archives are magic


A Book of Hours, a collection of prayers, modelled by my colleagues

I had the pleasure of touring the Western University Archives not once, but twice! As part of the newly formed UWO student chapter of the Association of Canadian Archivists, I went on a tour with my fellow future archive fans. The response was so positive that we organized a second tour for other MLIS students which I went on as a chapter liaison. University Archivist Robin Keirstead guided our groups through two fantastic tours, sharing information about the physical space of the archive and its collections and their use.

As you enter Western University Archives you walk into the John A. Schweitzer Gallery which doubles as a foyer. Here are several display cases that are used for a variety of purposes: showcasing unique collections from the archives (like Emma Donoghue’s manuscripts of Room), displaying art pieces, and even final projects from the Public History department. From there, we entered the Reading Room, a wide open room filled with long wooden tables lined with chairs. Here we collectively oohed and aahed over select items picked from the archive’s collection of rare books.








One thing I learned that I thought was particularly interesting was the reuse of manuscripts for various purposes. Above on the left we have a pristine page from an illuminated manuscript, carefully stored. On the right is a manuscript that was recovered from the binding of a book undergoing repair. In most circumstances, the archive would have this page repaired and cleaned but chose to keep it in its condition as an example of its history. It’s so interesting to think about how highly valued and precious these items are, yet the creators were liberal in reusing them, not knowing the monetary and historical value future archivists, curators, and collectors would place on them.


After hanging out with some old books, our groups were taken into the massive compact storage area, and we all fell in love. I don’t know what it is about packed shelving but it sure has an effect on LIS students! In this area, the archive stores university records, items from Western Libraries, and other items. One memorable collection was the photographs from a local paper, kept in fridges and freezers to save the film from disintegrating as it ages. From here we were shown a small room of moving stacks filled with more rare books and special collections. Western University Archives has a particularly interesting collection of John Milton which is often requested for research. Mr. Keirstead shared a story of an Australian researcher who visited to use two pocket-sized copies of Paradise Lost as she was researching the relationship between the sizes of these books, common at the time of their production, and the dimensions of breast pockets available in men’s clothing. As these smaller books would change size, the clothing to accommodate them would as well. It goes to show that you never can guess exactly what kind of research collections can support!

A huge thank you to Western University Archives and University Archivist Robin Keirstead for showing us around! If you’re interested in learning more about the Archives, visit their website here for more information.


2 thoughts on “archives are magic

  1. In regards to the Australian researcher’s work, I wonder how this is manifested nowadays with the ever changing size and shape of things we keep in our pockets. In particular our cellphones.

    And in what way does that influence the pockets of women’s clothing, which I’ve heard practically nothing but bad things about because of their size or (lack of) depth.

    • I thought the same thing on our tour! Most purses have something close to a phone sized inner pocket but they often aren’t made large enough to fit a phone with a case. I’m going to try to find her research and see if she made any conclusions for a contemporary equivalent.

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