Category Archives: Humour

Twelve Days of Archives

Here we are again with another rendition of everyone’s favourite holiday tradition! That’s right, its the 12 Days of Archives! Sing it loud everyone…

One the first day of Christmas my Archives gave to me…

Twelve Christmas Print Blocks

12 Xmas Print Blocks

Eleven Night Club Matchbooks

11nightclubmatchbooksTen Figure Skaters

a-1011Nine USask Pennants

9usaskpennantsEight Aerial Photos

8aerialphotosSeven Christmas Novels

7christmasnovelsSix Sappho Postcards

6sapphopostcardsFive Shiny Plaques

5shinyplaquesFour Halibut

4halibutThree Hot Drinks

3drinksTwo Beer in Love


and a partridge in a library!1partridgePartridge painting, Copyright Kate Hodgson, 1998

You have WHAT in your Special Collections?

A question we are frequently asked at our front desk is why we hold certain things within our special collections.  How are our collection choices made? Is the idea to restrict access? And why oh why are some books that were published as recently as last year considered too ‘special’ to be taken out of our closed stacks?

If we were to play a game of association, and I were to say “special collections library”, what would flash into most peoples’ minds is the image of the centuries-old manuscript, bound in leather, with crumbling pages that smell faintly of vanilla. But that only paints a part of the picture. What a special collections is, and what a special collections can be runs much, much deeper–and may look far different overall.

For example, at the University of Saskatchewan Archives and Special Collections, we have four main collection areas for rare and special books, each with its own distinct collection mandate. Our Rare Books collection contains primarily those things one would expect to find in a special collections library: medieval texts scrawled out in Latin, Victorian novels, first editions. The University Authors collection is just as self-explanatory — we endeavor to collect published works by University Faculty in order to have as complete a collection of the significant research outputs of the University of Saskatchewan as we can.

Readers of this blog will also be familiar with the Neil Richards Collection for Sexual and Gender Diversity. Certainly one of our most interesting book collections (and the second largest overall), the objective of the Richards collection has been to gather LGBTQ2 materials, with a particular focus on popular culture, pulp novels, queer mysteries, and Canadian queer texts. The Richards collection has grown to be the largest of its kind in Western Canada.

All of these collections have some overlap with our largest special collection of books: The Shortt Collection of Canadiana. The mandate for this collection has been looser over the years than those applied to the other collections (the Shortt collection ambitiously attempts to absorb Canadian-themed fiction and non-fiction primarily by Canadian-based authors, with a specific focus on Western Canada and Western Canadian History) In this diverse collection users can find everything from local history books (nearly one from every town in the province) to the novels of Gail Bowen, to church cookbooks, to 18th century explorers’ accounts, to current aboriginal interest newspapers, and more. While some of the items may seem too recent, or too widely or too locally distributed to be considered ‘special,’ it is the collection as a whole that has meaning, and which provides the greatest research value.

One recent addition to the Shortt collection which may fall into the “you have WHAT in your special collections?” category is two boxes of:

img613Alpha Flight? Never heard of it? And isn’t Marvel comics American anyway? Surely a sub-mandate of the Shortt Collection of Canadiana cannot be to collect comic books from the 1980’s. Isn’t that an odd fit?

This is true–comic books have not been an area of focus within the Shortt collection. Typically, any incoming comic books have been earmarked for Richards. Perhaps this is because queer comic book heroes are, in this time of the graphic novel, easier to find than Canadian ones (the Canadian comic book golden age ended in 1946, according to John Bell in his book Invaders from the North: How Canada Conquered the Comic Book Universe (2006)). Whatever the reason, we have fewer Canadian-centric comic books in the Shortt collection than we might like, and are working to remedy that situation.


Saskatoon bouncer “Puck”img614

So what better place to begin than with Alpha Flight? This team of Canadian superheroes, headed by James Macdonald Hudson (aka Vindicator, aka the Man with the Most Canadian Names), originally appeared in the late seventies as a part of the backstory to Marvel’s most well-known Canadian, Wolverine. The fact that the Alpha Flight team had its own decade long run of books within the Marvel universe is itself significant, given Marvel’s dominant role in the comic book industry, and given the minimal role Canadian superheroes have historically played within that industry.

The Alpha Flight books provide an amusing window on how Canadians were viewed by our American neighbors at this point in time. With characters like the Montreal-born Jean-Paul and sister Jeanne Marie Beaubier (aka Northstar and Aurora), a large hairy Sasquatch named Walter Langowski, and Eugene Judd a roughly puck-shaped bouncer from our own Saskatoon, Alpha Flight makes a caricature of Canadian-ness. Even the heroes’ costumes look like Team Canada’s Winter Olympic speed-skating apparel.

Another interesting point about Alpha Flight is that it features the first instance of a superhero “[coming out] in a blunt and assured fashion, previously unseen in mainstream comics” (Schott, 2010). In 1992’s issue #106 of Alpha Flight, superhero Northstar engages in a fight with Major Mapleleaf, over the course of which as many politically-laden zingers on topics of AIDS and homosexuality are thrown as punches. At the apex of this fight, Northstar admits his own homosexuality, saying : iamgayIt is interesting to consider whether this (at that time relevant, but risky)  discussion about homosexuality and AIDS could only have taken place within the ranks of a Canadian superhero team. If perhaps the separation of nationality made the subjects more “safe” to an American audience.

