Imagine taking a History course about the Cold War, that dangerous and extraordinary period which continues to impact our world today. Combing through journals and history books would be necessary for researching the final paper, but what if students could also read, touch, and analyze a collection of pamphlets published at the time by the Canadian government to prepare the population for nuclear attack? This is the type of resources that students and faculty can access in the Archives and Special Collections at the MRU Library—it’s a teaching and research resource that provide direct evidence of the past.
The Archives and Special Collections now offers an online database that allows Library users to access rare primary sources from the classroom or even from the comfort of their own homes. Archives Search, launched on October 25, contains descriptions of over 2,600 historical records held by the Archives and Special Collections. It also contains over 1,400 digitized photographs and documents, allowing far greater access to these sources while also helping to preserve fragile originals.
“Archives contain the unique unpublished primary sources that history is written from,” explains Archivist and Special Collections Librarian Peter Houston. The launch of this new online resource is a big step towards his goal of connecting as many students and faculty as possible to the Archives’ valuable collections so that they can be used for teaching and research. Since some records are so delicate, having a digital copy will also help to preserve the originals for future generations.
Archives Search is now available via the Archives and Special Collections webpage. Simply enter a search term and the database will find all available relevant records. Most records have to be accessed in person in the Archives’ Reading Room on the 4th floor of the Library, but those that have been digitized are available as downloadable high resolution images. There’s also an Archives Research Guide for those who may be new to searching and using archival materials.
The search database currently holds 10 percent of total Archives collections. Houston encourages users who don’t find what they’re looking for to contact the Archives. Descriptions and digitized records will be gradually added to Archives Search over time. Houston says the Archives team prioritizes collections that are relevant to current courses at MRU, or that are accessed most frequently by researchers or instructors who bring their classes to Archives for instruction.
“This summer we’ve digitized a new collection of medieval manuscripts (some of which are up to 800 years old) because they are already being heavily used by Mount Royal students in English and History,” says Houston. “This is a perfect example of the benefits of digitization since it not only helps protect the original manuscripts, but users can easily view and download digital copies for study.”
As part of the MRU Library, the Archives and Special Collections is open to everyone, Monday to Friday, 9:30 am to 4:30 pm.