Thursday, June 30, 2011


from the desk of Genevieve Weber
Collections, Research and Access Services 
Royal BC Museum     

My first week as an Archivist at the Royal BC Museum happened to coincide with International Archives Day, June 9th – a happy twist of fate indeed!  Designated by the International Council on Archives, the concept is for professionals around the world to unite to further understanding of archives and archivists.  (For more information on International Archives Day, see here  One way in which archivists around the world raised awareness on June 9th was through an international Twitter event #AskArchivists.  We invited people to send us any question about archives or archivists – about who we are, what we do, our collections, or anything else.  The questions we got were amusing, thought-provoking, and educational (for both parties!)  A couple of them really got me thinking about why I chose to become an archivist, and why I love this job. 
Here are my top five favourite questions and answers. With Twitter we are limited to only 140 characters per post, so the answers were often much more brief than what you see below!

Q1. What is the weirdest/most bizarre thing you have ever found in your archives? (from @Michnelago, location unknown)
A1. Gopher Tails found in Game Warden Records that had been sent to the Warden for bounty!  Other repositories answered this question as well, and lots of animal parts came up – a mole, a bat, a skunk pelt, a monkey arm back scratcher!

Q2. I heard that you have an Atlas in the BC Archives from the 16th century!  Cool!  Can you tell me more about it?  (@E5PI6 in Victoria, BC)
A2.  Yes! Made by Flemish Cartographer Gerardus Mercator in the early 17th Century.  This led to a further discussion about Mercator, the curious party describing him as the “rockstar of cartography.”  The Archives has, in fact, two Mercators.  View their details here and here 

Q3. Which document has given you the greatest emotion in your professional life (and possibly why?) (@Sohayb in Rouen, France)

A3. 8mm film of BC Athletes at 1936 Berlin Olympics; their view marching in the stadium – the Hindenburg flies over!  (Response by fellow Archivist Dennis Duffy)

Q4. Are my 100-year-old civil war letters better off in their envelopes deep in a closet or should I store them differently? (@johnsonmaryj in Colorado Springs, USA)

A4. They should be stored in acid-free envelopes and containers in a stable environment re: temperature and humidity.  We had a number of questions regarding preservation of personal records.  I highly recommend the Archivist’s Toolkit, provided by the Archival Association of British Columbia at  The most useful guide for maintaining personal or small archives I have seen to date! 

Q5. Do you think about human rights or any humanitarian function you would fill out working as an Archivist? (@KarstenKuehnel in Germany)

A5. Yes! Archivists play a huge role in developing a safe and transparent environment for citizens to live in.  That is a VERY short answer for something that I feel passionate about.  Archivists play such an important role in maintaining a democratic and transparent form of governance.   We are very lucky in Canada to live in a country that has a set of rules regarding maintenance of records and public access to the information in them about what our government does.  However, in many countries this is not the case: in dictatorships, for example, records are often destroyed or re-written.  In countries that have suffered from war, mass human rights violations, or natural disasters, the records have been lost and with them the voices of the people.  Archivists without Borders is a wonderful non-profit organization that works to restore the documentary heritage of nations and peoples around the world, and to educate the records caretakers at the same time -

In my next blog post I will further discuss archival humanitarian work and how it is in evidence closer to home.
This is just a small sample of the discussions we entered into on International Archives Day.  We helped people find resources on how to become an archivist; we provided reference services to people with questions specific to our holdings; we told our favourite stories about the profession; we talked about what we have here at the BC Archives; and much more.  It was the perfect way to jump into my role here at the Royal BC Museum!  

follow the museum on Twitter @RoyalBCMuseum

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