New state-of-the-art U of A archival facility set to open
Open to the public, the facility houses scholarly materials going back to 1908 and has enough space to hold six million volumes.
By BEV BETKOWSKI
A new cutting-edge facility is safeguarding treasured archival records for generations to come, fitting millions of community memories and preserving more than 30,000 boxes of history in one place.
The Research and Collections Resource Facility (RCRF) officially opens May 31, as the new home of the University of Alberta’s wide-ranging assortment of books, papers, photographs, audio and video recordings, film, microforms, architectural drawings and maps.
What’s in store at the RCRF?
The U of A has been collecting and storing its own records—and more—since it began in 1908, and the new building carries on that tradition.
Located on the university’s South Campus, the state-of-the-art facility is open for anyone to use, and better protects and provides access to thousands of collections for use by the public, researchers and students, said Sandra Shores of U of A Libraries.
“It’s a great resource that provides library staff with enough space and the right conditions to continue to do our job of collecting and preserving scholarly materials.”
The RCRF replaces the old Book and Record Depository, commonly known as BARD, which housed the archives in a former Ikea store tucked away in a southeast Edmonton industrial area. They had outgrown the space, Shores said. “We were chockablock full.”
The ultra-modern building, which took two years to build and was completed in late 2017, boasts new user-friendly features, including a bright, glass-walled reading room where anyone, by booking an appointment, can pore over materials they’ve pre-selected.
“You can spend all day here,” Shores said.
There’s also a teaching room set aside where researchers can take small classes of university students to explore items tied to their curriculum—a nice plus for a digital-age generation.
“They get the chance to interact with original materials; many get quite excited to see something like the original handwritten constitution and bylaws from the first U of A Student Council in 1908,” said Shores.
And in a new digitization centre with five scanning machines, archivists will work to transfer paper materials into electronic form, making them accessible to the world.
“It makes our collections available to everyone who can’t be here physically.”
Materials on the list to be scanned include the theses of every graduate student and PhD candidate dating back to the U of A’s inception in 1908, providing a rich resource for researchers, Shores said.
“It helps make original research accessible by building linkages from work that was done then to what is being done now. You can be sitting in Finland, reading a 1954 master’s thesis from Alberta,” she added.
High-density archival storage dominating the back of the 4,200-square-metre facility is perhaps its most striking feature and the heart of RCRF. A big-box space worthy of an Amazon warehouse, climate-controlled and more than three storeys high, it’s stacked to the ceiling with cartons of books and other records that will be preserved for “hundreds of years,” Shores said. A separate storeroom cooled to exact temperatures protects delicate films and photos.
With capacity to store six million volumes, the RCRF can now begin freeing up space at the U of A’s North Campus and Campus Saint-Jean for other purposes, she added.
As a lead partner in the NEOS library consortium, the U of A also continues to handle hundreds of loan requests each year through a work depot in RCRF.
With its easy access to LRT and its welcoming, user-friendly space, the RCRF helps make history a community resource, Shores said.
“People can feel good about the facility and about the U of A placing value on collecting and preserving published materials for the benefit of everybody.”
RCRF is holding an open house May 31 from 3 to 6:30 p.m. Everyone is welcome.