For this post, we’re pleased to introduce a guest blogger- Cari Postnikoff is a practicum student visiting us from the School of Library and Information Studies at University of Alberta. Here’s what Cari found in our collections related to the Columbia River:

This is another installment of our series featuring B.C. places used as room names in the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre; this time we are going to take a look at the Columbia River. The Columbia River originates in the B.C. Rocky Mountains and flows down to the Pacific Ocean just north of Portland, Oregon.

The resource from our collection that we would like to feature from the Columbia River area is a small publication titled A Brief Containing Suggestions for the Solution of the Freedomite Problem. Freedomites are a radical religious group that originated from the Russian Doukhobor sect which has many past and present settlements along the Columbia River in the western part of the Kootenays.

Scanned cover of publication

Cover of A Brief Containing Suggestions for the Solution of the Freedomite Problem

This booklet was released by the Advisory Committee on Doukhobor Affairs of the Kootenay Presbytery of the United Church of Canada in 1963 and contains practical information on how the government and citizens could deal with the public nudism and violent terrorism that was perpetrated by the Freedomite group at this time. One of the first things the booklet points out is the difference between Doukhobors and Freedomites. This is a very important distinction to make as the Doukhobors abhor violence of all kinds, making the actions of the Freedomite zealots very upsetting for them. Still, many British Columbians today – and even History professors – use the term ‘Doukhobor’ to refer to members of the Freedomite group, which is incorrect and can be upsetting for people of Doukhobor descent today.

Scan of page from booklet

Page from booklet

Since the Doukhobors, and subsequently the Freedomites, are an important part of B.C. history, you may want to learn more about them. Wikipedia is a great place to get started, as well as the website, which is primarily a genealogy website but also has many very informative articles on the Doukhobors as well as a number of links to other sites that can tell you more about the group. The UBC library catalogue shows many resources available to learn more about this group, over 600 of which are housed in our Rare Books and Special Collections library. We also have many primary sources to peruse in our archives, most of which can be found in the Doukhobor Collection.

In the Barber Centre, the Columbia River Room is room 316. It is a group study room located in the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre Library.


In this post in our series of B.C. places used as room names in the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre, we are going to feature Trail, B.C. We are also going to talk about archival appraisal, but first- a little bit about Trail!

Trail is a city in the Western Kootenay region of B.C., founded as a gold/copper ore mining and smelting town at the turn of the 20th century.  Smelting is still the major industry in Trail, but in their spare time Trail residents take their sports very seriously- according to the City of Trail website, “Trail has been declared BC’s Number One Sports Town offering a wealth of sports – from golfing and fishing to mountain biking, hiking and skiing, and especially hockey.”

It seems very apropos then to feature this photograph of a Trail hockey team from 1938:

Photograph of hockey team in uniform with sticks

Hockey team, Trail BC, W. G. Burch fonds

This photograph is found in the W.G. Burch fonds. Gerry Burch, as he is known, is a retired forester who grew up in Trail, and who donated his archival material to Rare Books and Special Collections, because he knows that our researchers are very interested in forest history (you can read more about our forestry history holdings through our Forestry History Research Guide).

So what, you may be wondering, does this hockey team have to do with forestry history? Why is this photograph kept as part of the collection? This is when a decision of archival appraisal is made. Unlike monetary appraisal, archival appraisal is a decision made to determine what is kept, and not kept, for long term preservation in an archival institution. Society simply creates too much documentation to preserve it all- it is an important part of an archivist’s role to make appraise archival material for what we call “retention”.

There are a lot of viewpoints that an archivist can use to make appraisal decisions, but generally, we archivists are looking for evidential or informational value in the records selected for preservation. In the example of the W.G. Burch fonds, the documents in the fonds that he generated during his career as a forester provide evidential value about forestry practices in B.C., and his activities more specifically. In the case of this hockey photograph, taken during Gerry’s youth (he’s in the back row on the far right) it provides informational value about the history of a B.C. town- in this case, Trail. Another factor that archivists would consider is the value in keeping the archives of a person or an organization together- we try our best to avoid “splitting a fonds” between archival institutions because the best way to understand a person’s life and work is to have the context of their archives remain intact.

In the Barber Centre, the Trail Meeting Room is room 491, which is part of the iSchool at UBC (the School of Library, Archival and Information Studies). iSchool students in the Masters of Archival Studies program learn about appraisal in ARST 520: Selection and Acquisition of Archival Documents.

