About the Archives & Special Collections

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Books and archival boxes on shelves
Archives & Special Collections preserves and makes accessible elements of our collective past.

Archives & Special Collections: A Distinctive Component of Leddy Library

The items in our collections and the ways people can interact with them are a little different from those of the larger library. We care for archival records and published works that need more protection than items in Leddy Library’s regular circulating collections, and we therefore organize, catalogue, and store them in different ways. Read on to learn about what we offer and why it's special.

Our Mandate

Archives and Special Collections plays three important roles:

  1. We support teaching, learning, and research by faculty and students at the University of Windsor, by providing access to, and context for, rare books and historical records;
  2. We preserve and make accessible the history and heritage of Southwestern Ontario through exhibits, social media, and community access, with a special focus on Windsor/Essex County, but also including Chatham-Kent, and Sarnia/Lambton County;
  3. We strengthen institutional memory at the University of Windsor by preserving official university records with long-term historical value and providing advice on records management.

Our Location

Our collections are open to the public and meant to be used! However, they are also fragile and frequently one-of-a-kind, so they are not available for borrowing or consulting off-site. Instead, we invite you to come and explore what we have to offer in the supervised, climate-controlled conditions of our Archives and Special Collections Reading Room.

You’ll find us on the Basement level of Leddy Library’s Main Building, in suite G-100. As you exit the main stairwell or elevators, turn left and head down the corridor. Look for the blue signs on our brown metal door, on your left.

Our Collections -- Archives

Archival records are (normally) unpublished materials of long-term historical or cultural significance. Common types include correspondence, diaries and other life-writing, legal records, financial records, photographs, and audio-visual recordings. They are organized either by creator (a “fonds”) or collector (a “collection”) and are described as such in our archival database. Detailed finding aids provide more information about the specific series, subseries, and files found within a larger fonds or collection. A fonds or collection frequently pertains to several different time periods or topics of interest.

Archives and Special Collections has three categories of archival records:

  • Official records of the University of Windsor (UW)
  • The archives of Assumption College (AC)
  • Community (non-university) fonds and collections (F)

There are several ways to learn what archival records we have, including our ASC Subject Guides, the Archival Database (AtoM) and Short Register, and our Archival Finding Aids. We also recommend that you contact us directly to discuss what we have that might be relevant -- we're happy to help!

Explore our Archival Materials

Our Collections -- Special Collections

Items held in our Special Collections are published works – normally books or pamphlets – that require special protection not available in the library’s main circulating collection. This may be a result of their literary merit, historical significance, monetary value, physical medium, scarcity, age, or fragility.

Special Collections publications are catalogued in the main Leddy Library catalogue (Omni). Feel free to search around and see what we have!

Search for Special Collections in the Library Catalogue

Our History

Archives & Special Collections at Leddy Library: A History
By Sarah Glassford, June 2021
~ with contributions by Johanna Foster and Brian Owens ~

       The history of Leddy Library’s Archives & Special Collections unit is one of slow growth and development in response to changes in the library and university of which it is a part. It also ably demonstrates the long-term commitment of Leddy Library and its predecessors to preserving books and manuscripts of special value and significance, for the benefit of everyone.

1960s-1970s: Emergence of Special Collections

       When the University of Windsor officially began operations in 1963, it inherited the mid-century modern library building (now known as “West Building”) and library collections of its predecessors, the non-denominational Essex College and Catholic Assumption College/Assumption University. These collections included a small number of items identified as being of special value, which were kept in a small safe (along with the library’s cashbox) behind the reference and circulation desk area on the main floor. During the late 1960s and 1970s the library’s book collection expanded dramatically, and as staff integrated these new items into the existing collection they often removed from regular circulation books of notable age or value in order to give them greater protection. A small number of archival manuscripts may also have been held in the library safe in this period.

       At some point in the early 1970s, the library’s growing number of non-circulating, protected items was moved to a small, dedicated storage space on an upper floor of the West Building. The collection was formally named “Special Collections” and librarian Jerry Malone was given responsibility for it. Malone had an undergraduate degree in History and a personal interest in the possibilities of the nascent collection; he augmented these qualifications by taking one or more Archives Methods courses at Wayne State University. In subsequent years he produced (or oversaw student production) of archival descriptions and finding aids for several large manuscript collections received by the library, producing work to the highest archival standards of the time.

