Doors Open Kingston and Area Community Spotlight with W.D. Jordan Rare Books and Special Collection

Posted in Community, Featured, Parent Education Resources, Tips & Advice

Doors Open Kingston and Area Community Spotlight with  W.D. Jordan Rare Books and Special Collection

Residents and visitors of Kingston, Ontario have been fortunate to have not one, but three Doors Open Kingston events this year thanks to the Kingston & Area Association of Museums, Art Galleries, and Historic Sites (KAM). If you missed the first two dates, our in-person and online tutoring team highly recommend you check out their final community festival planned for Saturday, September 23, 2023. In celebration, our president, Joanne Sallay, interviews Dr. Brendan Edwards, curator of one of the participating sites, the W.D. Jordan Rare Books and Special Collection at Queen’s University. Read on to learn what makes them different than your local school or public library, and how to take advantage of this teaching resource, even if you do not live in Kingston, Ontario!

What is Doors Open Ontario and how does it work?

Throughout spring to fall 2023, participating cities across Ontario are opening their heritage buildings, museums and local libraries to the public on designated weekends, all in partnership with Ontario Heritage Trust, businesses, non-profit organizations and volunteers. Often, many of these places do not open their doors to the public – or let you go on exclusive behind the scenes tours.

Since it’s unlikely to visit them all in one day or two, our online and in-person tutoring service is spotlighting participants this September and October from each participating community.

Teachers on Call's Kingston, ON Community Spotlight

There are so many amazing facets to Doors Open events, but their drop-in nature and free access to the public are certainly great features. In this blog, we’re spotlighting a city with many nicknames (most notably K-Town and Limestone City) with Kingston, Ontario. On the northeastern end of Lake Ontario, the city of Kingston is hosting their final Doors Open Kingston event of 2023 with seven properties to visit. “Doors Open is a wonderful way for residents and visitors to explore the Kingston region and to engage with the wide variety of cultural heritage spaces, places, and experiences available,” said Jamie McKenzie-Naish, KAM Managing Director.

Included in this esteemed group is the W.D. Jordan Rare Books and Special Collection at Queen’s University on the 2nd floor of Douglas Library (also houses the engineering and science library). The oldest of Queen's libraries, Douglas Library is located on the southeast corner of University Avenue and Union Street at 93 University Ave, Kingston, ON K7L 5C4. Fun fact, many of our in-person and online tutors have taken advantage of this resource as Teacher Candidates at the Queen’s University Faculty of Education (Duncan McArthur Hall, 511 Union St, Kingston, ON K7M 5R7).

Read on for Teachers on Call’s interview with the curator of the W.D. Jordan Rare Books and Special Collection, Dr. Brendan Edwards.

An Interview with the W.D. Jordan Rare Books and Special Collection

What is the history behind the W.D. Jordan Rare Books and Special Collection?

As an official library department, Rare Books and Special Collections was established in the 1960s. The department was named for William Dennis Jordan in 1999. Jordan (QC, BA ’38, LLD ’91) was a Queen’s graduate and friend and adviser to Joseph Stauffer and became the administrator of the Stauffer estate (Stauffer Library is also a popular study spot for Queen's students at 101 Union St, Kingston, ON K7L 2N9). Through Jordan’s benevolent administration of the Joseph S. Stauffer Foundation, several significant contributions were made to the University, including the library.  Rare Books and Special Collections is where books and print materials of significant cultural and financial value reside. Our significant collections are made up of gifts-in-kind from generous donors over the course of the University’s history, or items acquired with endowed funds from donors.  We hold examples of books dating back to the earliest days of the printing press; the oldest book in the collection was printed in Venice in 1475. Our largest collections are the Edith and Lorne Pierce Collection of Canadiana (which originates to the 1920s, making it one of the earliest university library collections of Canadiana in the country) and the Schulich-Woolf Rare Book Collection (a collection of early printed books focussing on the history and culture of the 16th-18th centuries, named for former University Principal, Daniel Woolf, and the businessman and philanthropist, Seymour Schulich).

For anyone looking to visit for the first time, what can they expect?

We’re not quite like other libraries you may have visited, and we’re certainly a little different than your average school or public library. Because we are concerned with preserving the materials in our collections for future generations, and because our materials are rare or special in one way or another, we do not allow people to borrow the books – which means you can’t sign them out and take them with you. Visitors must view the books in our collections in our reading room under the supervision of staff (don’t worry, we’re friendly!).  We don’t allow food or drink and ask that you only use pencil. We have lockers for visitors to stow their coats and bags.  These are precautions taken by almost all rare book and special collection libraries around the world, and these guidelines are in place because the material in our collections is either impossible or nearly impossible to replace and of significant cultural and/or financial value.

