Category Archives: Archivy

Our students – Melanie Leverich

After two terms at the School of Library, Archival and Information Studies at UBC, I was lucky to spend twelve beautiful summer weeks in the care of the Archives with my co-intern Cristen Polley.

Ah, the Archives! Shelves of ancient, crumbling volumes disappearing into shadowed heights, honeycomb walls of coiled scrolls, one skeletal, omniscient archivist-monk carrying a lantern… I can imagine hypothetical archivists and conservators cringing in horror. If you’ve read as many fantasy novels as I have and have been afflicted with similar fantasies/nightmares, I can assure you that the inside of the modern archives is much more sensible altogether, all uniform rows of acid-free boxes, labeled and ordered. Dust is out, HVACs, environmental standards and lint-free gloves are in. The labyrinthine memory of the mortal archivist is vastly improved upon by systematic arrangement and archival description databases. Gothic architecture or no Gothic architecture, in the archives—the real archives—there is still a sense of awe in the presence of the remains of history, an awareness of its fragility before the ink-fading, data-corrupting streams of time.

Records from the Victorian Order of Nurses. Photo by Cristen Polley.

Records from the Victorian Order of Nurses. Photo by Cristen Polley.

Earlier this summer, archivist Chak Yung showed us to the boxes of unprocessed records we would spend the next month with, closely examining, analyzing, inventorying, describing and rehousing in archival-quality containers. Based on study of the records, we would reconstruct the lives of the records’ creators, their activities, and the logic of their recordkeeping system for future researchers—not always a straightforward task, since most of us don’t organize or label our files with their eventual comprehensibility to total strangers in mind. Continue reading

Our students – Cristen Polley

Since I began my archival studies degree, I have been keen to get some hands-on experience. This summer, the City of Vancouver Archives took me in for a three-month internship.

On my first day, archivist Chak Yung introduced me to fourteen boxes of records from City Stage Theatre, which I would process over the next month. I was fortunate to be assigned a fonds with a diversity of materials. The City Stage fonds includes textual records (such as correspondence and play scripts), newspaper clippings, promotional materials (such as colorful handbills, posters, and programs for plays), stage plans, Playhouse magazines, reel-to-reel audio tapes, and approximately 500 (mostly professional black and white) photographs.

A sample from the City Stage Theatre fonds - Playboard magazines, reel-to-reel audio tapes, box office reports, and sheet music from a theatrical production. Photograph by Mel Leverich

A sample from the City Stage Theatre fonds – Playboard magazines, reel-to-reel audio tapes, box office reports, and sheet music from a theatrical production. Photograph by Mel Leverich.

It was a pleasure to be assigned to the City Stage Theatre fonds, as it documents a fascinating part of Vancouver’s theatre history. City Stage Theatre was a professional theatre company based in Vancouver that operated from 1972-1986 and was founded and managed by Ray Michal, a passionate advocate for theatre in this city. In its early days, the theatre was located in a converted donut shop at 591 Howe Street where they offered short shows over the noon hour for the downtown business crowd and local residents. As Michal explained in an interview, “we wanted to break some of the preconceived notions of what going to the theatre was all about … You could just walk up to the shop, and buy an hours’ worth of theatre. Just like you could walk up to the deli and get yourself a corned beef sandwich” (AM1560-S6-F50). Continue reading

History Of The Archives

This post was written by Marek Bula.

The Archives has a long history. Here’s a look at how we grew.

J.S. Matthews’ home, where the archives were kept before being moved to the Holden Building in 1931. Reference code AM54-S4-: Str P90.01

In 1931, Major J.S. Matthews’ extensive personal collection of photos and documents relating to Vancouver was moved to the Holden Building, Vancouver’s temporary City Hall at 16 East Hastings. This included thousands of documents and photographs—such as interviews with early pioneers and aboriginal people—relating to the history and development of the City of Vancouver.  Continue reading

Our Students – Rachel Sim

The City of Vancouver Archives was kind enough to adopt me as an intern this summer. Never before has twelve weeks passed by so quickly! During my time at the Archives, I had the pleasure of dabbling in a number of aspects of archival work, including some unexpected outreach work acting as a researcher in the Archives’ new instructional video.

Rachel hard at work as Researcher #1 in the Archives’ 2012 how-to video. Still from video.

Artistic expression aside, I can now proudly say that I have processed a group of records from start to finish, appraising, selecting, arranging and describing the records of Richard Dopson, a prominent member of the Vancouver gay community and an important individual in the development of gay sports in the city. Organizing the records created over the last 30 years of passionate involvement on the part of Mr. Dopson was no small task! Vancouver hosted the Gay Games in 1990 and Dopson was co-chair of this international event. Continue reading

Our Students – Kevin Owen

There are a number of things which bring joy to an archivist’s heart: the tactile pleasure of (carefully!) handling an old and worn ledger, the completion of a meticulously-filled spreadsheet of file and item descriptions, rows upon rows of immaculate Hollinger boxes, and trays of homemade treats in the office. However, as an intern at the City of Vancouver Archives over the summer, I came to learn that it is often the many large and small discoveries which occur in the process of archival work that end up being the most gratifying and memorable experiences.

Kevin Owen with Major Matthews and Jack the Cat. Photograph by Rachel Sim.

Some of these discoveries are of the dramatic variety, such as when you are removing a piece of art from a frame for rehousing, only to find that the backing board in the frame is in fact a painted photograph from the 1890s. Continue reading

SAA 2012 Annual Meeting in San Diego – Beyond Borders

My self-funded trip to San Diego to attend the Society of American Archivists Annual Meeting was a fantastic professional experience. I met some great people who are working on inspiring projects.

