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Moving the Glenbow Library and Archives

The first books arrive at UCalgary’s High Density Library March 11, 2019. Dave Brown photo.


Moving the Glenbow Library and Archives: 75 metres at a time

Imagine you are moving a relative’s house. None of the materials have been packed for the move. Your relatives are still using some of their belongings and need to go through everything to decide what stays. You need to account for every object and make sure everything moves safely and securely.

Oh, and all of those objects–end to endstretch over five kilometres in length.

This was the logistical challenge University of Calgary (UCalgary) staff faced over a year ago when its staff started moving the Glenbow Library and Archives.

It’s been a year since Glenbow and UCalgary packed up the first truck with materials and took an inaugural journey. That truck left Glenbow for UCalgary’s High Density Library (HDL) March 11, 2019, carrying some 3,000 Glenbow library books—that’s 75 metres worth of material.

The HDL, which stores most of Glenbow’s and UCalgary’s library books and archival materials is located off campus, while the Taylor Family Digital Library (TFDL) is at the university’s main campus. The TFDL also does have a archival storage facility where much of Glenbow’s earliest collections are stored.

Since then, another 82 trucks have hauled a vast amount of archival treasures from the Glenbow to UCalgary. So far, that’s 105,000 books; 25,000 boxes of archival material (letters, manuscripts, photographs and other documents) and 15,000 maps.

All of that material takes up 3.3 kilometres of shelf space. And that’s only about a half of the entire Glenbow Library and Archives collection.

And the trucks keep coming.

Two teams of horses pull a house lifted onto wagons.

Moving a house from Alderson to Scandia, Alberta, 1931. Glenbow Library and Archives, UCalgary: NA-4711-15.

A complicated endeavour

While a year-plus may seem like a long time to move a bunch of books and boxes, it’s more complicated than that.

Archives and libraries do move. Library and Archives Canada, Canadian Pacific Railway, Hudson’s Bay Co., Provincial Archives of Alberta and even Calgary’s Central Library have all moved at some point in their history.

Even UCalgary’s archives and main library went through its own move in 2011 from the MacKimmie Block and Tower to the TFDL.

But, as Annie Murray, associate university librarian with Archives and Special Collections at UCalgary, points out, this is an unusual move.

“Archives (and libraries) do move, but it is uncommon for one institution to take in another institution’s holdings at this scale,” says Murray.

“Collections grow to fill the space, so when you move them, anything that isn’t standard stands out. If you have unusual shelving, it doesn’t mean you have it here (at UCalgary), so everything needs to be rethought to be moved safely.”

The Glenbow has been in its downtown location since 1976. As an institution that grew out of one man’s personal collection (Calgary lawyer and oilman Eric Harvie founded the Glenbow), it had its own path, style and approach. Over the years, Harvie, and then later, the Glenbow, collected an impressive amount of material.

And that meant UCalgary archivists and librarians tasked with organizing the move faced a steep learning curve.

Two First Nations men stand with three dogs carrying packs.

Cree men using dogs to pack furs to Sturgeon Lake, Alberta. Glenbow Library and Archives, UCalgary: NA-3946-6.

Planning five months out

Planning for the move began in October 2019, and it took a full five months before they were ready for the first truck.

Karen Buckley, archival specialist with UCalgary’s University Archives, is leading the packing and processing of the Archives portion of the Glenbow collection.

“Because we had no clue what we were walking into, we had no understanding of the 60 years of history at the Glenbow. So everything takes longer. It’s not putting a barcode on a box and sending it to the HDL,” says Buckley.

To get started, Glenbow curators went through the collection to keep anything related to the Glenbow’s new mission as an art museum. That included books, periodicals and reference material.

UCalgary also had to re-organize its own archives spaces at the main campus TFDL to make room for the incoming material. About 95 percent of UCalgary’s archival records were sent from the archives at the main campus to the off campus HDL. The majority of the Glenbow’s books were sent to the HDL, as well.

A select group of high use collections, such as the photographs, came from the Glenbow to the main campus to ensure ease of access for the public.