       It appears that the establishment of Special Collections as a distinct component of the University Library (renamed Leddy Library in 1977) during the early 1970s led to an increase in acquisitions. University departments had their own library acquisition budgets in this era, which meant Special Collections acquisitions often reflected the research interests of particular faculty members (such as Futurism materials used by a French professor). Members of the university also facilitated the donation of manuscript materials of more general interest: University President J.F. Leddy, for instance, helped bring the papers of his friend Justice Emmett Hall to Special Collections. Some time later, when acquisition budgets shifted from teaching departments to the library itself, a small “rare books” fund was included within the library’s overall acquisition budget. Manuscripts continued to be received as donations from time to time, although there was no deliberate attempt to collect archival materials. In 1979-80 honorary degree recipient Conrad Black proposed to donate to the university some original records in his possession relating to Quebec Premier Maurice Duplessis, while at the same time University of Windsor professors Trevor Price (Political Science) and Larry Kulisek (History) were trying to drum up support for the preservation of Windsor/Essex archival records. These separate but simultaneous developments prompted the creation of an Archives Committee at the university, to discuss the possibilities for archival work in Leddy Library.

1980s-mid 2010s: Development of the Archives

       In 1970-71 the library’s need for space to support its growing collections necessitated a major building extension (now known as “Main Building”). The extension included a basement space designed as an art gallery and meeting space for the university which was used as such for many years. However, with the donation of the Duplessis papers in 1980, this small suite of rooms slowly transitioned from an art gallery to a home for Special Collections and its growing archival component. Art was displayed in higher-traffic areas on the main floor instead, and Jerry Malone (appointed as “Acting University Archivist” by 1982) oversaw the retrofit of the gallery space with temperature controls and additional security including a strongroom vault area. The library also invested in archival-quality boxes and folders to house the manuscript collection. Dr. Philip Mason, head of archives at Wayne State University, was called in to consult on these arrangements on several occasions.

        Arranging and describing manuscript collections held by Special Collections became the focus of several Canada Summer Student grants in the early 1980s, and by the end of the decade Malone gained a full-time assistant. With the shift from a card catalogue to computer-based cataloguing in the late 1980s-early 1990s, Leddy Library’s staff and their job descriptions underwent a major reorganization. Agnes Pearson, a staff member previously in charge of filing in the card catalogue, was now redeployed as the Special Collections assistant. What retired librarian Johanna Foster describes as Pearson’s “urge to organize” led to the creation of the first thorough inventory of archival manuscripts held in Special Collections, completed in 1991.

       The University of Windsor as a whole went through a period of strategic planning and major reorganization during the late 1980s and early 1990s, which directly affected the development of Special Collections and the hopes nurtured by the Archives Committee. In 1994 archivist Dr. Brian Owens was hired on a cross-appointment between Leddy Library and the Department of History. Owens held a doctorate in Archival Studies from University College London, having studied under Dr. Jane E. Sayers, and had previously worked at the Provincial Archives of Alberta and at the McGill University Archives. In History, Owens was charged with establishing and directing a Master’s program in Archival Studies; at Leddy, he was given the task of expanding and elevating the quality of Special Collections according to professional standards, as well as establishing some sort of Records Management and/or Archives for the official records of the University of Windsor.

        In the year 2000 the Archival Studies program folded and Owens moved into the library full-time. His attempts to institute a formal Records Management program for the university were similarly stymied by various factors. Nevertheless, under Owens’ tenure the unit – now officially renamed Archives, Rare Books and Special Collections (ARBSC) – took on a new visibility within the library, university, and community, as he worked with university administrators to acquire records, lectured and delivered seminars in a variety of university programs, and collaborated with local heritage professionals on exhibits and a few early digitization initiatives. In 2004-5 he spent a sabbatical year as an Academic Visitor at the University of Oxford (in association with Wadham College), researching at the Bodleian Library and lecturing at various colleges. Back at Leddy, Owens acquired important books including those related to the War of 1812 and the Underground Railroad, as well as new manuscript collections from both within and outside the university. Notably, the latter included records from the Essex and Kent Scottish Regiment, and papers from every former University of Windsor President. Beginning in 1995 ARBSC’s archival manuscripts were organized into a system of numbered accessions and staff began populating the unit’s first computer database for archival materials. Owens also upgraded the fire suppression, temperature/humidity, and security systems in the unit’s basement suite of rooms and established a host of administrative policies (including a defined archival collection policy focusing on the history of Southwestern Ontario) and procedures for the unit. The cumulative effect of all these changes was the successful achievement in 2009 of “Category A” status for ARBSC, indicating that the unit has demonstrated to federal government standards that it is able to ensure the long-term preservation of cultural property. Owens was assisted in these efforts by a series of archival assistants: Karen Marrero, Margaret McGaffrey-Pichet, and Ana-Maria Staffen.

