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A Spotlight on Academic Archives with Curtis Frederick

26 Apr 2024 7:25 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

From municipal and federal government to universities, from religious congregations to community organizations, archivists work in a variety of settings. This year, the ACA blog, In the Field, is setting out to talk to archivists across Canada about the unique joys and challenges of their work environments. We will feature a different type of archives each month, with the objective of showcasing the rich spectrum of archival work.

This month we are featuring university archives. In today’s post, the In the Field blog chats with Curtis Frederick, University Records Archivist at the University of Calgary. 

Q: Can you briefly tell us about your academic and professional path? 

Curtis: I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts with majors in history and religious studies from the University of British ColumbiaI then enrolled at the University of Toronto and completed both a Master of Information and a Master of Museum Studies in 2017. After graduating, I worked a number of small contracts in Toronto and also had the opportunity to do an internship with Salzburg Global Seminar in Salzburg, AustriaI then worked for nearly two years as a project archivist at the corporate archives of CIBC in TorontoI started my current position at the University of Calgary in March 2020I was in the office for less than a week before we were sent home due to the pandemic, which was an interesting way to start a new job!

Q: What brought you to the field of archival studies and practice?

Curtis: As a kid I always had a strong interest in history and in museums. During my undergrad, I worked at a couple of museums during the summers as a tour guide.  This also introduced me to the world of archives. I was drawn to the University of Toronto by the opportunity to complete a degree in both museums and archives.   

Glenbow Western Research Centre – the reading room at the University of Calgary Archives. CU12240905. By Brown, David H. Courtesy of University Archives Collection, Libraries and Cultural Resources Digital Collections, University of Calgary.

Q: What does an average day look like in university archives? 

Curtis: There really isn’t a typical average day, but more a variety of tasks that can happen on any given day. A lot of the work I do involves cultivating donor relations, both with external donors, but also with the various faculties, departments, and operating units within the university. I also do a lot of reference work, which can take the form of classroom teaching, individual consultations with researchers, staffing the reference desk in the reading room, or answering questions via phone and email.  I am also in charge of the records management and shredding programs, which involves a lot of day-to-day work in advising on retention periods, scheduling destruction of records, and providing advice on records management practices. A day may also involve arrangement and description work, working on policies, planning for large projects and sitting on a variety of library or university committees amongst many others. 

Q: What is your favourite thing about working in university archives?  What are some of the challenges that are unique to university archives? 

Curtis: My favourite thing about working in university archives is that no day is ever the same. I enjoy the variety of the tasks I do and responding to changing needs and priorities as they arise. I also really enjoy being able to work with a wide range of researchers from students to faculty and to community members. Each researcher brings a different project and a different perspective to the records. 

University archives face many of the same challenges that other archives face in terms of promoting our collections and services and raising awareness of the need for strong records management practices. One thing that can be particularly challenging is ensuring the relevancy of collections for students and classes. We can’t simply go out and acquire a collection based on every interest. This means we must get creativetomake sure we highlight our relevant collections, and we need to work with students and professors to demonstrate how our collections can be used in ways they may not have thought of before. 

High bay archival storage at the High Density Library. CU2125214. By Brown, David H. Courtesy of University Archives Collection, Libraries and Cultural Resources Digital Collections, University of Calgary.

Q: What do you wish the public understood better about university archives?  What do you wish other archivists understood about university archives?  

Curtis: The public often has a misunderstanding that university archives are for students and staff onlyWe are open to all researchers and enjoy helping all researchers in any way we can.

Q: Can you tell us about a project you’ve been working on lately?  

Curtis: We are always working on several projects. In 2019 the University of Calgary acquired the library and archives of the Glenbow Museum in Calgary. This added more than 5kms of material to our holdings in a very quick period. We continue to work on integrating this material into our databases and in making more of the material accessible digitally. We continue to work on prioritizing records for digitization and creating an overarching digitization plan. A couple of recent projects include the complete digitization of our legacy theses collection, the digitization of parts of our oral history collection,the digitization of the complete Winnifred Eaton Reeve fonds, and our recently launched H. G. Wells exhibit.

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