Discover Waterloo Digital Library

Monday, February 26, 2018

It has been said that ‘those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.’ University of Waterloo Library wants to save you from that fate, by opening up Waterloo’s history to the world.

The Waterloo Digital Library (WDL) is a new online repository for preserving and sharing select items from our unique special and archival collections, with Waterloo researchers and beyond.

Aerial view of the University of Waterloo campus under construction. Dana Porter Library and Modern Languages building visible at centre.

Aerial of University of Waterloo in 1966.

Working in partnership with Special Collections & Archives (SC&A), the Library’s Digital Initiatives department built the WDL using Islandora - a modern and flexible platform for the long-term preservation of many media types.

The beta version of the WDL launched in April of 2017, with early University of Waterloo newsletters and digitized images from the Kitchener-Waterloo Record Photographic Negative Collection, including early aerial photos of campus and some of the first student convocations.

Since then, the online archive has grown to include over 2,000 images and documents easily discoverable by researchers, students or those just looking for a "cool pic" …something Digital Archivist Danielle Robichaud recognizes is often what users are looking for.

Image of students watching Dave McCarthy play pinball.

Looking for cool pics? It doesn't get much cooler than these students relieving some stress at a pinball tournament in 1976.

Saving history from itself

Waterloo’s Special Collections & Archives holds materials in many formats, including text, photograph, audio, visual and digital. As formats become obsolete or deteriorate over time (have you tried backing up your old floppy discs lately?) we recognize that there is a need to rescue the valuable content they contain to ensure its long term availability to future teaching and research use.

The WDL provides the foundation for ‘future-proofing’ work produced at the University, ensuring old, new and even yet-unthought-of digital formats are captured with a long-term strategy to ensure the preservation of Waterloo’s historical and cultural record.

Image of Donald Cowan seated while explaining a computer to high school students.

Speaking of obsolete, your smart phone is about a million times more powerful than this machine in University of Waterloo's Computer Centre in 1965.

Engage with the past, emerge with the future

At a university so focused on innovation, you may wonder about the benefit of investing in our archival collections - but innovation is not a new concept at Waterloo. The Waterloo Digital Library’s holdings reflect that, in collections that span from the University of Waterloo Bibliography, to newsletters published by Gay Liberation of Waterloo (GLOW) and a fan zine produced by the University of Waterloo Science Fiction Club.

Front cover of Quarterly (May 1970)

Quarterly (May 1970). From the University of Waterloo Bibliography.

Cover of GLOW News (May 1983)

GLOW News (May 1983). From the Gay Liberation of Waterloo archives.

Cover of Starsongs (n.01)

Starsongs (n.01). From the University of Waterloo Science Fiction Club archives.


The Library’s archives are also a unique and valuable resource often used in teaching and research at Waterloo, and sometimes even inspire works of art.

Ian Milligan, Associate Professor of History at University of Waterloo, sees the potential for this resource to inspire a new generation of students: “many have a real interest in the University's history - how Waterloo was different in the 1960s, for example, or how our unique student culture evolved.”

Student life in Waterloo's early years:

Image of Boris Kou shaking hands with a smiling Douglas Wright over a registration table as two seated students, Diana McDonald and Beverley Hollatz, look on.

Waterloo's first Chinese student registers for class in 1960.

Image of cranes and piles of rubble outside the Dana Porter Library during its initial construction.

Waterloo students: navigating Library renovations since 1964.

Image of Toks Oshinowo sitting at a desk and reading The Enginelus while holding a pair of glasses.

Toks Oshinowo was co-founder of the International Student Association, and President of the Engineering Society.


"The Waterloo Digital Library holds great promise for researchers"

Milligan goes on the express how the Waterloo Digital Library “holds great promise for researchers interested in the history of the University of Waterloo or the diverse areas that Special Collections & Archives has holdings in. As these collections are digitized and made available through the site, researchers will benefit by easily finding the information that they want, through keyword searches, exploring thumbnails, and reading descriptions. The high-quality scans allow them to read the documents or study pictures at home - and when they do come in person, they can find the information they need more efficiently.”

Local historians and researchers will enjoy discovering photographs of turn-of-the-century Waterloo Region in the Company of Neighbours fonds or flipping through the Moyer, Abraham Nash : travel album, which Robichaud describes in a recent Waterloo Region Record feature article as a “charming scrapbook” chronicling the visit of a Kansas man to the area in 1899.

Yesterday’s tomorrows

While Digital Initiatives staff continue to refine and enhance the site’s functionality, moving toward hosting newly-created digital displays and content, Danielle Robichaud continues to digitize and upload archival materials. Work on this digital archive will continue over the years, providing global access to the archives in a more efficient and accessible way, increasing their discoverability, use, citation and impact.

Not everything will be added to the WDL - items that are fragile, highly-used or support teaching and learning at Waterloo will be prioritized; however, all the physical items in the archives are available to the University of Waterloo community - and the public - to use. As Nick Richbell, Head of Special Collections & Archives, enthused, “we still want people to experience the wonder of touching this material.”

Waterloo Digital Library is constantly evolving; you can help us improve it by providing feedback about the site using our contact form. To learn more about this resource, visit Special Collections & Archives, or the Dana Porter, Davis Centre or Musagetes Library research help desks for a WDL postcard, collectible buttons featuring images from the collection, and answers from one of our friendly staff members.

Librarian helping students

Engineering students getting research help from their subject librarian in 1966.


Images are from the Kitchener-Waterloo Record Photographic Negative Collection, unless otherwise noted, and can be found on the Waterloo Digital Library or by visiting Special Collections & Archives on the first floor of University of Waterloo's Dana Porter Library.

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