Friday, 26 February 2010

Ottawa U history prof laments LAC service

Galen Perras, University of Ottawa history professor, writes in a letter to the editor in today's Globe and Mail:

"For years customer service to the public has been under attack at LAC (Library and Archives Canada) from those who advocate "records management" rather than true interaction with LAC's public clients. Service hours have been cut and I can attest, having visited almost 150 archives on three continents, that LAC's service to the public is among the very worst I have seen."

Despite LAC having responded to the outcry when management reduced hours three years ago Perras is right. A services advisory board was established then, but now appears to have been disbanded. On almost all counts public clients remain an afterthought at LAC.

At the UK National Archives order a document and you will get delivery within 40 minutes. Go to the area where documents are delivered and you can see tubs arriving on a conveyor belt and staff scurrying to make the items available quickly. It's clear they value the client's time. On my last visit when an item did not arrive on time the person in charge hurried away, found some information had to be redacted, and presented me with a free colour copy within 10 minutes.

At Library and Archives Canada even a simple WW1 service file takes at least a day to arrive from another building. Even documents in the building take 90 minutes to arrive, a service standard recently degraded from 60 minutes,

Such anecdotal evidence is instructive, but where is the benchmarking LAC should be doing to compare it's service to similar leading institutions internationally?

LAC is now tinkering around the edges with a modernization initiative, which means repriorizing when what the organization needs is a root and branch review. Ordering such a review is the role of the Minister of Canadian Heritage, James Moore. Moore could be helped along by members of the Commons Committee on Canadian Heritage: Chair; Gary Ralph Schellenberger, Vice-Chairs; Carole Lavallée, Pablo Rodriguez, Members; Charlie Angus, Rod Bruinooge, Dean Del Mastro, Ruby Dhalla, Jacques Gourde, Nina Grewal, Roger Pomerleau, Scott Simms, Tim Uppal. However, judging by the issues they are dealing with in committee they seem oblivious to their role with LAC.

The situation is a sad, sad reflection of the reality that our government regards our national heritage more as an opportunity for press releases than something to be treasured and celebrated.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Agreed. In my 15 years of doing research at LAC, cuts to staff who serve the public and hours have been substantial. I'm sure with the new National Archivist/Librarian's focus on digitizing, we'll see more cuts to service soon.