Variety is the spice of life

Hi, my name is Sue and I am a Library Associate in Special Collections & Archives. When I started here in November 2015 I knew there would be a lot of variety to my days, but I hadn’t anticipated just how much!

With our blog, we like to profile some of the interesting, curious or one of a kind items from our archival collections and rare books. We also want to show you what we do here day to day to help demystify the archives world.

First off, full confession – there are times when I go into our closed stacks to shelve an item, and a rare book title catches my eye. I can’t resist, I pull it off the shelf and gently leaf through it. I love to admit how often the words “wow” or “cool” come to mind when I see the books and other material we have, and I think in this profession you never lose that feeling of wonder, at least I hope I don’t. 

Title page

The Useful Family-Herbal; or, An Account of all Those English Plants which are remarkable for their Virtues, and of the Drugs which are produced by Vegetables of other Countries; with their Descriptions and their Uses, as proved by Experience. 1789

Recently, I put together a water-themed exhibit celebrating UN World Water Day . Searching our fonds for material made me more familiar with our holdings and their creators, such as Dr. Noel Hynes, founder of the biology department here at UW and the Canadian Coalition on Acid Rain. I also learned how to select and prepare images for display on the digital screen in our exhibit cases. Stay tuned for next month’s exhibit on Romantic poet, Robert Southey!

Women wading in the Grand River

Wading in the Grand River, circa 1920. BHC 459-1-e

We receive many image reproduction requests from members of the UW community and the general public. As well as images within our archival fonds, and photographs, negatives and slides from UW, we have over 2 million negatives taken between the years 1938 and 2001 by staff photographers at the Kitchener-Waterloo Record (now the Waterloo Region Record) and its predecessors. These image requests involve searching our databases for images, scanning negatives or prints to a particular resolution, and sending the digital files and credit information to the researcher.

Women wading in the Grand River circa 1920

Belwood Lake Lions Camp, 1947. Kitchener-Waterloo Record Photographic Negative Collection 47-440-e

One current project is the barcoding of our archival collections. An hour or more of my day may involve going into the closed stacks noting the boxes on a series of numbered shelves with their corresponding fonds and file numbers. I then enter that information into the Library’s catalog and assign barcodes like the ones you would see on books in the general library collection. When you visit us (please do!) to perform research using our rare books or archives we now charge these items to you while you’re in our reading room. This project assists us with inventory control as well as giving us an idea of how often particular books or archival collections are being requested.

What I really enjoy? Seeing a student walk in looking unsure and a bit intimidated, and welcoming them. We are here for students, staff, faculty as well as the general public. Certainly there are some restrictions because of the fragile, rare and valuable nature of our holdings, but we try to be as accommodating as possible so as to share these treasures and have them be of use to both members of the UW community and the general public. We’ve had students walk in simply asking to see a “cool, old book” and we are happy to show you one or several!

In summary, we have thousands of incredible books, images and documents, and we’re very friendly and helpful – come see us!

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