Friday, 14 November 2014

Genealogy in "The Future Now: Canada’s Libraries, Archives, and Public Memory"

A glance at this Wordle based on the executive summary of the newly published Royal Society of Canada Expert Panel Report "The Future Now: Canada’s Libraries, Archives, and Public Memory" makes it appear as if there's little in it for genealogy and family history. Even a first scan through shows that's not so.

Searching for the term "family history" yields five hits, "genealog" 12 hits. This extract is the most comprehensive.

"The following sketch of MaryAnn outlines both the resourcefulness and the frustrations of a determined family historian.
MaryAnn, in her forties, is a family historian and album maker. She
uses libraries and archives to find records created by public and
private institutions that contain information on family members,
their education, occupations, places, churches - anything that helps
in reconstructing their lives, memories, and stories. For years, she
spent every lunch hour and every Saturday with these sources. She
also worked in consultation with other people in genealogical interest
groups where together they developed expertise about records. In
her research, many copies of public records became recontextualized
as her private records, then again made public by adding them to
her website and Facebook page. Her family histories are also about
reconnecting with local pasts, and reconstructing national, ethnic, and
religious identities. Technology has changed her work, while shifting
her expertise to knowing about electronic databases, and social media.
The Internet especially “helps to find or push you in another direction
to make you think about what to look for” (Tucker 158).
MaryAnn has been a genealogy activist too: in 2002 she joined the
members of the Alberta Family Histories Societies in their legal action
against the federal government to release all post-1901 censuses.
They finally won in 2005 when the 1911 census went online at Library
and Archives Canada’s website. She has mixed feelings about the
1921 census, which is only available from (based in
Utah). As a “registered guest” she has access to the census, using
the impressive search functionality of, leading her to the
reproduction of the census and to the right page. Having noticed that
the Source Information acknowledges that the original data are held
by LAC, MaryAnn worries about this seeming commercialization of
the Canadian people’s records. The images of the census are available
for free, but only to Canadian residents and only on the Ancestry.
ca website. In 2013 LAC has also signed a 10-year agreement with (not a commercial venture, an initiative of the Canadian
Association of Research Libraries) for the digitization, indexing, and
description of millions of personal, administrative, and government
documents, as well as land grants, war diaries, and photographs.
There will be no charge for those Canadians who wish to access these
collections at LAC or in one of subscribing libraries in regions across
Canada. But to conduct advanced searches without leaving home, one
has to pay a monthly fee. That fee will come on top of what MaryAnn
is already paying to To get access to other records (and
more services) via she had to take out a “Canada Deluxe
membership” for $119 per annum. Access to all records
from the UK, Ireland, the US and more would entail taking out a World
Deluxe membership at $200 per annum. Of course, these costs are
substantially less than MaryAnn would incur travelling across Canada
in order to access the materials of interest.
All the digital and digitized data are very cool, yet Ancestry’s website,
like the LAC website, yields only basic genealogical information, the
spine of a family history. But MaryAnn is interested in the whole body
of historical information that constitutes her family history. Some
of this is offered by resources such as Each of
its regional GenWebs links to digital copies of local histories, book
indexes, maps, photos, digitized newspapers, and other records. Since
MaryAnn’s family members moved around Canada, she has to search
several of the regional websites, each slightly different. Moreover,
none of these help MaryAnn in her research discovering some of the
artefacts that played a role in her family’s lives, like dresses, samplers,
farmer’s tools, kitchenware, and other museum objects. Yes, she
searched the Artefacts Canada database, but that does not cover the
objects, school records, and other memorabilia kept in Elnora AB (pop.
320) by the local museum or the veteran’s photos exhibited at the
Royal Canadian Legion branch."
The report deals extensively with Library and Archives Canada, not quite to the extent suggested by Chris Cobb's article in the 13 November Ottawa Citizen. It has specific recommendations for the Librarian and Archivist of Canada:
1. develop by July 1, 2015 or earlier, a five-year strategic plan, in consultation
with all relevant stakeholders, to provide a clear path to meeting the
goals articulated in Section 7 of the Library and Archives Act. Inter alia
this plan must define the scope of the “documentary heritage” that LAC
would commit to acquire and preserve, and would establish measurable
benchmarks for LAC to “support the development of the library and
archival communities.” Such a plan would also include plans for periodic
evaluation of progress toward meeting these goals.
2. participate actively on the boards/councils of those associations in
which LAC has membership – e.g. CARL, CULC, ACA/CCA/AAQ, etc.
In addition, he should develop a schedule of initial engagement with all
provincial and territorial associations/councils.
3. use whatever organizational means possible, including expert outside
consultants on systemic human resource policies, to deal with the
morale issues within LAC.
4. establish a special task force of key members within the library and
archival communities, as well as key stakeholder communities such as
the Canadian Historical Association (CHA), to assess, over a two-year
period, the progress made in harmonizing cultures in LAC. At the end of
the two years the task force will submit a report, with recommendations,
to the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages relating to
the continuation of a merged institution.
5. participate actively in and reassert Canada’s presence, with full support
of the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, in the international
community of libraries and archives.
6. engage the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, as
well as officials in Canadian Heritage, Treasury Board of Canada, and
other federal agencies as required to review and revise if necessary the
enabling policies and protocols that inhibit the fulfillment of the LACmandate as expressed in the Library and Archives Act (2004), and whichseems to prevent LAC from performing at a level in keeping with the expectations of Canadians and the best practices of similarly situated national libraries and archives.
LAC was quick with a response:
Library and Archives Canada (LAC) welcomes with interest the report The Future Now: Canada's Libraries, Archives, and Public Memory, published today by the Royal Society of Canada. LAC intends to study the report in detail with its partners, the associations that represent the library and information community. Librarian and Archivist of Canada, Guy Berthiaume, makes the point that this new publication will fuel discussions on the future of documentary institutions, at a time when they are facing challenges due to the pressure from the growth of digital technologies.
He also noted that since he assumed his functions on June 23, 2014, Library and Archives Canada has made four commitments that are in line with the recommendations from the report chapter that addresses LAC:
1.       to be an institution dedicated to serving its clients, all its clients: government institutions, donors, universities, researchers, archivists, librarians, students, genealogists and the general public;
2.       to be an institution that, drawing on the strength of all of its staff, is at the leading edge of archival and library science and new technologies;
3.       to be an institution proactively engaged with national and international networks in an open and inclusive way;
4.       to be an institution with greater public visibility, highlighting the value of its collection and services.
These commitments were shared with LAC partners during a series of meetings held with Mr. Berthiaume in recent months, and they were very well received.
Library and Archives Canada plays a vital role in acquiring, preserving, and making our country's documentary heritage accessible, including by serving as the permanent memory of the Government of Canada.
After having time to digest the complete report I may have more to add.

You can download the report as a pdf from

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