In this installment of our blog series featuring resources from Rare Books and Special Collections relating to B.C. places used as room names in the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre, we will take a look at Namu. If you are not from B.C., the name “Namu” might bring memories of the famous captive whale (they even made a movie about him). To British Columbians, Namu is an abandoned cannery town and ancient First Nations site, about 150 km North of the tip of Vancouver Island, on B.C.’s central coast. In the Barber Centre, the Namu room is a meeting room on the first floor.

Namu is significant to First Nations communities and to archeologists because the site shows continuous, seasonal use for some 10,000 years (see these resources from Simon Fraser University.) In more recent times, Namu was used by fisheries as a cannery site. RBSC has a lot of collections related to canneries, including the B.C. Packer’s Association who ran the cannery in Namu throughout much of the 20th century. The photograph below, of the Namu Cannery however comes from our general historic photograph collections:


Historical photograph of cannery taken from water

Photo BC 1311/2, Namu Cannery


This photograph is on a postcard, and has been dated to around the 1920’s.

For descriptions of archival collections related to canneries:

– Perform an advanced search in the library catalogue
– Specify “archival/mixed collections” as the type and use keywords such as cannery, canning and canneries.

For more information on our photograph collections, please visit our Historical Photographs research guide.

Today marks the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, published in 1813 by Thomas Egerton. Rare Books and Special Collections is fortunate to have a first edition in our holdings, which was generously donated by a private donor last year. At some point in its life this copy must have lost its title pages, because they are facsimiles, but it is otherwise a very fine copy and excellent for research and study.

Image of book spines of three volume Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice in RBSC

Image of title page from Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice title page

If you would like to see it in person, you are welcome to come to RBSC‘s reading room anytime during our opening hours and request it! Remember that you do not need to be affiliated with UBC to use our resources.

Some Jane Austen/Pride and Prejudice links for you:

The Jane Austen House and Museum has launched a Pride and Prejudice 200 website with events, links, and articles. If you’re interested in the publication history of Pride and Prejudice, be sure to check out the article detailing “Examining Pride and Prejudice through letters” which discusses the history of its publications through archival sources.

Jane Austen fans have three societies to get involved with – the Jane Austen Society, the Jane Austen Society of North America, and the Jane Austen Society of Australia.

We love literature and poetry at Rare Books and Special Collections, so we’re pleased to wish you a Happy Burns Day! Burns Day celebrates the birth of Robert Burns in 1759, the great Scottish bard who gave us Tam ‘O Shanter, Auld Lang Syne, and A Red, Red Rose (and many others).

RBSC has a great Robert Burns collection thanks the A.M. Donaldson Burns Collection, which was purchased for UBC Library in 1962 by the Friends of the Library. The collection includes nearly all editions of Burns published up to that point, as well as critical and biographical materials, Scottish song books, works by other Scottish writers, and works about favourite “haunts” of Burns. To find RBSC’s Robert Burns material in the library catalogue:

– Go to the advanced search page
– Enter Robert Burns as the author name (or as any keyword, if you’re also interested in works about Burns)
– Specify Rare Books and Special Collections as the Location

You can also specify a range of dates if say, you want to only see results from the 18th or 19th century.

We also have A.M. Donaldson’s archival material, which can be quite interesting if you’re either a Burns researcher, or just interested in how book collections come together. One of the interesting things we have found in this archival collections are several Burns forgeries, listed in the finding aid in Box 2 file 7  (we haven’t had these verified as of yet but it’s safe to say they’re forgeries!)

Scan of a manuscript claiming to be by Robert Burns

“Ayr Water” Burns forgery from A.M. Donaldson fonds, Box 2 File 7

You may be wondering, why would a book collector (or a rare books library) be interested in forgeries? As long as you know a forgery is a fake and are not mistaking it for the real thing, forgeries can be quite interesting. Some forgers became so famous that their forgeries become famous in their own right! RBSC has a collection related to the famous forger Thomas J. Wise.

A couple of great Burns links for you:

The Robert Burns Birthplace Museum has great interactive displays and searchable online collections (and if you’re ever in Ayr, a visit in person is highly recommended!)

The Centre for Robert Burns Studies at University of Glasgow discusses their major scholarly work on Burns, and gives a great list of further links to explore.

Have you been missing our Featured Place posts as much as we’ve missed writing them? It’s a new year and we’re looking forward to featuring lots of B.C. places in 2013! For those new to our blog, this post is part of a series in which we find resources from Rare Books and Special Collections relating to B.C. places that are used as room names in the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre.

