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Special Collections

Guidelines currently under review 2021

VIU Library’s Special Collections Guidelines (under review, 2021)

I. Mission

The Vancouver Island University Library’s Special Collections will identify, collect, organize, preserve, and provide access to material which supports the educational, research, and scholarly needs of the VIU community.

Due to the rare, valuable, and unique nature of this material, Special Collections is non-circulating and is held in closed stacks, separate from the rest of the library collection to provide security and preservation measures.

II. Standards and Guidelines

The Special Collections (SC) Guidelines supports both VIU’s Academic Plan ( and addresses relevant strategies outlined in VIU Library’s 2018 Strategic Plan (

They also reflect the guidelines and position statements for Special Collections provided by the following library organizations: Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), Association of Research Libraries (ARL).

III. Collection Focus

The main collection areas focus on the history and culture of Vancouver Island, primarily for the mid and north island regions, as well as the Sunshine Coast; Canadian exploration and discovery, primarily for coastal British Columbia; and selections of institutional publications.

In addition to print books (including rare books), SC contains a range of materials and formats comprising of magazines, newsletters, newspapers, journals, maps/atlases, reports, photographs, unpublished items (e.g. letters and manuscripts), DVDs, CDs, 3D artifacts, and digitized materials.

Special Collections does not function as the repository of VIU records.

IV. Collection Scope

Special Collections will expand the breadth and scope of the Vancouver Island collections, while continuing to develop the depth of its exploration and discovery collections.  In addition, selected institutional documents consisting of faculty, staff, and student publications in print and other media will continue to be collected.

Collection development will remain open to opportunities to initiate new collections not currently anticipated that would support our research and scholarly community and may not be collected elsewhere.

Special Collections will include, but not be limited to the following areas:

1. History and Culture of Vancouver Island

- focuses on the history and culture of Vancouver Island, primarily for the mid and north island regions, as well as the Sunshine Coast       

a. Ethnic Peoples

  • material on the various ethnic peoples who were founding settlers and pioneers on Vancouver Island and other coastal islands (Chinese, Japanese, Black/African American, South Asian/East Indian, Finnish, etc.).These collections may consist of material regarding history, settlements, art & culture, cemeteries, birth & death records, labour, churches, museums, cenotaphs, Chinatowns (Nanaimo), local newspapers, publications (e.g. books, dictionaries)

b. First Nations Peoples and Metis

  • local languages, art & culture, history, literature publications, traditional knowledge/ways of knowing, traditional medicines, and traditional food

c. History and Settlement

  • the early history and settlement communities, pioneer houses and town architecture, churches, institutions (e.g. academic, research, social), prominent families, and ghost towns

d. Arts & Culture

  • special events (centennial celebrations, royal visits); societies, associations & clubs; theatres (e.g. Nanaimo Theatre Group);  music and musicians; publications & small presses (e.g. newspapers, books); sports & athletics, education and research

e. Industries

  • the history of the prominent industries on Vancouver Island and coastal areas including fishing/whaling/canneries, forestry/logging, farming/agriculture, and mining

f. Coastal Islands, British Columbia

  • as appropriate, the history and culture of adjacent coastal islands such as the Gulf Islands (e.g. Gabriola Island, Thetis & Kuper Islands, Hornby & Denman Islands), Cormorant Island (Alert Bay), and Malcolm Island (Sointula)

2. Natural History and Environment of Vancouver Island

- focuses on the natural history and environment of Vancouver Island, primarily for the mid and north island regions, as well as the Sunshine Coast

a. Flora and Fauna

  • material on the various flora and fauna of the island, including representative species, along with species that may be rare, endangered, or unique to this area (e.g. Vancouver Island Marmot, Roosevelt Elk, Western Bluebird)

b. Ecology and Environment

  • includes material on the various island ecosystems and protected areas (estuaries and marshes, Garry Oak ecosystems, parks, etc.), along with environmental issues and concerns regarding Vancouver Island and area islands (e.g. industrial impact, climate change)

c. Geography

  • includes material regarding the relationship between island places and the interactions and relationships between people and these places

d. Geology

  • material pertaining to the structure, composition, and evolutionary processes of the island (land forms e.g. deltas, fossils, etc.)

3. Exploration and Discovery

- consists of works on early Canadian explorers and explorations, particularly of coastal British Columbia such as Captain James Cook, Captain Vancouver, Alexandro Malaspina, Francisco Eliza, Dionisio Alcala Galiano, Cayetano Valdes, and Captain Robert Gray (Fort Defiance)

4. Vancouver Island University Publications

A selection of  publications by VIU staff, students, faculty, and administration such as student handbooks, collective agreements, convocation programs, student newsletters, staff bulletins, human rights reports, The Blue Book, Research & Scholarly Activity,  VIU Book (Viewbook), The Journey, The Portal, The Navigator, and Mainly Mal.

V. Selection Responsibility

Special Collections is selected and developed in collaboration with the Special Collections Coordinator, the Subject Liaison Librarians, the Collections Coordinator, the University Librarian, and in consultation with instructional faculty.  Final approval, regarding the inclusion of items to this collection, is the responsibility of the SC coordinator.

