The Glenbow Museum’s library and archive reading room have been a popular spot for Calgarians, tourists, and local researchers for decades. But, the archives are now under new management as the rich collection of history recently made the move to its new home at the University of Calgary’s Taylor Family Digital Library.
The Glenbow Museum’s collection of archives is moving from its former home at the downtown location to the University of Calgary’s new site, to try and make it more accessible to people. The Calgary Journal explored why they are doing this, how greater accessibility will factor in and what this looks like in practice. Video by Noel Harper and Christian Kindrachuk
In October of 2019, the Glenbow Western Research Centre opened to the public. The space, which sits above the Nickel Galleries, features a work area for students and other researchers to study the material, as well as a large archival vault to store the collection.
The university will be taking care of the Glenbow archives for the next 99 years, in a long-term loan from the museum. The loan was made in an apparent bid to increase accessibility to the archives. This includes longer viewing hours — five days a week, up from three — a digital database, and continued public availability.
“We expect that it will take at least another six months to potentially a year to bring over everything,” says Jenny Conway Fisher, Manager of Marketing and Communications for the Glenbow Museum.
Fisher names access as the primary reason for the move and says that adding the Glenbow material to what the University already offers a unique opportunity for research.
“The University also has their collection…that also reflects very similar timeframes and interests,” she says. “The two coming together is really interesting and complementary.”
The research centre presents a more focused approach to viewing the archival material, but can also allow for spontaneous discovery of the material at the space on any given day.
The University of Calgary’s High Density Library, located in Spy Hill, is where the majority of the Glenbow collection will be held. The building features towering shelves and held a reading room, which will be closed to accommodate the Glenbow project.
The entrance to the Glenbow Western Research Centre, a new installation at the University of Calgary’s Taylor Family Digital Library, where part of the Glenbow Archives will be held. Photo by Noel Harper
“The way people access [the Glenbow Archives] is a little bit different. If you need physical material, then you need to make a request the day before, and then they go to the High-Density Library and extract it, and pull it out for you to access,” says Fisher. “It’s such an interesting facility in the sense of, it’s a way of physically protecting and caring for all the material in a highly temperature-controlled space while being really technologically advanced in terms of how they access stuff.”
As the public comes to the University to use the Glenbow archives, University resources will continue to be used in different ways, potentially shifting the dynamic of the campus.
“We were used to having about 500 people a month come by Glenbow — that’s more than the university is used to having … it’s not going to be just students and researchers and academics — it’s going to be much more than that,” says Fisher.
Annie Murray, the University’s Associate Librarian for the Archives and Special Collections department, has already noticed increased traffic to the Taylor Library since opening the research centre.
“Certainly, our busyness has increased as we began housing the Glenbow materials because we made things available as they have moved. We have been getting used to it since March, and it’s just been building up,” Murray says. “We are 33 per cent busier than we used to be.”
A storefront display of archived material from newspapers, including a column by past Calgary Herald reporter Kenneth E. Liddell, which can be seen at the Glenbow Western Research Centre. Photo by Noel Harper
Murray has been working on the move for 18 months, overseeing a team of 14 people to help facilitate the massive undertaking while working closely with the Glenbow. In doing so, the intimate knowledge of the Glenbow collection is gradually being passed down to those at the university.
“It doesn’t replicate the knowledge of someone who’s worked there forever, obviously, but there are all of these signposts there for us to be able to follow,” Murray says.
Not everyone is happy with the move. This replication of knowledge for the archives is one of the reasons that some Calgarians are concerned. Despite talk of further accessibility, the new locations of the collection, as well as the Glenbow’s new direction as a whole, is worrying local researchers.
“We are sympathetic and we understand that it’s a different experience people will have here,” Murray says. “But our service ethic is the same … It's the same philosophy, to make the collections as open as possible.”
Despite possible differences, Murray hopes to maintain the collection to a high standard moving forward.
“We will be the presence for their archives and library holdings, which are exemplary and deserve the [ut]most care and protection. It’s a very important collection for people in Alberta.”
- By Noel Harper and Christian Kindrachuk