[The following was written by Trang Dang, who worked in UBC Archives in the Work Learn student employee programme from September 2019 to April 2020]
Being a graduate student of the UBC School of Information with an interest in archival processing, the Work Learn position with the UBC Archives provided me significant practical experiences. It helped reinforce my knowledge of archival theory and records management.
Since September 2019, I worked on several fonds and collections, including both institutional and personal records. With little previous working experience in archives, the gradual complexity of the assigned projects certainly helped me to become more proficient with archival arrangement and description.
I found personal archives unique and interesting, but it was not short of challenges, especially when records arrived “loose” with no obvious order, making it difficult to construct the context behind each record.
I started off with the accrued accession of the Joy Coghill fonds, from a Vancouver-based theatre director and actress, and a UBC alumna. It contained personal correspondence, miscellaneous records, and photographs. As the accrual didn’t have an “original” order, and the fonds was already arranged, the challenge came from identifying the records and assigning them to the appropriate existing series.
The photographs, which came in loose with many letters and cards in a black plastic bag, also posed difficulties due to the lack of context. Only a few of the prints had written information on the back such as dates, names and events, whereas the 35mm negatives were very small, making it hard to determine the subject. After consulting with my supervisor, we decided to keep only photographs with Joy Coghill in them, both by herself and with other individuals. Most of those individuals were unidentifiable except for Coghill’s immediate family such as her mother, husband, and daughters. To help with identification of some of the events and people a relative of Coghill had agreed to come to the Archives, and she went through the photographs with us. The prints that she couldn’t identify were then scanned and emailed to Coghill’s daughter for further assistance. Unprocessed and unidentified materials were returned to Coghill’s family.
The small research collection on Sister Mary Gonzaga collected by Barbara Gibson was straight-forward in terms of arrangement and description. Nonetheless, it was fascinating to discover that Sister Gonzaga’s letters were being held at UBC Rare Books and Special Collections. These two collections are closely connected and complement each other.
Eventually, the projects became bigger in size and so did my tasks, including researching historical background, identifying the intellectual order, and compiling the description for the entire fonds. Processing the personal archives of Laurenda Daniells, the first University Archivist, was not too challenging as the majority of records relating to her professional life had already been arranged in series upon accrual. However, similar to the difficulties encountered in Joy Coghill fonds, more time was needed to process the materials recording her personal life.
On the other hand, institutional records also came with its own challenges. For the Division of Industrial Education fonds, I first needed to compile the file list of each box. As the fonds didn’t come in an “original” order, my job was to determine the series and then physically rearrange the records accordingly.
The most challenging project were the records of the Xwi7xwa Library, a sous-fonds of the Library fonds. The difficulty arose from the complicated history of the records creator. Before becoming the official branch of the UBC Library, it was part of the Indian Education Resources Centre, and then the First Nations House of Learning. As it was not easy to determine which records were created by the Xwi7xwa Library itself, we decided to keep all except for duplicate records, and those that contained personal information.
Overall, besides the hands-on experiences in archival processing, my biggest lesson taken from this Work Learn position was the importance of decision-making and its documentation. Sometimes the archivist has to determine the order of the archives, and sometimes it might not be the best arrangement, therefore, it is critical to document any decisions during the process.