Late 2010s-Present: Archives and Special Collections Comes of Age

       In 2014, Assumption University transferred its archives (previously kept in several rooms above the altar in the chapel space of Assumption Hall) into the keeping of ARBSC, extending the documentary record of the university held by ARBSC back into the nineteenth century. In the following year, Owens retired; ARBSC was without a professional archivist for the next four years. In the interim, a series of librarians held responsibility for the unit while day-to-day operations were overseen by the archival assistant (first Ana-Maria Staffen, then Sue Fader). In 2017 Fader and librarian Peter Zimmerman began a major reorganization of the ARBSC space (including a portion of the basement compact storage room, into which ARBSC collections had expanded in the 2000s) with a focus on the book collection. This allowed them to repatriate archival collections which had been stored elsewhere in the library for lack of space.

       Efforts to breathe new life into ARBSC gained further momentum with the hiring of a new full-time archivist in 2019. Dr. Sarah Glassford held master's degrees in both History and Library and Information Science as well as a doctorate in History; she spent a decade as a professor of Canadian History, and had more recently worked as an archivist for the Canadian Red Cross and the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick. This background enabled her to continue the work of her predecessors and further elevate the archival component of the unit to currently-accepted standards. She began by streamlining the unit’s name: reflecting its two core components and in keeping with practice at other academic libraries, it is now officially known as Archives and Special Collections (ASC).

       After Glassford’s arrival, Peter Zimmerman continued as Special Collections librarian and Sue Fader as archival assistant. With valuable assistance from Devon Mordell (Digital Collections librarian in 2019-20), the ASC team launched a variety of initiatives to improve access and discoverability of the unit’s collections, focusing especially on the archives. These included grouping related accessions into a new fonds-based system of organization, transitioning to a modern Access to Memory (AtoM) database (with plans to eventually make it online searchable by the public), completing a thorough inventory of audio-visual holdings preparatory to a digitization-for-preservation program, establishing a digital archives acquisition and preservation system, expanding and improving the ASC web presence (including instructional and blog components), and ongoing efforts to expand and improve the arrangement and description of individual archival collections. Glassford diversified the archival collection by acquiring materials from local 2SLGBTQIA+ and Black donors, while existing descriptions of the unit’s Indigenous materials were revised as necessary in an effort to decolonize them. The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020-22 saw ASC staff working entirely or primarily from home, separated from their collections, for two years, but the team carried on remotely with email reference and elements of the database, website, and finding aid projects that were possible with little or no access to the vault. Donations and archival rescue interventions also continued throughout the pandemic, albeit in modified forms. The pandemic similarly prompted new forms of collaboration with the Leddy Library Centre for Digital Studies (CDigS), particularly through joint projects and shared supervision of student placements. In 2024 the post-pandemic ASC welcomed a second archivist, Antoinette Seymour. Seymour's enthusiasm and experience enabled the unit to expand its core work of access and preservation in exciting new directions.

       From its humble origins as a few items in a library safe, to its current existence as a semi-autonomous library unit caring for hundreds of archival collections and thousands of unique and rare published works, over the past six decades Archives and Special Collections has evolved into a true jewel in the crown of Leddy Library. The collections in its keeping are indeed special, and its mandate to preserve them in perpetuity makes an important contribution to the teaching and research mission of the University of Windsor, as well as to the collective memory of Southwestern Ontario as a whole.

Our Staff

Archives & Special Collections is staffed by a small but dedicated team. As custodians of rare and unique items we work to find the delicate balance between preserving our collections for future generations and making them as useful and accessible as possible in the present.

Dr. Sarah Glassford – Archivist; Special Collections Librarian

Provides long-term planning for Archives & Special Collections; arranges and describes archival materials; provides tours and presentations about Archives; supervises student placements; creates physical and digital exhibits; advises on preservation issues; works with donors of archival materials and rare books; advises on records management within the university; monetarily appraises archival materials; acquires published works for Special Collections.

Antoinette Seymour – Archivist

Provides long-term planning for Archives & Special Collections; arranges and describes archival materials; provides tours and presentations about Archives; supervises student placements; creates physical and digital exhibits; advises on preservation issues; works with donors of archival materials; advises on records management within the university.

Peter Zimmerman – Digital Preservation Librarian

Coordinates digital preservation of archival materials; creates digital exhibits; supports student placements involving a digital preservation or exhibit component.

Sue Fader – Archives Assistant

Answers reference questions and general inquiries; provides tours; creates physical exhibits; aids visiting researchers; assists with cataloguing and arrangement, conservation, reproductions, and digitization. 


Archives & Special Collections staff can be reached with reference questions or general inquiries as follows:
  • By emailarchive@uwindsor.ca
  • By phone:  519-253-3000 ext. 3851
  • In-person:  Leddy Library (Main Building) basement, suite G-100
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