The Allison Harbour Room in the Barber Centre is room 263, one of the group study rooms in the south hallway.  Allison Harbour the place, according to B.C. Geographical names, is a harbour in the Queen Charlotte Straight, as well as a marine park. If you search the library catalogue for the phrase “Allison Harbour” and specify Rare Books and Special Collections, you get no results. If you search our website for the same, which is a strategy for searching our finding aids for specific references in our archival collections, you get one result, which is a file of articles about Allison Harbour, written by Gilean Douglas. Douglas was a poet, author and journalist who lived and worked in coastal B.C. from the 1940’s until her death in 1993. She describes Allison Harbour at the time of writing, probably the early 40’s:

“Four years before I saw it Allison Harbour was an old logging float, with sagging buildings which had been a house, store and shed. Melville and Victor Eckstein, who live there, say that in a few more years Allison will be one of the finest trading posts upcoast and they’ve gone a long way towards proving it. But right then they and an old trapper were the only residents, with space and solitude all around them.” (Gilean Douglas, “Allison Harbour on the Make,” File 2-11, Gilean Douglas fonds.)

Supposing you wanted to find more about Allison Harbour. This is a situation when starting out with a secondary source might give you more keywords to search for. Both B.C. Geographical Names and Wikipedia mention that Allison Harbour was formerly known as False Bay or False Schooner Passage. Our website search comes up with a couple of photographs of False Bay, and a catalogue search finds a map (False Schooner doesn’t find anything). But beware- there is more than one False Bay! One of the photographs is more likely taken in the False Bay off of Nanaimo (here is a digital version of it) and another is in South Africa.  The map is of the Clayoquot Sound district, showing (yet another) False Bay. False Bay has turned out to be a false lead!

Here are some other ideas for continuing this search:

–          Depending on what aspect of Allison Harbour you are interested in, you might use other clues from the secondary sources to form a search. For example, B.C. Geographical names says it was “named after Mr. Allison, manager of logging operations for the Smith-Dollar Lumber Company, circa 1922.” You could search for the Smith-Dollar Lumber Company if that was of interest to you. Or if you are interested in the marine park, you could search for collections or publications that have to do with B.C. parks more generally. Douglas’s articles also contain other descriptions and clues about this (apparently) little known B.C. place.

–          You can expand your search geographically. Now that we know Allison Harbour is in the Queen Charlotte Straight, you could use that as your search phrase to find maps, charts, publications and documents about the area in general.

–          One of the beautiful things about digitization is that OCR (Optical Character Recognition) technology allows you to full-text search a lot of scanned documents, whereas pre-digitization we relied only on the catalogue or finding aid. You can search UBC’s digital collections, or try the B.C. Historical Newspapers page for full-text searching possibilities.

Of course, no single library or archives can hold all possible information about any place or subject- it’s important to use other catalogues too. You can search the UBC Library Catalogue across all branches and online resources through Summon. You might also try MemoryBC, a database which brings together archival descriptions from across the province.

Happy 2013 and happy researching!

Rare Books and Special Collections, University Archives and the Chung Collection will be closed for Remembrance Day on Monday November 12, as are all branches of UBC Library (the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre is open but library operations within the building will be closed).

In honour of Remembrance Day, we’d like to feature one of our collections of wartime ephemera:

Poster depicting a nurse within a red cross

Saskatchewan million dollar campaign, June 17, 1922, SPAM 461C

This poster is part of our SPAM (Special Collections Pamphlet collection) and has been digitized as part of the World War poster collection, which features 40 posters from World Wars I and II. To learn more about our ephemeral collections, please visit our Ephemera Research Guide.

UBC will be holding a Remembrance Day Ceremony on November 11 in the War Memorial Gym. Details are available on the UBC Ceremonies website.

Today is the Day of Digital Archives, and I’m really pleased to be reporting on our experience preserving digital archives here at Rare Books and Special Collections! For the uninitiated, preserving digital archives is extremely challenging because of rapidly changing technology and the relative fragility of digital records- this is why a number of archivists have set aside a day to share experiences and get the word out there. You can check out the main Day of Digital Archives blog to read posts from other archivists, or follow the activity on Twitter using the hashtag #DayofDigArc.

All of the archival collections that we acquire here at RBSC come from external sources, usually donated to us by the person or organization who created the records to begin with. Almost every living creator of archives who I interact with is creating records in a digital form and in many cases, at least some of these records never become paper- this is what archivists call born digital records.

So what is an archivist to do? There has been a lot of research in this area, and tools developed, but as a whole the archival profession is no where near as experienced with digital records as we are with analogue records (paper, photographs, etc).

Here at RBSC we have been fortunate enough to partner with our Digital Initiatives unit, who are also very interested in digital preservation because they want to safeguard all of the digital material they create through digitization projects, and that comes to the library through cIRcle, our institutional repository. The Digital Initiatives Unit contracted local software development company Artefactual Systems to help us through this problem. We’re in pilot testing now- you can read a report on their website about our progress so far.

