One of the courses I took this past term was Archives, Programs and Services. (This course is no longer in the new curriculum.) It really is an overview of archives and for someone in the library stream, it was a good idea to take an archives course to get some understanding of the type of material and work that is done in an archive. I’ve never actually visited or used an archive academically before either as part of school tours. Considering my undergraduate degree was in engineering, there was no using archives for any research. So, I’ve been rather sheltered from the rich resources available at an archive.
So very basic difference between an archive and a library for those like me who were uninitiated? In an archive, you will find primary sources and in a library you’ll mostly find secondary sources.
Huh? What does that mean? Well, in simplest terms, for example, in a library you might find a history book about Toronto at the turn of the century. In the City of Toronto archives, you can find actual documents produced by people at the turn of the century. I had the chance to visit the City of Toronto Archives on two occasions, once for a talk about their digitization initiatives and once for some personal research as an assignment.
I had the pleasure of reading from the letter book of the chief constable from 1896. What fascinating reading! Many letters about missing family members and stolen bicycles. A real treat to glimpse into the past. Rather like experiencing the atmosphere of an episode of Murdoch Mysteries, only in real life.
And with the continuing efforts to digitize material to be made available online, you can enjoy a small part of the archival materials, like these photographs, from the comfort of your internet connection.
If you’ve never gone to use an archive, I would recommend checking one out in your local community. At least to learn about what you can find there. If you’re in Toronto, the City archives is one block north of Dupont subway station and has free parking. It’s also fun just to take a look at their observation platform to see the records room, floor to ceiling of file boxes and a cherry picker or two to get the files.
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