Bringing History to the Library: University-Community Engagement in the Academic Library

By Cho, Alan | Computers in Libraries, May 2011 | Go to article overview

Bringing History to the Library: University-Community Engagement in the Academic Library


Cho, Alan, Computers in Libraries


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Through the power of easily accessible and engaging new digital media technologies, family and oral histories can give voice to the unknown and overlooked stories of immigrants and their families--stories that often never make it beyond the children or the grandchildren. The academic library can be a natural focal point for this interaction and exchange between academia and community. As a 3-year community-based research project at the University of British Columbia (UBC), Chinese Canadian Stories: Uncommon Histories from a Common Past is a $1.17 million project funded by the Canadian federal government's Community Historical Recognition Program (CHRP) that positions the UBC Library as a gathering place for community outreach and community-based research.

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While academic libraries have traditionally concentrated on building collections, providing research support to students and faculty, and offering information literacy instruction, they have always been integrated into the broader aspirations of the institution. Increasingly, these aspirations include community engagement and outreach. As program services librarian at the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre at UBC who specializes in community engagement, I am involved in creating connections among historians, librarians, archivists, and regular users. The Chinese Canadian Stories project is the result of connections such as these (www.chinesecanadian.ubc.ca).

History of Chinese Canadians

To understand the project's value and impact on the community in the province of British Columbia, we first must understand the history of its people. As Chinese migrants have been in the regions of Canada for more than 200 years, they have shared a history with the country's other "founding" people. However, Chinese Canadian history has included deep prejudice, even leading to the government-sanctioned "exclusion period" that restricted Chinese migration from 1885 and 1947. It also led to the misrepresentation or under representation of the Chinese and their contributions in Canada's traditional history books. The Chinese Canadian Stories project has helped rescue this group's general history, and as well as the individuals' personal stories, before they were lost forever.

The Chinese Canadian Stories Project

This project brings together the expertise and resources of a range of UBC Library units and off-campus partners: from the digitization of archival material of UBC Library's archives and special collections; to the digital storage infrastructure of cIRcle, UBC's digital institutional repository; to the community outreach and digital technology of UBC's Irving K. Barber Learning Centre; to the Chinese language online resources and community historical preservation expertise of the Asian Library. Through partnerships with community and civic institutions, including the Chinese Canadian Historical Society of BC, the Vancouver Public Library, the City of Vancouver Archives, and Simon Fraser University Library, as well as education think tank The Critical Thinking Consortium, this UBC Library-led project focuses on three initiatives: a one-stop web portal, digitization workshops, and the possibilities for reexamining the ways Chinese Canadian history can be cataloged.

A one-stop web portal. At the heart of this project is the web experience. Until now, there has never been a one-stop web portal dedicated to collecting, archiving, and accessing information about Chinese Canadian history. The vision is for any user from the public--whether a student, researcher, or just the curious-- wanting to learn about the "Chinese experience" in Canada to easily find this information online. As Google-ization has been ubiquitous in the web-based world, research and discovery are integral components of the project. With a description and URL containing the words "University of British Columbia" and "ubc. …

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