History at Your Fingertips: Exploring the UNBC Archives

Kelley Ware | Multimedia Coordinator

There is a fourth floor to the library.

For many students, it is uncommon to venture beyond the third floor of the UNBC library for their research or studying. However, if you press that “4” button in the elevator, or walk up that extra set of stairs, you will find a very special department that calls the fourth floor its home: the Northern BC Archives.

The NBC Archives states a very broad mandate on it’s website: acquiring, preserving, and providing access “to materials of permanent value related to the institutional history and development of UNBC,” and “archival materials of value related to the history and culture of Northern British Columbia.” These primary documents can include photographs, negatives, records, textual material, campus artwork, and ceremonial regalia. Any type of record imaginable can be found, from medical statements to policing reports to author manuscripts are available, yet few students know about it.

“People aren’t as socially aware [of an archive],” said Records Management Coordinator Erica Hernández-Read. “When you are little you go to a library, but you don’t go to an archive. So people don’t really become aware of it until they are quite a bit older.”

Archival documents are a great resource to almost any student. Whether the assignment requires primary research or it is just utilized as a tool to really make a paper pop, the archival documents are there for everyone. To help facilitate student research and accessibility, the UNBC Archives have established quite the online database on their website for students to navigate the world of archives. Simple subject searches can be done on the database, but do not get discouraged if your inquiry does not reveal results online. Because of the vast amount of documents, uploading to a database can be slow. Just because your inquiry is not online does not mean it is not available; the ladies at the archives are only a click away and they are very willing to help.

“Anybody [can access the archives]…they just need to access us through email…” said Hernández-Read. “If there was something back there that a student needed, we would do our best to make that information accessible… Even if they want to know how to do primary research, we help them with that.”

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Having access to archival documents is incredibly important. As the saying goes: we need to understand the past to know the future. Almost every degree can benefit from access to the archives. Hernández-Read could only think of one degree program that may not get a direct benefit from the archives: computer science, and even then it was more of a matter of when documents will be available rather than if.

Possible creative and effective uses of archival documents could be analysing photographs of a mountain range to indirectly measure how a glacier has been melting over decades. A student was once researching health in the Great Depression: while no direct documents were available, the ladies at the archives helped find a funeral leger dating from the early to mid-1990s. By utilizing the leger, the student was able to see what people were dying of, and analyse the causes.

Using the UNBC Archives can enrich your research, but it does come with its own challenges. “The wonderful thing is you get out of it what you bring to it…” said Hernández-Read. “It really depends on your perspective and if you are willing to do the work. The difference between secondary and primary research is in primary research you provide the analysis. That can be challenging, and it can be daunting. You can then prop it up with your secondary research, and we are here to help.”

If students plan to use the archives, it is strongly advised that they begin their planning early. It can be a time-consuming process and it is important to prepare for it. There can be set-backs and hold-ups. Students may not be able to find exactly what they need and plans may have to change. However, if they find that coveted piece of gold, it can change the entire feel of a paper.

“It is exciting research, but it does take time,” said Hernández-Read. “It is not the type of research you can do the night before the paper is due… We are here to help, but we are not miracle workers. Contact us as soon as possible, right when you get your assignment if you can.”

If there is one thing the readers can take away it is this: history is at our fingertips, and it is in the archives waiting for people to find it.

To access the UNBC Archives, you can either visithttp://nbca.library.unbc.ca/ or email them at archives@unbc.ca. They are open Monday through Friday from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm.