Lowry Manuscripts (Re)Launch

Many thanks to guest blogger Malcolm Fish for contributing the below post! Malcolm is a graduate student at the UBC School of Information and has just completed a Co-op position with RBSC. He’ll be continuing on with RBSC this term in a Graduate Academic Assistant (GAA) position.

Funding for this project was generously provided by the George Woodcock Canadian Literature and Intellectual Freedom Endowment.

[Lowry] On board the ferry to Gabriola. BC-1614-015

UBC Library Rare Books and Special Collections is pleased to announce the (re)launch of the landmark Malcolm Lowry Manuscripts Collection. One of the largest single collections of Malcolm Lowry records worldwide, UBC has been collecting Lowry materials since the initial deposit of the Malcolm Lowry papers by Lowry’s widow, Margerie Bonner Lowry, in 1961. Since that initial deposit, the collection has grown substantially, now spanning more than six meters of textual records, more than 1000 photographs, and a variety of A/V materials, including a copy of the movie adaptation of Lowry’s seminal novel, Under the Volcano. Now that work assessing and redescribing the Collection is complete, researchers and educators can access and search this incredible collection more effectively than ever.

Summary of Work Completed

The Malcolm Lowry Manuscripts Collection is one of UBC’s oldest keystone research collections. Given the scope of the holdings, any work undertaken to update and improve the collection’s inventory records and access descriptions was going to require substantial time and effort to effect. RBSC was able to acquire funding specifically to undertake an overhaul of the Collection in 2023. I was hired as a Co-op student to inventory, assess, and redescribe the Collection.

Work on the Collection was completed in four stages. First, I completed a full physical inventory of all the Malcolm Lowry materials, and compared this inventory with the existing finding aid for the Collection. During the inventory stage, I also noted any preservation issues for future treatment. Fortunately, I did not find any urgent concerns.

[Lowry and Margerie on a street]. BC-1614-664

Once I completed the inventory and confirmed the accuracy of the information in the finding aid, I began stage two, which consisted mostly of data entry. The old PDF finding aid predated current archival descriptive standards and the archival database, AtoM (Access to Memory), used by UBC. Useful information (file titles, date ranges, etc.) was taken from that finding aid and entered into AtoM, forming the file-level descriptions now available for easy searching and perusal.

During stage three, I focused on increasing intellectual control of the Collection’s many sub-collections. The Malcolm Lowry Manuscripts Collection is comprised of the core Malcolm Lowry Papers and many smaller personal collections donated by or purchased from individuals related to Malcolm Lowry. Many of these smaller collections had previously been considered distinct entities related to the Lowry Papers, but not part of them. At times they were listed twice, once in the old PDF finding aid and also as separate groupings, leading to confusion. I examined each of the sub-collections to determine whether they should be subsumed under the Malcolm Lowry Manuscripts Collection umbrella as a sous-founds (a subdivision of a fonds based on the structure of the creator or the organization of its activity) or maintained as separate, but related materials.

Stage four was reserved for the extensive Photographs sous-fonds. Prior to my work, only about 200 of the more than 1000 photographs in the Malcolm Lowry Manuscripts Collection had been described. Many of the Collection photographs originally came in the form of three photo albums. Previous RBSC staff had removed these photographs from the albums for long-term preservation purposes, but as a result, important contextual information about the order of photographs in the albums was missing. Based on numbered annotations made on the pages of the photograph albums, I added notes about which photographs had come from which albums, and updated the descriptions in the Photographs sous-fonds descriptions. The process was exactly as convoluted as it sounds, but it all led to a significantly expanded set of descriptions of one of the most frequently accessed parts of the Collection.

Once stages one through four were completed, the AtoM record for the Collection was restructured and updated to match the changes described above and descriptions from the collection down to the file and item level were uploaded, resulting in the newly (re)launched Malcolm Lowry Manuscripts Collection page.

Changes to the Collection

The Collection is now organized by creator under the Malcolm Lowry Manuscripts Collection umbrella. For example, the Margerie Lowry collection is now SF02 – Margerie Lowry Papers under the Collection umbrella. Similarly, photographs and microfilm have been given their own sous-fonds for ease of searching. These are SF13 – Photographs and SF14 – Microfilm.

For those familiar with the Collection, a few changes to the descriptions have been made, for example “Papers” is now used instead of “fonds” (e.g., SF03 – Earle Birney Papers, SF04 – Harvey Burt Papers). The Lowry Family fonds is also now also a sous-fonds under the Collection umbrella (SF12 – Lowry Family Papers). In order to maintain the accuracy of citations that refer to the previous descriptions, unique identifiers assigned to each part of the collection have been retained for searching purposes. This will allow all older citation information to remain relevant should new users need to track down a specific source, reference, or citation which predates the relaunch.

Ongoing Work

Lowry, Loughrigg How, Lake District. Author’s favorite photograph [p. is cropped with the inscription: Malcolm Lowry, author of Hear Us O Lord From Heaven Thy Dwelling place which will be published by J.B. Lippincott Company]. BC-1614-125

Once the Collection had been overhauled, I commenced processing backlogged acquisitions related to Malcolm Lowry. These include the Douglas Day Papers (SF15 – Douglas Day Papers), the Rudy Wurlitzer Papers (SF16 – Rudy Wurlitzer Papers), and several other small additions which we hope to add in 2024.

The Malcolm Lowry Manuscripts Collection is one of UBC’s keystone research collections and one of the largest single collections of Malcolm Lowry materials in the world. Researchers and educators frequently come to UBC specifically to access this collection. Overhauling, inventorying, and restructuring the collection has been a satisfying project, which ensures future users are able to effectively search the Collection and find what they are looking for.