A new digital database launched by the Leddy Library’s Archives and Special Collections is transforming the way archival records are accessed and explored at UWindsor. For the first time in its history, the archival holdings and descriptions will be searchable online.
“It has never before been possible for the public or members of the University to search our archival holdings on their own,” explained archivist Sarah Glassford. “Here at Leddy, our patrons have always had to submit research inquiries by phone, email, or in person, so that archives staff could search the internal database or paper finding aids for them.”
The new database, which uses the Access to Memory platform, contains descriptions and finding aids for approximately 60 archival collections relating to the history of Windsor-Essex, Chatham-Kent, and Sarnia-Lambton. Each record in the database provides a description of the contents and contexts of creation for the collection, with searchable subject headings, places, and names, and detailed finding aids that can be used to explore collections.
“I cannot overemphasize what a revolution this is, in terms of making our community collections more discoverable to patrons,” added Dr. Glassford. “Archival collections are organized not by subject, but by creator, so now being able to search across many collections by subject, place, or even just keyword, in a highly effective way, is a huge leap forward.
“Library catalogues have long had this search ability for books, which are more straightforward, but it’s a relatively recent advance for the complex primary sources held in archives.”
The first wave of descriptions released for public searching focuses on community history collections. They include 19th-century land transaction documents for local railways, photos and postcards of popular sites in Windsor and Essex County, and records relating to the activism of the local Black community in the late-19th and early-20th centuries, and local feminist groups of the late 20th century.
Hundreds of collections remain to be added to the new database, which will become increasingly useful to researchers over time, as new acquisitions and redescribed existing collections are added on a regular basis.
The launch of this database marks a significant milestone for the Archives and Special Collections’ efforts to preserve and share local heritage. It has also allowed Leddy Library to provide experiential learning opportunities for students, with MLIS co-op student Kawmadie Karunanayake and history interns Lily Zitko and Karleigh Kochaniec contributing to several fonds descriptions under Glassford’s supervision.
“I’m so pleased that we’ve been able to integrate experiential learning opportunities into our work of populating the database,” added Glassford. “The students gain practical skills to augment their classroom learning and explore a possible career path, and their efforts allow us to expand the database a little more quickly than we otherwise could, to the benefit of our entire community. It’s win-win.”
The Archives and Special Collections invites University and community members alike to enjoy and make use of the treasures in its collections, which reflect the vibrant, dynamic past of our region.