Northern British Columbia is a vast geographic area that encompasses the northern half of the province: everything north of Quesnel, east to the Alberta border, and west to Haida Gwaii. This area of approximately 500,000 square kilometres has had a marginalized history in the narrative of British Columbia. Historical resources about British Columbia tend to focus on the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island. The institutions that house our province’s history and research material are also, for the most part, located south of the 50th parallel. This makes accessing research material relevant to the people of Northern BC challenging on a number of fronts.
Northern BC Archives & Special Collections (University of Northern British Columbia Library) has long felt the need to increase accessibility to research material about Northern BC. Located in Prince George, the main campus of the University of Northern British Columbia is positioned at the geographical divide of the northern and southern regions.
The university also has a number of regional campuses throughout Northern BC that are very geographically disparate, including locations in Quesnel, Terrace, and Fort St. John. The mandate of Northern BC Archives & Special Collections (NBCA) is to serve this wide area by acquiring, preserving, and providing public access to material of value related to the history and culture of Northern British Columbia.
In 2015, NBCA put forth a proposal to a private foundation for a project that would increase accessibility to research material about BC’s northern communities: The Northern BC Digital Collections Project. The purpose of the project was to digitize the public domain holdings of the NBCA that specifically pertained to Northern BC. These holdings include scientific technical reports, First Nations ethnologies, community profiles, local histories, cartographic material, newspapers, and many other types of grey literature that provide context and perspectives on Northern British Columbia’s development, its peoples, and its economic, cultural, and social transformations.
The intent was to increase accessibility to these rare local resources for our Northern BC communities, regional UNBC campuses, and the general public for broader research access.
The material was digitized in partnership with the UBC Library Digitization Centre and made available online via the UNBC Institutional Repository (hosted on Arca, the BC ELN collaborative digital repository initiative for BC post-secondary institutions). The Northern BC Digital Collection can be viewed at www.NorthernBCCollections.ca.
As a direct result of the Northern BC Digital Collection, rare publications pertaining to the history and development of Northern BC – which have never before been widely accessible – are now freely available online. Students, teachers, researchers, academics, and the general public have direct access to rare materials about Northern BC for education, research, and appreciation. UNBC’s regional campuses in Quesnel, Terrace, and Fort St. John and its educational partner, Wilp Wilxo’oskwhl Nisga’a Institute in the Nass Valley, now have access to historical research material about Northern BC.
This new electronic resource about Northern BC can be utilized as a teaching tool, particularly as more academic courses are now web-based. Making these holdings more widely and readily accessible allows UNBC Library to be increasingly supportive of the teaching and research aims across UNBC’s main and regional campuses, while ensuring long-term preservation of its print materials.
The Northern BC Digital Collection has been a success for UNBC Library, its Northern BC students, and its researchers. The next phase of development for the collection has already begun; this follow-up project will include solicitation of public domain Northern BC research material for digitization from local communities and institutions. Contact Northern BC Archives & Special Collections at [email protected] with questions and suggestions about the Northern BC Digital Collection.
> Kim Stathers is an Archivist/Librarian at the University of Northern BC Library.