow Napoleon in America from UBC Library.

Follow Shannon’s writing at shannonselin.com. 




Shirin Eshghi is the new Head of Asian Library, holding past experience in librarianship with this branch. As a previous UBC graduate student, Shirin considers herself an advocate of the Asian Library, having benefitted from its resources during her studies. She brings a valuable perspective to her work, as her experiences as a prior student help to inform growth and development at this branch.

Enhancing Research at UBC

Shirin was drawn to librarianship as a career because of an appreciation for a range of academic disciplines: her background is in Modern Japanese Literature. Shirin appreciates that in her new role she draws on a cultural studies perspective to frame her work. As Head of Asian Library,  she has the opportunity to support and enhance research across different faculties.

Community Outreach and an International Perspective 

A key priority of her role moving forward will be to draw in an international perspective: Shirin will share the value of the Asian Library collections as it extends to a number of faculties and areas of research. A lesser-known fact about Asian Library is the wide variety of scholars and researchers the branch supports, as well as the branch’s involvement in community events, digitization projects and teaching and learning at UBC.

New Programming at Asian Library

Some new programming to look out for in the fall at Asian Library will include an alumni supported bookclub, which will expand on the branch’s aspirational goals to support life-long learning and language learning. Another goal is to create a space at Asian Library for intercultural communication. Library culture is also a priority moving forward for Asian Library: staff are supported to grow in their roles and engage with the wider UBC community.

Get to Know Shirin

A little known fact about Shirin is that she is a self-professed ‘trekkie’: she is a fan of the recent Star Trek movie, Star Trek Beyond, in particular the character of Commodore Paris, a military commander played by Persian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo. Shirin appreciates that the Star Trek series brings together different cultural communities in pursuit of a common goal, and develops strong, diverse female leads.

You can find Shirin in her office at the Asian Library, or possibly catching a moment of calm in beautiful Nitobe Gardens, a favoured spot at UBC.

Congratulations Shirin!

Linda Ong, Director of Library Communications and Marketing, has received a President’s Staff Award (Vancouver Campus) for Global Citizenship. The award is given to staff who exemplify good citizenship, display commitment to community enhancement, and serve as a model citizen to members of the community. The award was presented at a reception on October 5, where 15 other UBC staff were also recognized.

photo of staff

Linda Ong with Interim UBC President Martha Piper

Linda was praised for her volunteer work with the BC Chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators, where she serves as a mentor, providing guidance for professionals across the province. She was also commended for working collaboratively and serving as a role model for other UBC employees.

“Libraries are changing dramatically in the new digital environment, and Linda has the difficult task of assessing the needs of staff and users in uncertain times and communicating the right messages at the right time,” said Ingrid Parent, University Librarian. “She works collaboratively with faculty, staff, donors and users, and is extremely well respected for her professional abilities and personal qualities.”

For more information on the winners, visit the UBC HR website.

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