Three women filling bags of sugar in a sugar plant.

Women packing sugar at Canadian Sugar Factories, Raymond, Alberta, 1953. Glenbow Library and Archives: NA4510-124.

Vacuuming books? Indeed!

The first items UCalgary chose to move were the straightforward one, namely the library books.

Once the books are at the HDL, staff vacuum them to remove dust and dirt (and even coal dust). Cataloguers enter the books into UCalgary’s online catalogue, giving each a barcode. That ensures the books are easily discoverable as a single collection. Glenbow’s books and archival materials can also be searched from the Glenbow Library and Archives website.

All of Glenbow’s library books are available for use at the Glenbow Western Research Centre.

“We decided that it would be a non-circulating collection, particularly because it is a loaned collection and because a lot of the materials are special in nature, rare, small press runs, or fragile. The materials hadn’t been circulating at the Glenbow either,” says Murray.

Glenbow’s collection of periodicals and reference works are now available at UCalgary, as well.


Archives a more significant challenge

Moving the archives is more complicated than the library as the archives contain a wide variety of materials that all have to be handled, boxed, transported and stored differently.

There are maps, panorama photos, manuscripts, letters and other documents, film and video, cassette and reel-to-reel tapes, photographs, and so on.

And to ensure those materials are also easy to find in UCalgary’s online catalogue, they’re catalogued and given a barcode. Staff then pack the documents and other materials into archival boxes for efficient storage and long-term preservation.

“One aspect of the archival move is that you notice things that could benefit from different housing, different enclosures or sleeves,” says Murray.

“There’s a certain amount of remediation that you do in a move to make everything safe and good for the move. We don’t always store collections as we would move them, so lots of folders, lots of  envelopes for smaller accessions, tons of boxes.”

A women tightens a rope while secruing a load onto a horse's back.

Mary Cross packing a horse during the Banff Winter Carnival, Banff, Alberta. Glenbow Library and Archives: NA-222-1.

A logistical puzzle

Each type of material comes with its own challenges. The large and heavy map cabinets, for example, required a specialty mover. Phone books, meanwhile, are awkward.

“The movers said the phone books were the trickiest things to move because they’re floppy and slippery,” says Buckley.

Oversized items, like posters and plans, are also challenging as they don’t fit typical archival boxes. Meanwhile, panorama photos, a few of which are six feet long, travelled with their own tall cabinets.

“Where do we house things? We had months where all we talked about was map cabinets… Then we had months where we were talking about the oversized materials because we didn’t know where to put them because they didn’t fit in the map cabinets,” says Buckley.


Unprocessed items into the light

Another challenge that Buckley discovered as she got deep into moving the Glenbow Library and Archives is the unprocessed material.

Every archive has unprocessed records. These are records that have yet to be identified, described, organized, and catalogued.

But one advantage of a move like this is that it brings unprocessed collections or items into the light.

As Buckley notes, “(We) discovered wonderful things. And I’m glad that on the access side, people will be able to discover those wonderful things.”

A series of large-format glass-plate negatives taken between 1916 and 1920 is an excellent example of that. The move uncovered a crate of 120 negatives, each of which measure 7 inches by 17 inches. UCalgary digitized these negatives and will be making them available online.

Moving the Glenbow Library and Archives is nearly complete. The expectation is that the library will finish moving in early April. The archives move, meanwhile, should be finished by summer.

The collections have not had any items de-accessioned or removed. Anything the Glenbow Museum isn’t keeping, on either the library or archives side, will be available at UCalgary.

A panorama photograph of a group of picnicers in 1919.

An image from one of the 7×17 inch glass negatives taken by the McDermid Studio in Edmonton.

Keep calm and carry on

For anyone planning a similar move, Buckley has the following advice based on her experience moving the Glenbow Library and Archives:

  • Box materials appropriately;
  • Keep good records from the donation through to a finding aid;
  • And finally, remain open-minded.

Please join us as we continue to explore the Glenbow’s collections. Subscribe to the Glenbow blog for updates and look for the next post in two weeks.