With Canada experiencing a recent resurgence of acknowledgement on the world stage (according to the New York Times, we’re “hip” now), collecting materials on what it is to be Canadian, what it was to be Canadian, and how Canadians have been viewed over time will become more important than ever. We are a nation that is constantly feeling out its own identity, and collections like the Shortt Collection of Canadiana provide a basis for that understanding.

**Please note that the above images are posted for educational purposes. Any reproduction for other purposes must be cleared with the copyright holder (Marvel Comics).


Alpha Flight. New York, N.Y. : Marvel Comics Group, 1983-1992 vols. 1 and 106 SPECIAL COLLECTIONS-SHORTT PN6728 .A4 1983-1993 v.1 no.1 — v.1 no.120

Bell, John. Invaders from the North: How Canada Conquered the Comic Book Universe. Dundurn, 2006.

Schott, Gareth. ” From fan appropriation to industry re-appropriation: the sexual identity of comic superheroes”. Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics. v. 1 no. 1, June 2010. pp.17-29.

“With the Rise of Justin Trudeau, Canada Is Suddenly … Hip?.” The New York Times, Jan. 16, 2016

ACA Conference Bites : Stevie, Day 3 – Metamorphosis

Quite possibly the most eclectic session I attended, Metamorphosis: Change and Transformation featured recent U of T grads James Roussain and Emily Sommers talking about the future of archival education; Sara Viinalass-Smith of the LAC speaking on their archives of early maps; and Greg Bak of the U of M whose talk was titled “Playable: Interactive Archive,” and which featured (I’m pretty sure) a 1980’s Transformer toy on the first slide.

Roussain and Sommers’ talk had the most resonance with me as a (sort-of) recent MLIS grad. The notion of (conflict between?) theory and practice in Information Studies is one that seems to recur again and again in my day-to-day work, and was something of which I was keenly aware as a student. The in-class theory taught only revealed a fragment of the nature of the work that goes on in an Archives and Special Collections. I was lucky enough to have a work-study placement, as well as a practicum, but not all students had those opportunities to get elbows-deep in boxes. Untitled

Roussain and Sommers argued for the implementation of a practical approach to teaching in Information Studies, and suggested that all students should be, at the very least, encouraged to seek out practical experience during their period of study. I can see the necessity in this approach if graduates who have a realistic-ish notion of what they are getting into are to be produced. Each archives and special collections has unique holdings, and so faces a unique set of challenges in preserving those holdings, and making them accessible. Because of this, there isn’t and cannot be a tidy textbook of theory which will tell you all you need to know about archival work.  Much of the learning must be done on the fly in an environment of multiple tasks and drastically shifting user needs–and quite frequently, theory goes out the window altogether (along with things like sanity). Stubborn adherence to what is theoretically the best practice while ignoring the specific needs of your collection, of your institution, could prove disastrous.

Sara Viinalass’s talk struck a lighter note in her discussion of the evolution of LAC’s handling of early maps. It was interesting to see early pictures of their map storage and reading rooms — places with very little light, and large tables often used for staff gatherings (with candles for the centerpieces!). What stood out for me, though, was the notion that our audiences want “bite sized history” — along the line of a facebook post or a Pinterest image, not giving the entire history on the subject, but rather presenting a small and intriguing peek into it (as with Viinalass’ sharing of a Toronto bicycle route map– a subject not typically thought of).

Bak’s talk veered off in yet another direction, as he discussed the need to preserve interactivity and playability in archives. He was speaking in relation to electronic records, and the medium that produce them. Here again the notion of “the medium is the message” was introduced, with the medium now being the antiquated hardware and software from which electronic records are born. Bak argued for the need to preserve, or at least closely simulate the functioning (and dysfunctioning) of those systems, right down to the last “bug” (what he called a “feature”). His argument was that the hardware and software–obsolete though it may be– tells a part of the story of the record, as much (if not more) than the contents of the record itself. Certainly, 200 3.5″ floppies containing a novel are bound to say something about the way the author wrote, in the way the floppies are used, reused, and sorted. Transferring all of those files to brand new media and disposing of the original discs would destroy some of that context.

As was hinted at in Allana Mayer’s talk on conference day one, there is a great deal of lag in the proper treatment of electronic records in the archival profession (and, I suppose, any profession). Only recently are electronic records coming to be viewed as real and “reliable” (and lets face it, they’ve been around for fifty years and more), and so, it is only relatively recently that we have begun bending our minds to how to preserve electronic records, and even more abstractly, what original_nintendo_accessories-200x200elements of the electronic record need to be preserved. Interestingly, work on archiving video games tends to stand at the forefront of this debate — the question of how to preserve the playability of a game after its hardware has been vanquished by time is one of increasing importance in the ever-evolving and always nostalgic gaming world. Bak argues that the same degree of careful thought on how to preserve interactivity and playability needs to go in to our handling of other record types as well. Migrating to another format is not enough–something is always lost in that translation. But are the alternatives : emulation, or keeping working hardware and software on site, viable options for most heritage institutions?