What does it mean to be a special collection and what types of materials do you preserve and hold?

When people think of rare books, they usually think of old books; and while this is often true, we always try to remind students that not everything old is rare, and not everything rare is old.  In other words, if a book published last week is only available in a very limited number copies and is signed by the author, then it may be considered rare.  On the other hand, some books published in the 1800s, for example, were published in thousands of copies and really aren’t that rare.  The ‘special’ in our name alludes to the fact that several of our named collections – such as the abovementioned Edith and Lorne Pierce Collection of Canadiana and the Schulich-Woolf Rare Book Collection – originate from the personal collections of prominent, important, or notable people.  In other words, the provenance of the material may be what makes in special.  In other instances, ‘special’ can refer to collections of material that are not exclusively books, such as our collection of Kingston and area postcards, stereoscopic views of the Thousand Islands, or poster and rare maps collections.

In addition to Doors Open Kingston and Area, what types of programs and exhibits do you host throughout the year?

We host dozens of university classes every year, so a big part of our clientele are undergraduate and graduate students at Queen’s. We also regularly host exhibitions of our material – our exhibitions are normally designed to showcase elements of our collections. Right now, the current exhibition is called “I Always Speak to Dogs and Cats”: Early Animal Rights Literature for Children. This exhibition, like many of our exhibitions, is a collaboration, in this case with a faculty member and doctoral student from the Department of English.  Members of the public of any age are always welcome to visit our exhibitions and collections, Monday-Friday between 8:30am and 4:30pm.

As a teaching resource at Queen’s University, which faculties do you engage with and how do you support them?

On average during the Fall and Winter terms we tend to see at least one class per week. Classes range from first year to graduate studies and are from a range of faculties and academic departments, including History, English Literature, Art History & Art Conservation, Black Studies, Classics, Fine Art, Cultural Studies, the School of Religion, Geography & Planning, and even the School of Medicine. Each class is typically custom designed to reflect the course syllabus and/or class assignments.  In a world increasingly digital, the tactile hands-on experience we offer with original materials can be transformative for students. Many return on their own to engage with the materials in our collections for personal study or research projects.

What types of assistantships are possible for interested applicants?

All the assistantships we offer provide students with hands-on opportunities to research and work with original material in one form or another and are designed to give students the opportunity to engage with history through our collections. The most common assistantship that we have hosted in recent years are practicum placements for students in HIST212 (Experiential Learning in Historical Practice). In the past, HIST212 students have worked with me on designing a stress-relief colouring book highlighting our collections that relate to the history of medicine and botany, explored the historical background behind a primer published in Mohawk in the 18th century, and assisted in developing an exhibition of fabric bookworks by a local artist.  Right now, I’m working with a HIST212 student to develop a guidebook outlining the history of the Douglas Library building, which will celebrate 100 years in 2024.  We also host the Digital Humanities Undergraduate Assistantship, which has resulted in a range of interesting projects over the years; our latest Digital Humanities Undergraduate Assistant just wrapped up a project on a collection of 16th century books and the virtual exhibition she researched and created will be launched on our website soon.  We also regularly host the Conservation Graduate Assistantship, which is open to students from the Queen’s Art Conservation Graduate Program; this assistantship is designed to provide preservation support and assist our Conservator assess the condition of collection material and carry out remedial conservation treatment. 

How can students, faculty, and the community at large take advantage of this teaching resource, including your digital collection?

All members of the community, at Queen’s, in Kingston, Ontario and beyond, are welcome to visit us in person, Monday-Friday between 8:30am and 4:30pm.  If there are specific items you’re looking for, we encourage you to reach out to us ahead of time so we can be sure not to keep you waiting when you arrive.  In addition to Doors Open Kingston, we also from time to time have participated in activities at local public libraries and school events.

For scholars outside of the Kingston, Ontario area, how can they follow your work?

You can follow us @Jordan_Library on Instagram and Twitter/X, where we regularly post updates of events, new acquisitions, and lots of pictures of cool and beautiful books. We can also be reached via our website, email (, and telephone (613-533-2839).

It goes without saying that our in-person and online tutors love visiting libraries. We hope you enjoy learning about this unique educational resource as much as we have. If you are interested to visit additional sites on Saturday, you can access the full list through the official Doors Open Kingston and Area: September website.

Not to fret if you don’t live near Kingston. If you live closer to St. Marys or Woodstock, you are in luck, as their Doors Open events are taking place the same weekend. Check out our community spotlights with Doors Open St. Marys and Doors Open Woodstock.

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