This is a diagram of the basic workflow we’re piloting in RBSC now:


Born digital acquisition workflow. Image credit: Artefactual Systems

We have acquired material over the years on external digital media- floppy disks, optical disks, and as a recent development in our pilot project, an external hard drive. We are using Archivematica open-source software as the central piece in our digital preservation system. It uses a number of micro services and follows the OAIS model to create a submission information package (SIP) from the external media; stores away an archival information package (AIP) using preservation-friendly formats and the original format (packaged with metadata about the records as well); and creates a dissemination information package (DIP) to create access copies for researchers to use. We’re using ICA-Atom software as our access system, and will be moving all of our archival finding aids into that system soon, so there will be a “one stop shop” to search for archival material in both digital and analogue formats.

This diagram makes the whole process look incredibly simple. The devil is, of course, in the details. We have had our fair share of technological and intellectual challenges along the way, and we’re still overcoming a lot of them now.  The future of our born-digital acquisitions is very much at the front of my mind. Probably 90% of my work as an archivist is still in the analogue realm, but over time that will shift. I would anticipate that at some point in the future, most archival acquisitions we make will be born-digital, or a hybrid of analogue and born-digital. Some archives employ archivists with the title “Digital Archivist” who are tasked with managing born-digital acquisitions exclusively- I wonder if someday the “digital” part of the title will just be considered redundant!

We have more questions than answers at this point, but some of the things we will be tackling in the coming months are:

  • Most of our analogue archival processing at RBSC is performed by students from the School of Library, Archival and Information Studies. How do we integrate them into our workflow for digital processing as well?
  • We are making a fantastic acquisition 0f born-digital images from a photo journalist (stay tuned!). The photojournalist is extremely organized and embeds descriptive metadata into all of his images. How can we leverage this metadata and make it available to researchers?
  • Part of our pilot project has been to process digital media donated to us over the past number of decades, including 3.5″ and 5.25″ floppy disks. The processing is extremely time consuming. Would it be more efficient to out source some of this work?
  • The transfer or licensing of rights in born-digital material is very different from analogue material. How will born-digital acquisitions change the way that we think about the intellectual property of our archival donors and creators?

The one answer I do feel like I have right now is that, it’s time to start trying and sharing experiences.  I think a lot of archivists (especially those of us who are just “normal” archivists without fancy digital titles!) are intimidated by the complications of digital preservation, and I won’t lie, it is a complicated endeavor. But there are things that you can do to get started:

  • Read this report from OCLC on First Steps for Managing Born-Digital Content Received on Physical Media. It is a really straight-forward outline of how to get started and promises that you will be able to sleep at night if you follow their advice!
  • Find partners in your institutions who might be interested in digital preservation goals. This might be a digital initiatives unit, an institutional repository, or the IT department.
  • Talk to local colleagues in your area- maybe there would be interest in sharing experiences and ideas.
  • Attend workshops and professional development opportunities. For example, keep an eye on the Archivematica homepage- you will see that Artefactual often attends conferences and offers workshops on their software (did I mention that Archivematica is free and open source?)

We’d love to hear your comments and perspective on digital preservation issues- please leave us a comment below!

Computer station with floppy disk drives

Our born-digital processing station. Note the 3.5″ and 5.25″ floppy drives.

A reminder that Rare Books and Special Collections, University Archives and the Chung Collection will be closed for Thanksgiving on Monday October 8, as are all branches of UBC Library (the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre will be open, but library operations will be closed).

Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate the harvest, so we think this farm photograph from the Chung Collection is appropriate to the season:

Black and white image of farm field and home

Farm home of F. Ray, CC-PH-05601

The photograph is part of an album taken by the Canadian Pacific Railway Company Department of Colonization ca 1920 in rural Alberta and Saskatchewan. The photograph has the following inscription:

“The home of F. Ray, a prosperous farmer in the North Battleford district. Mr. Ray began farming in this district in 1903 with only $45; he now has 1,300 acres of the “finest land that lays out of doors”, 75 horses, 240 head of cattle and a full line of machinery, which is all his. He threshed 17,000 bushels of grain this year. He says: “There is nothing to it; this is the only country for a man to get a start in if he is alive.” ”

Because the Chung Collection covers the operations of the CPR so well, and the CPR was heavily involved in colonizing farm land in Canada, it is a great resource for researching the history of agriculture in Canada. Try using the advanced search and trying keywords such as “farm,” “agriculture,” and “colonization.” You can narrow your search using the type of media, dates and more.

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


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