Tomorrow's archives today

Merriam-Webster defines archive as:

1. a place in which public records or historical materials (such as documents) are preserved and; 2. a repository or collection especially of information.

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That definition generally agrees with my own understanding of the core work that we do here at The Exploration Place Museum + Science Centre; work that began in 1958.

Today, this award-winning, Class A, institution holds over 1,000,000 archival items, some 1,062 linear feet, with over 100,000 archival entries in our publicly searchable, online database alone, (if you factor in the artifact collection, we are responsible for over ten times that figure).

This collection is used daily by researchers for books, news stories, articles, presentations, films, economic development, scientific studies and genealogical research. Under the category of "Huh, who'd have thought..." the Model Forest movement of the late 1990s utilized our forestry maps to extend the accuracy of their digital land use modeling technology by looking back before they looked forward.

Countless local historians and authors have availed themselves of our archives as they have set down, for posterity, the history of our city and region. There are 108 linear feet of books, journals and periodicals in the Ted Williams Research Library, along with a treasure trove of local research, writing and scientific studies.

Arguably the most valuable community asset in our vault is, however, the curatorial team. These young professionals know our collective history better than anyone and can connect the novice or professional researcher to documents and images in our holdings that they would likely never find, or even know to look for. In 2018 we averaged 40 individual research requests (some taking days to complete) per month, not including the mountain of work we do on social media feeds answering questions about images, ideas and properties.

You will often see answers in the comments sections from this team late at night and on weekends; work they are doing because they love it, not because they are being paid for it.

The expense associated with operating an archive is significant. Maintaining the appropriate climate control, purchasing the necessary acid-free storage materials, cataloguing and digitizing the documents and images, updating research and upgrading database systems is only the beginning of what goes into making these public collections truly public.

We spent almost $100,000 in heat and hydro alone in 2018 and that does not include any capital, depreciation or consumable expenses.

Attracting and retaining talented staff, individuals who not only are passionate about the work and the region, but who are patient and personable with the people who are either donating/accessing the collection is of paramount importance and no cheap undertaking either. Because The Exploration Place is an independent charity, not a municipal department, we must raise some $2,400 per day over and above any government grants just to keep our doors open.

One way we are working to maximize our community's two Class A archives is by working to find an efficient use of vault spaces in partnership with the UNBC Archives, another incredibly important institution in our community. The museum board recently approved the transfer of the Northwood Forestry Collection to UNBC to make access to it easier for students there and we are exploring collections at both institutions, to determine the best place for them to reside.

Many other Prince George organizations, like the Sports Hall of Fame, Rotary clubs, the Arts Council, the Citizen and the Free Press have entrusted their own archives and collections to the museum's care. Whether we are talking about the pre-emption maps of the central interior or the property assessment roles and bylaws from the City of Prince George between 1915 and 1976; the Simonsen, Swanky, Maximus, Milne, Corliss, Ted Williams, Hans Roine, Citizen, Free Press or Wally West photo collections, the Archives at Exploration Place Museum + Science Centre is an important resource for this and future generations.

It is imperative that the general public recognize the archival work we do here at the museum, as well as the genuine need for financial support that this vital community charity faces as it goes about that work.

We are about to embark on a campaign to raise some $200,000 to fund the purchase of a new database to take our archives more deeply onto the web and into the future and it can be a difficult argument to make if there is confusion about the roles that we play in the community.

Tracy Calogheros is the CEO of The Exploration Place Museum + Science Centre in Prince George.

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