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U of Calgary offers a new state-of-the-art home for a massive collection of Western Canadian history

Acquiring the Glenbow collection, now housed primarily at the High Density Library, has doubled the university’s archival collection.


Since the University of Calgary’s High Density Library (HDL) opened in 2010, thousands of books, journals and archival materials have passed through its doors to be carefully placed on towering shelves and in temperature-controlled storage spaces. Over the past two years, the HDL has welcomed a huge number of new materials as part of a massive, complex relocation of Calgary’s Glenbow Library and Archives – documents and other items reflecting the history of Alberta and Western Canada – to U of Calgary. The transfer of materials, which began in March 2019 and is set to be completed in November 2020, has doubled the university’s archival collection as well as the materials in its rare books and special collections holdings, says Annie Murray, associate university librarian for archives and special collections.

Facilities manager Blair Cherniawsky uses an order picker to retrieve material from storage in the High Density Library. Photo by Mariah Wilson.

While some items will be held in the Taylor Family Digital Library on the main campus to allow for easy access by the university’s digitization team, the bulk of the Glenbow collection will be housed in the HDL at U of Calgary’s Spy Hill campus. As Ms. Murray points out, the HDL has played a vital role in the move. Having already completed a huge transfer of less-used materials from the Taylor Family Digital Library to the HDL, it was “proof of concept [for staff] that such a massive undertaking could be done.” Although staff were daunted, she says, they knew how the Glenbow move would work. Additionally, by storing certain materials in the HDL, sought-after campus real estate and library space could be used for other purposes, such as reading room and meeting spaces in the recently built Glenbow Western Research Centre.

Ms. Murray says the Glenbow’s rich collection of primary sources about Western Canada – roughly 22 million pages of textual records, two million photographs, 125,000 books, 15,000 maps, 600 hours of audio recordings and 4,000 videos and films – is a good fit for U of Calgary and can be incorporated into teaching and learning. And, while the institution has also committed to preserving these materials, the Glenbow collection is available for public access.

Susan Powelson, associate university librarian for technology, discovery and digital services, notes the move and the large-scale digitization of the collection are a boon for both scholars and individuals looking into the history of topics such as pioneer life, ranching and agriculture, the petroleum industry, politics, policing, labour, women and the arts. “Whether they’re academic researchers from Calgary, Alberta, or around the world, or whether they’re community researchers, they can now go to one place and find access through our tools to a wide range of resources that previously would have been [at] the Glenbow and … here,” she says.

The COVID-19 pandemic created some speed bumps in the move, but the project will still likely be completed within its two-year timeline. “When the pandemic started, we were 80 percent moved,” Ms. Murray says. Archivists and library staff spent the last few months working from home, transcribing and digitizing and will, once it’s safe to do so, return to campus to see the results of their efforts in-person.

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