Its Graham here, come to say thank you and goodbye with my last blog post as my co-op term at the University of Waterloo Library Special Collections & Archives comes to end. These past 8 months have been an amazing time; I have learned so much, had a fabulous amount of experience, and met some great people along the way. I wanted to publish my last blog post with a short description of the experiences I have had along the way.
First things first, my main project was awesome: I did the appraisals and descriptions for just under 4000 pre-1801 rare books. Coming into my co-op term, I was lucky enough to have experience working with a handful of interesting rare books, but the sheer number and variety of books I was able to handle in the last 8 months was fabulous. I discovered book structures that I had never seen before, saw amazing illustrations and prints, and learned the ups and downs of creating rare-book housings. Thanks to this experience and some help from the most knowledgeable rare-book librarian/archivist I know, Jessica Blackwell, my knowledge base and understanding of rare books greatly increased.
My co-op term wasn’t all sitting in the stacks reading rare books. Quite a few times I found myself out interacting with students and the larger public at outreach events. I consider myself pretty passionate about rare books and archives, and the opportunity to share this with others was not to be missed. I found myself at public events such as Doors-Open Waterloo Region and the Kitchener Public Library Genealogy Fair with Nick Richbell and Jessica Blackwell sharing our knowledge and love of all things archives.
Another project that I was really excited about during my tenure at Special Collections & Archives was processing an entire archival fonds (collection) on my own. In my opinion, the heart and soul of any archives is their ability to effectively make available the collections that they have identified and deemed worthy of preserving, and the description and arrangement of these records (aka processing) is the most important part of this. Getting to sit down with 4 large boxes of raw unprocessed files was both amazing experience for my career and all-around an exciting and challenging treasure hunt.
There is a trove of other great experiences that I have taken away from this co-op term that I unfortunately don’t have space to discuss, but I would like to close with a final thought regarding what I have learned about the field Archives over the past 8 months. A prevalent perspective of archives sees them as a repository for old and inactive records and simply guardians of the core building blocks of history. Though these ideas are valid I have found that they limit the opportunities that I see in the archives every day. Archives are not just a passive space to reflect on our past but a place for active creation. The UWaterloo Special Collections & Archives, for example, affords opportunities for the creation of art, literature, and even music though the inspiration found by diving into the stacks. An exploration of our collections provides the building blocks for creativity to flourish, to inspire, and to challenge. The archives are a place for the creation of new ideas, and they allow us to take a candid look upon the structures and norms in our society and challenge them from the ground up. This past year has helped me to discover that we need to dispel the idea that archives are simply a sedimentary deposit of history instead of a place of creation and new ideas; sometimes looking back moves us forward. So come down and visit Special Collections & Archives, say hello to me before I leave, and see what inspiration you can find in our collections.
Lastly, I would like to give one huge thank you to the Special Collections & Archives staff, Nick Richbell, Jessie Blackwell, Danielle Robichaud, Martha Lauzon, and Sue Plouffe. You were all so welcoming and fun to work with, you truly made this co-op term into the amazing experience it was. Thanks to everyone in the Library that I met over the last 8 months: I look forward to working with all of you in the Library and Archives field after my graduation in April!
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