Boxes, boxes, and more boxes: my summer co-op at SFU Archives

September 06, 2023
Kira Vandermeulen tackles the SFU Archives' backlog

In the minds of many, spring signals the ideal time for decluttering and returning to their ongoing to-do list. Yet this year at SFU’s Archives and Records Management Department, summer especially took on that role.

I'm Kira, a graduate student from UBC, and I had the exciting opportunity to join SFU for a co-op term in summer 2023 as an Appraisal and Processing Project Archivist. My responsibility was to tackle a backlog of records that had been patiently awaiting attention on our archival to-do list.

The first item was a staggering 607 banker's boxes. These boxes held institutional records that were trapped in a sort of "archival limbo." Ordinarily, when University departments send us these boxes, they attach Records Retention Schedules and Disposal Authorities (RRSDAs). This allows us to integrate the important records into the archives for future reference, while bidding farewell to records that have outlived their purpose. However, these 607 boxes arrived over time without any RRSDAs, leaving us in a bind—unable to process or purge them.

Over the next month and a half, I had the experience of unearthing the contents of these boxes, engaging with departments, as well as writing and assigning RRSDAs. While it might not sound riveting from the outside, rest assured, helping make essential information accessible is very satisfying. There is also a certain satisfaction in orchestrating the demise of countless boxes of redundant records, clearing the way for the records that visitors truly seek.

In my second project, I took on an accrual of 49 boxes of records for SFU's Board of Governors fonds. Arranging and describing these records provided me with a wealth of insight into the campus's governing structures and procedures. The significance of these records for holding executive leaders accountable and shaping future university-wide decisions became abundantly clear. After processing, there were 95 archival boxes of material!

The joy of transforming chaotic boxes of records like this into accessible records series.
Kira Vandermeulen, Appraisal and Processing Project Archivist

Despite the sheer volume of boxes involved in both projects, I found it rewarding to contribute to the organization and accessibility of the archives. I'm immensely grateful for the incredible mentorship provided by Shamin Malmas, Richard Dancy, and Paul Hebbard. I extend my thanks to all the other friendly faces on the staff who offered their support during my term.

Want to learn more about Kira's work in the Archives? Check out her video documenting her co-op work term experience.