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Behind the scenes at UBC’s Douglas Coupland archives

A sampling of new material in UBC's Douglas Coupland archives. (Photo: UBC Library Rare Books and Special Collections)

Ever wonder what the archives of a novelist, screenwriter, fashion designer, and multimedia visual artist might look like? Wonder no more: the University of British Columbia Library is offering a rare behind-the-scenes peek at the archives of prolific multitalent Douglas Coupland.

Three student archivists at UBC’s School of Archival and Information Studies have been tasked with organizing a “large shipment of banker’s boxes” of new material for the Coupland fonds, which have been housed at UBC since 2008. As the trio sifts through and gives order to the 26-piece addition — everything from doodles and fan mail to a bejeweled hornet’s nest to a Styrofoam leg — they’ll blog their progress on UBC Library’s Rare Books and Special Collections website.

Not only does the project offer some insight into the work of a beloved Canadian writer and artist, it’s also the first time the special collections department has pulled back the curtain on its archiving process. Turns out it’s not quite as straightforward as a lay person might think.

From Unpacking the Douglas Coupland fonds:

The first challenge we faced with the Douglas Coupland project was figuring out how to arrange the material. We can’t just dump it into acid-free boxes and call it [a] day! One of the fundamental principles of archival work is respect for original order. This states that records should be organized in the order established or intended by the creator. So no alphabetizing! No rearranging by date!

Why is original order important? In a nutshell, it preserves the relationships between records and any evidence that could be gleaned from those relationships. Context is key.

Apparently, one of the team’s goals in organizing the material is to “collaboratively produce a clear picture of Coupland’s creative process.” A clear picture of Douglas Coupland’s creative process? In one summer? Have fun, archivists.