Question: What glitters and was once home to thousands of swarming insects?
Answer: The contents of file 184-38 of the Douglas Coupland fonds at UBC’s Rare Books and Special Collections.
This dazzling bejeweled hornet’s nest has presented us with a unique range of questions… so let’s take a brief tour of the archivist’s approach to this wonder of nature.
Let’s face the most important question. Why is this hornet’s nest a part of the Douglas Coupland fonds in the first place? If you’re familiar with Coupland’s work you may recall his nest sculptures. This nest that now resides in UBC’s vault is not of his own making, but it does communicate his exploration and interest in these objects. But why is it bejeweled? We’ll leave that one to researchers to figure out! [Archivist’s note: Coupland also made an addition to his archives in 2010 which included wasp-nest paper in various stages of being “hand-chewed” by Coupland- this material resides in boxes 152 through 154 in the collection].
The idea of bringing an object that was created by insects and has been who-knows-where into the our sterile environment made us cringe (believe it or not, archivists aren’t huge fans of pests or dirt or mould or any other force of nature that likes to wreck paper). We did some research and learned a bit about the nature of the hornet beast along the way – check out this website for more info: http://www.ipm.iastate.edu/ipm/iiin/bhornets.html. Since the nest has been around for a few years, it turns out that it won’t be a danger to itself or its new archival neighbors.
Our last obstacle in preparing the nest for its stay in the archives relates to its fragile nature. It certainly doesn’t fit in a legal size acid-free folder. Here’s how we nested the nest (opens a wmv file):
The fragile nest now resides in an acid-free cardboard box. We stabilized it within the box through the use of foam and tissue padding and archivally-approved bubble wrap.