VI. a) Access

The VIU Library’s Special Collections is open to members of the VIU community, visiting researchers, and members of the general public.

Researchers wishing to access material in this collection are requested to make an appointment.

Researchers are asked to consult the Reading Room Procedures ( prior to making an appointment and then to complete a Materials Request Form located on the Special Collections website: ( )

Special Collections is non-circulating; therefore, research must be conducted in the Reading Room.  Alternative arrangements may be required for class bookings (see Class Visits).

Access to some material may be limited due to donor restrictions, poor physical condition, privacy concerns, or legal issues.

b) Class Visits

Class visits (tours) in Special Collections are available by appointment and are usually conducted in the SC Reading Room.

Instructional faculty may book a visit with their students to view or use SC materials or be given a general overview of the collection.  Depending on class size, small groups may use the SC Reading Room, while larger groups may be required to use an alternative room in the library building (e.g. Room 507).  Please contact the SC coordinator to arrange times, location, and to discuss students’ research assignments.

In both cases, appointments must be arranged in advance with the SC coordinator and instructors are requested to complete the Class Visit Form located on the Special Collections website:

VII. Reading Room Procedures

The procedures for researchers working in the Reading Room is available online on the Special Collections website on the Library’s web page, and in print at the Service Desk.

VIII. Languages

Collecting is primarily in English; however, other languages may be collected within the scope of some areas that reflect cultural importance (e.g. First Nations and other ethnic cultures).

IX. Acquisitions & Deselections

a) Acquisitions

The acquisition of material for Special Collections will be achieved by the following strategies:

  • a small fund from the library budget
  • transfer of items from stacks
  • donations & gifts
  • fund raising and the establishment of a Special Collections endowment fund                                          

Donations & Gifts - Acceptance

Special Collections welcomes donations of appropriate rare and unique material and encourages prospective donors to consult with the Subject Liaison Librarian and the Special Collections Coordinator to ensure that the potential donation complies with the collection criteria specified in the SC guidelines.

Donors wishing to donate material to our Special Collections are asked to contact the Collections Coordinator, Jean Blackburn.   When a donation is accepted, a donation form must be completed with the SC Coordinator which is then past on to the VIU Foundation for processing.


                                              Donations & Gifts – Refusals

Special Collections may refuse potential donations considered inappropriate for reasons such as the following:

  • material does not fall within the parameters of the SC guidelines
  • material is not unique and is available in other collections
  • Special Collections is not able to accommodate the physical size of the donation or the degree of processing that may be required to bring it into the collection
  • the donor has attached unacceptable restrictive conditions to the donation
  • material is damaged (e.g. mold, pests, poor physical condition)
  • donations are not accepted on Deposit Agreements

b) Deselections

Special Collections material may be deselected for the following reasons:

  • duplication of material available in its collection or in collections elsewhere
  • deterioration of material is beyond repair or usability
  • material no longer falls within the collection scope of the SC guidelines

Unless stated by the donor in the original donation form (e.g. a request to be returned to donor), deselected items will be dealt with according to the terms of the Gift Acceptance Policy & Form. If material is sold, the resulting funds will be applied towards the VIU Library’s Special Collections.

X. Special Collections – Digitization

When possible and appropriate, items in the Special Collections will be digitized to facilitate access to users and to assist in the preservation of the original material.  These digitized items are available on the Library’s site: VIUSpace

XI. Cultural Stewardship

In special cases at the request of a community or a cultural property holder, the VIU Library’s SC will serve in a stewardship capacity for cultural material needing housing, protection, and preservation.

Procedures for appropriate care, access, and use will be determined with authorized representatives or with the intellectual and cultural property owners.

The Special Collections will return (repatriate) materials to the community or cultural property holder upon request of an authorized representative as agreed in the stewardship agreement.

XII. Copyright

Access and photographic reproduction of Special Collections material is for personal use/research and does not imply copyright permission for publication or performance.

It is the responsibility of the user to obtain permission from the copyright holder.

Please refer to the library’s guide on Copyright Licences

An Act to Amend the Copyright Act, 2012

VIU Policy 31.02:  Copyright (Under review) 

XIII. Security

In accordance with ACRL guidelines, Security and Theft in Special Collections, researchers are only allowed in the Reading Room of the Special Collections designated as the ‘public space’ for this area.  There is restricted access to the SC vault where the collection is held.

A Special Collections Materials Request Form must be completed by users before they have access to the Reading Room and materials.  Photo identification must be provided by a researcher at the commencement of an appointment, and will be returned at the conclusion.

Researchers should be familiar with the Reading Room Procedures and these procedures should also be posted in the Reading Room.

Keys to Special Collections are limited to staff with SC responsibilities.

XIV. Collaboration with Other Institutions

Special Collections libraries on Vancouver Island and throughout British Columbia were considered as part of the guideline development process in order to facilitate complementary holdings.  Our special collections process will be responsive to opportunities for collaboratively sharing and developing collections with peer institutions.

XV. Guideline Review

The VIU Library’s Special Collections Guidelines will be reviewed periodically to ensure that it continues to reflect changes and developments in this collection and to support the institution’s collection needs.

Special Collections Guidelines, 2016.  Updated Nov. 2018.

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