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UBC Reports | Vol. 48 | No. 6 | April 4, 2002

When Everything Old Becomes New Again

Acquiring "new"collections of old materials makes UBC library unique.

By Michelle Cook

As libraries everywhere race to modernize by adopting web-based holdings and wireless Internet portals, what is so important about the UBC library's recent acquisition of a handwritten Anglican Church service book circa 1873?

It, along with 100,000 other antiquated books and thousands more old maps, manuscripts, and other archival materials, are what make the university's library unique, says new special collections librarian Ralph Stanton.

"Libraries acquire standard groupings of information, but it's their special collections that distinguish them," Stanton explains.

UBC's special collections include rare dictionaries, maps and atlases, Canada's biggest collection of Stravinsky memorabilia, and one of the country's largest accumulations of material on B.C. history and literature.

In his first big purchase for UBC, Stanton added the Anglican Church service book to the collection last month. He calls the one-of-a-kind find, produced in Lytton, B.C., in 1873, a Rosetta Stone of sorts because the standard Anglican psalms, prayers and hymns in it are transcribed into the local Thompson language.

Like the other materials stored in the humidity and temperature controlled stacks of special collections, it may be old but for Stanton its value lies in the new information and insights it will provide UBC scholars and the public.

A UBC graduate, Stanton returned to campus in February from Simon Fraser University where he was head of special collections and rare books.

After only two months on the job, his goals for his newly created position are clear.

He wants to improve and expand the space devoted to special collections. He would like to develop endowment funds and attract more financial support to help UBC's collection grow. Eventually, he would also like to develop digitized presentations of many of the old pieces but one of his first tasks is to complete a review of all the special collections in order to determine how they should grow.

Stanton's life won't be spent in the stacks though.

Special collections develop through a combination of donations and purchases. In order to do his job well, Stanton will draw on his extensive network of book dealers and collectors.

To ensure that UBC's special collections inspire collectors to donate items, he will be consulting with faculty members on what they are studying and what they will need for future research.

"The challenge is to stay ahead of what our scholars are going to want. On the other hand, you are working with collectors who are moving at their own pace," Stanton explains.

"They want to know who on faculty will be using the material. This can make the difference in their decision to donate to UBC or to another institution."


Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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