University Archives plays important role in preserving institutional history

Every year, the University of Lethbridge produces vast quantities of official records on paper, in video, photographs and, increasingly, in electronic format. Much of the material is retained in the various departments across campus until it reaches the end of its ongoing usefulness. What happens to it then, and who preserves the history of our institution?

Records that are scheduled for retention, destruction or archival selection are sent to the University Library's Records Management office (403-329-2750).

Records management is a broad term that is used extensively in the day-to-day operations of institutions and businesses, while the role of archives is less understood. Where records managers are concerned with the administration of the current records of an organization, archivists deal with those records that have been selected to be kept for their continuing value.

Interestingly, only 10 per cent of official records are usually selected for permanent preservation. The office responsible for controlling, preserving, protecting and making available this "institutional memory" is the University Archives.

Established in 1968 and under the stewardship of numerous people (Donald Wick, Owen Holmes, Jane Freeman, Winston Jones and Michael Perry), University Archives is a comprehensive collection of material relating to the University's history – and it is continually developing.

Although the office was closed for a few years in the late 1980s and was most recently suspended for three years, the Archives is once again accepting official records through Records Management, as well as unofficial historical artifacts, photographs, etc. directly from departments across campus and the larger academic community.

As an example, we have just received a number of documents and items essential to the institution from Dorothy and William Beckel (William Beckel was the U of L president from 1972-79).

The core functions of archivists include the acquisition, selection and appraisal of official and non-official records, their arrangement and description, storage and maintenance, conservation and preservation, access and reference.

Materials selected for inclusion include meeting minutes, correspondence, announcements, university publications, reports, building plans, photographs, posters, drama productions, videos, audio tapes, personal papers, artifacts, theses and dissertations. Any other material that assists in providing documentation of the University's fulfillment of its teaching, research and public service, thus rendering the University's long-range accountability to the society that sustains it, are also maintained.

Currently, the work of the archives includes acting on a preservation assessment completed by a conservator working for the Archives Society of Alberta; working through a huge backlog of official records currently being held in Records Management; migrating our analog collection of video and audio to digital media; and providing much needed advocacy and outreach to the University community.

In the past, students have assisted with projects in the archives through completing independent and applied studies courses. Re-integrating the archival program into the academic sphere will assist to keep it relevant and indispensable.

If you have any questions about this process, or any material you think belongs in the archives, please do not hesitate to contact the Records Management office.

Michael Perry, University Archivist