Tuesday, 23 August 2016

LAC Saving the World

Going to an event where public servants talk to each other about their service and policy may not be something most of us would be first in line to experience. When the title of a presentation in such a forum is "Saving the world: one record at a time" one has every right to see it as from a limited perspective, even pretentious . . . if not tongue in cheek. That is the title of a talk given by Guy Berthiaume, Librarian and Archivist of Canada at the Canada School of Public Service in Ottawa at the end of May.
The text is here, but please don't rush to check it out, we wouldn't want to crash the servers.

Here are a few points that caught my attention.

  • We may have pushed them a little too far, trying to make librarians and archivists interchangeable, without enough regard for their individual expertise.
  • We made access the number one goal of our three-year plan.
  • Working with the company, LAC technicians adapted and redesigned the BancTec scanner to work with historical records (notably WW1 service files) so they can now scan everything, from photos to onion-skin letters to medical charts, safely and directly to a preservation format.
  • Partners Canadiana.org digitized 35 million pages of archival material on microfilm; Ancestry.ca digitized and indexed 11 archival collections, representing 3 million pages online.
  • Block review, (looking at the scope of a collection and reviewing a sample of those judged low risk) has enabled LAC to open 18 million pages of Canadian Government records this way, and make them available to the public.
In general partnership and digital are the two words the presentation wanted to emphasise.

I was less impressed with there being only a single of mention of newspapers. It's a black mark on LAC's reputation that there's not a single librarian dedicated to the newspaper collection, and no digitization/OCR initiative, an area where peer organizations in other countries are taking the lead.

It's also ironic that the example chosen to illustrate block review was weather information from the 1950s, which happens to be a collection that LAC refused to take.

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