The view from the San Diego convention center. Photo by Cindy McLellan

Keynote speaker Jon Voss of Historypin set an exciting tone for the conference with his thoughtful and passionate multi-media presentation. Not an archivist himself, Voss does enjoy working with archivists and started working with and thinking about linked open data back in the early 1990s. Continue reading

ACA Whitehorse 2012

Whitehorse was the location of this year’s Association of Canadian Archivists conference. Archivists from as far away as Brazil and New Zealand joined Canadian archivists for three days of learning, sharing, networking and debate. The theme of the conference was ‘Archival Gold.’ We were privileged to have Dr. Ken Coates, who grew up in Whitehorse, begin the first morning with a wonderful keynote speech sharing his historical knowledge of Canada’s North, his appreciation of Archives as rich sources of much of that knowledge, and the importance of teaching history to children.

Jeremy Heil, Glenn Dingwall and Peter Van Garderen answering questions at the end of their session. Photo by Cindy McLellan

The City of Vancouver Archives was again well represented at the ACA conference. Digital Archivist Glenn Dingwall was part of the panel session Developing Digital Information Infrastructure for Canadian Archives and spoke about the policy and planning decisions made at the Archives that were necessary to transition from a digitization program to a full-blown digital preservation program. Project Archivist Cindy McLellan (self-funded) shared with fellow archivists the workflow we have developed for preserving video materials digitally, using the Yaletown Productions fonds as an example. Continue reading

DigCCurr 2012

This past May, I was fortunate to participate in the DigCCurr Professional Institute on Curation Practices for the Digital Object Lifecycle at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH). Led by UNC-CH faculty members Dr. Helen Tibbo and Dr. Christopher (Cal) Lee and taught by digital curation experts, the DigCCurr Institute brings together government, university, and private-sector information professionals for a week’s study of strategies and methods for the long-term management of digital materials.

DigCCurr 2012 instructors and participants on the last day of the Institute

Of the 35 participants in the Institute, I was the only municipal government employee; other participants came from institutions as diverse as the Yukon Archives, the University of Melbourne, the Silicon Valley-based Computer History Museum, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Despite our institutions’ respective differences in size, location, and acquisition mandate, the results of the pre-institute survey that participants completed showed similarities in both the nature of our holdings and the difficulties we face in caring for them. Continue reading

From Suitcases and Cigar Boxes – Or: How Do Our Holdings Grow?

Here at the City of Vancouver Archives, we adhere to a Canadian archival principle called “total archives”. This means that we acquire, preserve, and make accessible records from all sectors of society—local government, private industry, cultural institutions, organizations, families, individuals, etc.—and in all formats. Also, because we are the municipal archives for Vancouver, our holdings must relate to some aspect of the history of our city.

The portions of our holdings that come from the City of Vancouver government come to us systematically through the City’s records management program.  Those parts that we acquire from the private sector (local businesses, families, associations, etc.) arrive here in a variety of ways, often unexpectedly and sometimes in surprising packages.

Just a few examples of containers donations arrive in.

In many cases, people with records to offer will either call or email us asking if we would be interested in what they have. When this happens, Continue reading

A Day in the Lives of 2 Archivists Gone Digital

Digitizing video for preservation and access (Cindy McLellan)

 The City of Vancouver is an exciting city to be a part of at the moment for many reasons. Celebrate Vancouver 125 events have been taking place throughout 2011 all over the city to celebrate 125 years since Vancouver’s incorporation in 1886. The City is involved with the open government movement, with Vancouver’s open data catalogue, now over one year old being one open information source. Setting the goal of being the greenest city by 2020, Vancouver is asking its citizens to contribute their ideas and make lasting changes.

From my position at the City of Vancouver Archives I mention these broad City initiatives because they have important commonalities: collaboration, innovation, and interdisciplinary participation. Working as a Digital Archivist I see all three of these characteristics as key to any successful digital archives project. At the Archives we are involved in ICA-Atom and Archivematica development, both collaborative and innovative projects that require input from multiple disciplines. Multiple memory institutions, archivists, programmers, designers and researchers have all contributed unique and necessary input to these open source projects.

Hybrids: Approach with caution and other smart people

I was hired in March to arrange and describe the Yaletown Productions Inc. fonds, which consists of the records of a local film production company. The records date from company director Michael Collier’s university days in 1969, as a member of the Simon Fraser University Film Workshop, under Stan Fox, to 2001 television show proposals stored on a computer hard drive. In addition to having both paper and digital records (which archivists call a “hybrid” fonds), this donation includes hundreds of hours of film and video material consisting of raw footage, completed productions, and everything in between. It has been my challenge to appraise, digitize, preserve, arrange, describe, and make available to the public these materials in all their various formats. Much of this work involved the straightforward application of archival theory and practice.

Part rabbit part antelope hybrid

Photograph by Mark Freeman (Free-ers on flickr). Hybrids, at first glance may seem to be cute and cuddly creatures, upon further investigation however, these unpredictable monsters, born of uncontrolled digital environments are actually quite frightening. Approach with caution and a team of knowledgeable people.

In the detailed planning required for digital preservation, no one should labour alone. The atmosphere among those with this responsibility is one of sharing. Staying in touch through wikis, blogs, our time together at conferences, listservs, and simply being a small and active community, digital archivists need not, and should not, Continue reading