The William Ready Division of Archives and Research Collections houses many archives and manuscripts. Some of these are quite large and extend to several hundred metres; others consist of several leaves of a manuscript or a few letters. All in all, they constitute a rich diversity of research material in the humanities and social sciences. The papers of the Canadian cartoonist, John Wilson Bengough, acquired in 1939, were the first archives deposited at McMaster University Library. In the 1960s the Library began in earnest to build and to collect archives that are essential to a wide variety of academic programmes and research interests. These archives have both an international and a national significance. Prior to 1800, there are over 100 manuscripts, beginning with Boethius's De consolatione philosophiae written in 1150 A.D.
On the international scale there are fonds of Bertrand Russell, the writer and pacifist Vera Brittain, the author Anthony Burgess, the inventor of Basic English C.K. Ogden, the journalist John Garvin, and novelist Ralph Strauss. There are also archival collections pertaining to Edmund Blunden, Franz Liszt, Siegfried Sassoon, H.G. Wells, Virginia Woolf, and many others. The Ready Division's holdings with respect to the First and Second World Wars, particularly regarding British involvement and the pacifist experience, are outstanding -- diaries, propaganda, posters, trench maps, photographs, correspondence between a son and his parents, scrapbooks, narratives of convalescent soldiers, records kept by nurses, medical descriptions of gas attacks, minute books of tribunal hearings, and accounts of battles.
On the national level the Ready Division has voluminous papers of Canadian publishers: the Book Society of Canada; Clarke Irwin; Copp, Clark; Key Porter; McClelland and Stewart; Macmillan Canada; and Peter Martin Associates. Holdings in the field of Canadian literature are varied and distinguished -- for example: the Canadian Fiction Magazine; Matt Cohen; Austin Clarke; John Robert Colombo; Marian Engel; Sylvia Fraser; E. Pauline Johnson; Margaret Laurence; Susan Musgrave; and the Writers' Union of Canada. There are also papers of popular writers and celebrities such as Pierre Berton, Farley Mowat, and Peter Newman. In the area of Canadian labour history are extensive records of labour unions such as CUPE, SEIU, and USWA. Radical political organizations of the 1960s and 1970s are represented by the fonds of the League for Socialist Action, the Revolutionary Marxist Group, and many other smaller organizations under the umbrella term, "radical archives" (Confederation des Syndicats Nationaux, the Comite d'Aide au Groupe, "Valliere Gagnon", etc.). At McMaster's Ready Division, one can also find primary materials in archives for the fields of music, peace studies, student organizations, and temperance.
Archives in the Ready Division are accessible by way of fonds/collections descriptions and finding aids. Fonds is the archival term for a body of records created organically or kept by a person, company or organization; a collection is an artificial group of documents gathered together by a collector. A fonds/collection description provides a succinct description of the fonds or collection akin to a bibliographic record for a book. By contrast, a finding aid is ordinarily more comprehensive and detailed in terms of description. They will be revised and updated as new material is acquired. Fonds and finding aids pertaining to the Anglican Diocese of Niagara are also available.