The times they are a-changing in Whistler’s historical collections

Time are changing in the world of archival and artefact collections, and it’s definitely hard to keep up with the resulting backlog. This is a good problem to have, because it means the community trusts the museum to preserve its past. We have had a significant increase in the number and size of donations to the Whistler Museum and Archives over the past two years (thanks to those who donated!), and we hope we will continue to be on the minds of locals when older things are looking for a new home. We have a few theories as to what led to the increase of donations, the main one being that the COVID-19 pandemic and its accompanying lockdowns and business closures allowed some locals the time to do a bit of cleaning and clearing of their homes.

Some of the materials donated as part of the Whistler Pride collection.

While the influx of donations is a particular challenge for us in terms of having enough storage space, it’s also very exciting for the Collections Department here, as there have been items donated on more varied subjects, which can help us fill gaps in our collections. For instance, we have welcomed more documents on the origins of Blackcomb Mountain, more artefacts and photographs relating to the history of snowboarding in the area, a large collection of Whistler Pride documents and artefacts, and even some of the COVID-19 signs which were put up in Whistler Village during 2020. It is very important to us that our collections reflect the community we serve, and this can be a difficult task at times due to donations being a voluntary and charitable act. We always encourage donations, and for locals to remind others that donating items to the Whistler Museum is a much-appreciated option before sending older items and documents to the trash.

Digital files could be stored on many different devices, and are donated to the archives in various forms.

It’s not just our own collections at the museum that are changing, but also the types of media being donated to archives in general. Photographs, videos, and documents that were born in a digital environment are now being donated to archives, and we are no exception here. USB sticks, hard drives, and .jpg files have been donated to the Whistler Museum and Archives this year, heralding the Age of Information which will surely make the process of archiving more complex over time. If a donor were to donate the entire contents of their email account, it would make for some very grueling description work for entering into the archival catalogue, which connects researchers to our collections, and this is just one part of that growing complexity for archivists. In this day and age, data, photos, and files are being created at ever-increasing speeds as technology smooths the path. While this may help future generations learn about ours due to the wealth of evidence we’ve created, it also makes it very difficult to weed through our data to decide what is of value and worth keeping. Endless information is only useful if it is mapped in some way to allow us to access the information that is meaningful to us.

For the time being, the Whistler Museum and Archives has still been able to keep up with the amount of born-digital donations, but the future of preserving the history of Whistler through digital means may become more complicated in the coming decades!

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