Student employment in the McGill Library benefits the entire McGill community. At almost 100 strong this academic year, McGill Library student workers gain valuable work experience while engaging in academic pursuits. Student navigators, curatorial interns, special project assistants and student researchers bring an immeasurable amount to the life and culture of the Library. Over the next few weeks, Library Matters will share testimonials from library student workers, many of whom come to us through programs like McGill’s Work Study Program and are supported by students societies and associations like the SSMU Library Improvement Fund (LIF), the Arts Undergraduate Society, the McGill Music Undergraduate Student Association (MUSA) and Post Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS). Thank you to all our student workers – your hard work and dedication means the world to the Library and McGill!
Nikolas Lamarre (BA’19, English Literature and History) was the Bicentennial Project Research Assistant from May 2019 – July 2019 and McGill University Archives (MUA) Assistant from May 2018 – May 2019. His position as archives assistant was supported by the SSMU LIF. Nikolas is now working on a Master of Science degree in Book History and Material Culture at the University of Edinburgh.
Q: What made you want to apply to work for McGill University Archives?
Nikolas Lamarre (NL): In my final year, I wanted to gain work experience in a field that reflected my current and future studies in book history and material culture. Also, I wanted to explore different areas of McGill as I was not familiar with the collections ROAAr held and the services they provided. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised and learned a lot from my experience there.
Q: What kind of work have you been doing at MUA?
NL: I was mostly appointed to the reference desk which answers all types of McGill related questions from researchers across the world. What’s great about this position is that I got to explore every facet of archival work on every inquiry from a ‘customer’ service standpoint (we call them patrons), retrievals in the basement stacks to full historical researches. It really challenges you on every level, but it really does keep the work thrilling.
Q: What do you like about working at the MUA?
NL: Everything! That might be a vague and cheesy answer but it’s true. I have a motto in life that every day at work should bring new and interesting discoveries, enough to keep one’s mind captivated. And the Archives sure did not disappoint! New challenges and interesting finds at every turn as well as a great work environment with amazing colleagues. I have learned so much from their experience. Their passion reflects in everything they do which is stimulating and very much needed in a field that is relatively unknown especially amongst students.
Q: What surprised you the most about working at the Archives?
NL: The fact that many people don’t know we are here to help! I have been trying hard to inform my fellow students about the amount of information at their disposal. We have amazing fonds that are well known. McGill’s own students are not fully aware of the gems they have right at their fingertips – hopefully stories like this one will help get the word out!
Q: Any “Aha!” moments or takeaways from the experience?
NL: I think the biggest “Aha!” moments came when I finally found the right answer to a researcher’s inquiry. Oftentimes, I would work on a ‘case’ for a couple of hours before finding the exact information needed. It’s a mix of following your gut feeling and falling into a deep dive into the archives’ numerous databases. It’s a lot of trips up and down McLennan and into the basement stacks just to maybe find the one file you have been desperately looking for. But when all the stars seemingly align, the answer just unfolds right in front of your eyes and everything makes sense. Plus, the researchers are always ecstatic at the idea of having their questions answered as thoroughly as possible. They also are very grateful for the little extra work you put into their inquiry. Working in archives is a truly rewarding job!
Q: Coolest/oddest/most interesting thing you have come across?
NL: First, the archives are FULL of cool and odd things. To me, the coolest things are any artefacts or items of ephemera that belonged to specific students. For example, the archives hold students’ matriculation cards and lecture notes from the late 1800s for classes given by great professors like William Osler; or items of clothing such as Scarlet Key sweaters or ski parkas; and even personal memorabilia like family photo albums. I think it is fascinating to see that these items could have easily been discarded or lost through time, but somehow were kept in almost pristine condition in some cases. In terms of odd things, I did come across a now empty wooden box that used to contain principal Frank Cyril James’ ashes. A fact I learned only after opening the box… All these holdings make me question what our generation deems important, what we’ll leave behind, and what cool/odd things we may find in our future archives. In the end, it’s all a matter of historical context, personal taste and perspective.