The University of British Columbia Library has had strengths in classic and canonical children’s literature since the mid-1960s when UBC’s graduating class of 1925 donated the exceptional Alice One Hundred Collection to the Library’s Rare Books and Special Collections. The class donated the nearly 500 items, dating between 1858 and 1965, in celebration of their 40th anniversary and the 100th anniversary of the original publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The children’s literature collection continued to grow with the donation in 1976 of the Arkley Collection of Early and Historical Children’s Literature by Stan T. Arkley, a native of Vancouver and a member of UBC’s class of 1925, and his wife, Rose. Today, through purchase and donation, the Arkley Collection comprises more than 12,000 Canadian, British, and American children’s books, serials, and manuscripts. The Arkley Collection has always prioritized popular works or “books that children actually read,” so the Harry Potter series, as the most popular children’s literature series in several generations, seemed a natural fit and an important area for current acquisition to avoid future gaps in the collection.
Unexpectedly, as UBC Library began to add Harry Potter books to the collection, a number of profound and surprising connections that Vancouver shares with the Harry Potter series came to light. For example, Vancouver’s iconic Raincoast Books published the Canadian editions of the Harry Potter series until 2010, while Kidsbooks in Kitsilano was the first bookstore in all of Canada to carry Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The Library was delighted at its opportunity to preserve not only the books themselves for future generations, but also the story of the impact that the series has had on the people, the business, and the cultural landscape of Vancouver.
In the spring of 2016, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra announced that it would perform the Canadian premiere of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in concert, as part of the Harry Potter™ Film Concert Series. These remarkable performances feature the full symphony orchestra performing the entire score live synchronized with the film screening. The head of UBC Library’s Rare Books and Special Collections, Katherine Kalsbeek, reached out to Kelly Tweeddale, president of the Vancouver Symphony Society, to see if a collaboration between the VSO and UBC Library might be possible. UBC Library offered to create a display of Harry Potter books for symphony goers to enjoy in the lobby of the historic Orpheum theatre before the concert and during intermission. Following the first successful display for the Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone performances, UBC Library has created displays for all of the subsequent film concerts, up to the fifth film, which was performed last July. With a capacity at the Orpheum of over 2,500, and three sold-out or near-sold-out performances of each film concert, each collaboration provides the potential for some 7,500 people to enjoy the UBC Library display and learn about its rare and unique holdings.
Over the more than two years of collaboration between UBC Library and the VSO, the displays have expanded beyond Harry Potter to include antiquarian materials, most notably from the Library’s William C. Gibson History of Medicine and Science Collection, providing insight into the kinds of fascinating source materials author J. K. Rowling might have used to create her magical world. Displays have also featured archival materials and memorabilia on loan from the family of Allan MacDougall, founder of Raincoast Books, which highlighted his significant role in bringing Harry Potter to Canada, as well as materials on loan from UBC’s Quidditch team and the Vancouver Vipertooths Quidditch team.
The reaction to the UBC Library displays at the VSO performances has been positive on both the VSO and UBC Library’s social media channels. They have also helped patrons find their way to Rare Books and Special Collections at UBC Library to join a weekly drop-in tour or just find out more about the Library’s collections.
The VSO’s next Harry Potter film concert performances of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince will take place in June 2019, and UBC Library will have a magical new display for all the attending witches and wizards to enjoy. We hope you will be one of them!
Chelsea Shriver is the Rare Books and Special Collections Librarian, UBC Library.