. . . add to this mix a liberal sprinkling of dust, donors, meetings, and memos, and you have the sometimes exciting, always interesting, life of a special collections librarian. After 21 years in the Doris Lewis Rare Book Room, I find that, upon reflection, the career of any special collections staff is a humbling and honouring experience.
Humbling is the realization that there is truly "nothing new under the sun." The sense of the "present" being merely an extension of the past becomes real when cataloguing a seventeenth-century book on women's rights or in reading a hand-written century-old diary detailing the pollution and water supply problems of the Waterloo region. Viewing bleak photographs of Manitoba in Margaret Galloway's book, I Lived in Paradise, gives a new appreciation of the courage and humour of the women who settled Canada's west.
Honouring is the knowledge that this department has been given the task of retaining and making available a portion of the past. The past is reflected in the first University of Waterloo calendar, the first English-language edition of Euclid's Elements of Geometry, or the fading, handwritten minutes of the proud, determined women who founded our local YWCA in 1905--despite the closure of the YMCA! Thanks to the respect of their former owners, these archive collections and books enable us to give immortality to their creators.
One of the "exciting" components of this job lies in the thrill of "opening the box," not knowing what will be inside. Among the most memorable of the "boxes" was the one containing the thought-to-be-lost leather-bound diaries of Louis Jacob Breithaupt. Almost as exciting were the 35,000 pristine issues of magazines published for women between 1893 and 1977, which prior to their arrival were only known to us by a dry description in a dealer's catalogue. However, it would be remiss not to say that these boxes often contain a goodly quantity of dust, dirt, and dead insects!
Equally exciting are the delights of provenance or the study of the former owners of archives and books. Learning the identity of a book's previous owner by finding his signature or an author's viewpoint by reading her marginal notes can add significantly to scholarship. While visiting last summer, a scholar jumped up and shouted when he was able to confirm his thesis by reading an annotation in one of our nearly 400 heavily-annotated books from the library of the philosopher George Santayana. Similarly, the lives of women centuries ago are brought vividly into focus when one reads in the tattered copies of early cookbooks their inscriptions to their daughters or their hand-written first aid remedies. One such remedy advises on a cure for a "pain in the head" and begins "Take a little gin . . . ."
For me, however, the most rewarding aspect of special collection librarianship is working with the students and researchers who visit our department, particularly for the first time: the dance student who enters, gazes around the reading room, then asks "So, where are all the biographies of unknown 18th-century ballerinas?"; or the history student who removes a series of handwritten letters from an archive box realizing for the first time what "primary sources" really means.
Most recently, the introduction of increasingly enhanced computing technologies which can scan, digitize, index, and make materials available on the "Web" have made a "third decade" of work in the Doris Lewis Rare Book Room even more exciting!
Head, Special Collections
Since the University's beginnings, the Library has played a central role in scholarship and communication. Forty years later, the Library continues to support UW's curriculum and faculty research, as well as provide leadership in this information age. The Library makes the world of information available to our students, faculty, and researchers in a sophisticated learning environment.
The Library can continue to move forward in part because of the support received from our Friends. Our supporters include all members of the university community - students and their parents, faculty, staff, and alumni - along with foundations and corporations. Their support has enabled us to hold safe our collective past and to offer access to a global future where our students and researchers can excel.
These gifts have improved the collections and learning environment for our past and current students. The continued support of our Friends will ensure the richness of resources for students at UW for the next forty years.
This tradition of giving began some forty years ago with our first documented gift. The initial entry in the Library's Gift Accessions Register is a donation from Ira G. Needles, the University's first Chairman of the Board of Governors and later Chancellor (1966 to 1975). Other entries, also handwritten by the Library's gifts librarian at the time, Esther Michael, are equally significant as they are indicative of the type of donations which came--and still come--to the Library. Now, however, gifts-in-kind are registered on an electronic database after they have been screened by collections librarians. This review ensures that gifts meet the goals of our teaching and research programs as well as the reality of our ever-decreasing shelf space!
By donating their own money, students at UW have set a tremendous example of helping each other and supporting projects on campus. All of the Faculties at UW have student-sponsored Endowment Funds. These Funds, created by students, are supported by their annual contribution fees. Students also determine which projects will be supported.
The Library has been fortunate to receive funding from WEEF, the engineering students' Endowment Fund. For two years, this Fund supported the subscription cost of several engineering journals.
This year, we were pleased to receive funding from the Applied Health Sciences Endowment Fund to support journals in recreation, kinesiology, and health sciences. This Fund also has committed money for the subscription of a new journal for our collection--one that simply would not have been affordable without the student's support.
Funds secured by the Architecture Student Association (WASA), through UW's Student Life Endowment, spearheaded the installation of an automated security system in the University Map and Design Library.
Since 1987, many UW faculty, staff, and alumni have supported the periodical collection by adopting journals. Their contribution of the subscription cost ensures that journals are kept on our shelves and made available to our students and researchers. Today over fifty journals are adopted.
"The Adopt-a-Journal program provides the opportunity to make a tangible contribution towards maintaining the Library's excellence in the face of cutbacks in provincial funding," writes Stanley Lipshitz, UW faculty member in Applied Mathematics.
Journals are a critical reference source. They report on the most recent research findings and help to expand the knowledge base in all disciplines. Journal costs, however, continue on an upward spiral with prices increasing ten to fifteen percent per year. Coupled with a weak Canadian dollar, this escalation continues to erode the Library's purchasing power.
The Library currently subscribes to over 13,500 journals. Any journal in the existing collection may be adopted or, upon approval, a new title can be supported. The money saved through the program is made available for the purchase of new materials.
Each year, UW's alumni are asked to support projects at Waterloo. Many former students choose to support the Library: some designate their gifts to enhance collections in the discipline from which they graduated; others support information technology. Gifts from alumni also have allowed the Library to construct study rooms in both the Dana Porter and Davis Centre Libraries, as well as subscribe to costly multidisciplinary databases.
Since the early years, we have been fortunate to benefit from increasing support in the form of cash gifts from all donor groups. Gifts of cash provide us with the opportunity to enhance our collections, introduce new technology and new information formats, and prepare our students to become leaders in this information world.
Board members Michael Higgins (left) and Judi Jewinski (right) join the 1997 Authors Event speaker, romance and mystery writer, Illona Haus.
The Friends of the Library Board is a volunteer group that promotes the Library, its collections, and its services. Members of the Board include alumni, faculty, donors, and staff.
The Board organizes the annual Authors Event, now in its fifth year. A traditional rite of spring on the UW campus, the event celebrates writing and the creative process by featuring a noon-hour talk, along with a display of books written that year by UW authors. The Board also assists with fundraising projects, advises on promotion of the Library on and off campus, and acts as an advocate for the Library.
We particularly thank our current Board members--Philip Bast, Ed Fowler, Colleen Gildner, Michael Higgins, Judi Jewinski, Linda Kenyon, and Peter Sims--for their insight, enthusiasm, and time.
Friends of the Library Newsletter is a publication of the University of Waterloo Library. It is scheduled to be published twice yearly and is supported by the University of Waterloo Friends of the Library association.
Editor: Sharon Lamont
Assistant Editor: Esther Millar
Contributors: Susan Bellingham, Mary Stanley
Photography: (unless otherwise noted) Central Photographic University of Waterloo
Printed: Graphic Services University of Waterloo