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.
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