Tuesday, 23 October 2007

No change in LAC hours, but early consideration promised

A delegation lead by Craig Heron, President of the Canadian Historical Association, met with Ian Wilson, Librarian and Archivist of Canada, and two of his senior executives, to discuss the reduction of hours at LAC and other issues today, Tuesday 23 October. A complete list of meeting participants is below.

A press release from CHA will be posted here soon.

Ian Wilson confessed that the reduction in hours without consultation was a mistake. He listened carefully to the interventions from delegation members and undertook to review the decision on opening hours with his management team within the context of a mid-year organizational review, the results of which should be apparent by the time of the first meeting of the LAC Services Advisory Board which will likely be held toward the end of November.

Meeting participants
Ian Wilson, Librarian and Archivist of Canada
Doug Rimmer, Assistant Deputy Minister,
Michelle Doucet, Director General, Services

Craig Heron, Canadian Historical Association
Peter Di Gangi, Algonquin Nation Secretariat
Grace Welch, Association for Canadian Map Libraries and Archives
John Reid, British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa
Jean-Francois Lozier, CHA Graduate Students' Committee
Marc Vallières, Institut d’histoire de l’Amérique française
Krista Cooke, National Council on Public History
Brian Osborne, Ontario Historical Association
Andrew Waldron, Society for the Study of Architecture in Canada
Susan Swan & Deborah Windsor, Writers' Union of Canada


Anonymous said...

Representation at the meeting seems very light from the "library" side (e.g. where was the Canadian Library Association?). As the public service changes affect all researchers, one hopes that "library" researchers will also be heard or are they happy with the changes???

WJM said...

Why only organizational reps?

Joe and Jane Researcher - library, archival, or both - don't have an organization to speak for them. And after what happened on C-36 I don't trust LAC, or the organizations its chooses to consult with, to represent the public interest.

JDR said...

To set the record straight, to the best of my knowledge the folks meeting with LAC were selected by the CHA, not LAC.

WJM's point is based on the trust he has, or rather hasn't, developed in LAC. That takes time to win, or win back -- something that clearly hasn't happened.

The promised open consultation session every 6-8 weeks at LAC should provide such an opportunity for the unaffiliated to voice their views, and if the informal consultation in September is any guide then everyone who attends will be given the opportunity. But words will only go so far. I need to see tangible service improvements.

Anonymous said...

The Canadian Library Association sent a letter to the National Archivist expressing its concerns with the service cuts.


Anonymous said...

As a librarian, I don't think any us are happy with the service cuts at LAC. Actually, I don't believe librarians are happy with many things that go on at LAC. Most of us just don't believe that the bureaucrats who now run the place will pay any attention to input from the professional communities (librarians, archivists).

Nor do we really believe that Ian Wilson cares about anything on the library side of the organization. Records Management is his priority. And the approach being taken is pure National Archives - cut the front lines and staff the backrooms. At the same time that staff at 395 Wellington are being reduced, new positions are being created at the corporate office.

WJM said...

To set the record straight, to the best of my knowledge the folks meeting with LAC were selected by the CHA, not LAC.

Again, with the hindsight of C-36, that's not much better.

There is a big difference between throwing open the doors to let the sun shone in - which is what needs to happen - and giving a pre-selected group of people a password to the door, and a flashlight.

Will the six-to-eight-weeks sessions also be as "well-advertised", and held mid-afternoon on a weekday, I wonder?

Anonymous said...

It would appear that others have caught the LAC disease:

Cost recovery, limited access subvert the archive's role

Stephen Hume
Vancouver Sun

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

In a democracy, you can't plan where to go unless you know where you've come from.

This principle is sufficiently important that the mandate of our provincial archive was set out in law when it was founded as a separate agency in 1908. Its duty is to preserve the documentary history of British Columbia.

It must hold and manage the records of government. It must increase and communicate knowledge of B.C. It must serve as an educational organization. It must provide access to these collections.

In some respects, the archive does well. Online finding aids are excellent, educational website tools, superb. However, after the archive was merged with the Royal B.C. Museum, cost recovery became the new ideological mantra and its performance suffered.

For example, citizens seeking to examine documents discover access restricted by reduced service and closed doors during hours when most working people can visit. The archive is open Monday to Friday and Saturday afternoons. Yet to retrieve original files one must attend when an archivist is on duty -- between 9:30 a.m. and 11:45 a.m. and between 1 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. weekdays, except Wednesdays and Saturdays, when there's no archivist.

Unfortunately, more than 85 per cent of us work Monday to Friday, mostly between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. This means full service is available only when the average working person cannot visit. So you must take a day off work or book vacation time if you wish to research original documents.

In fact, analyze the hours during which full service is available and the archive proves inaccessible 87.7 per cent of the available time each week. How does this meet that statutory mandate to "provide access?"

Don't blame those charged with managing the facility. They are under-resourced. Nor is this criticism of the archivists. In my experience they are helpful and efficient.

It is a criticism of politicians, who, to use Oscar Wilde's bon mot, know the price of everything and the value of nothing. There is something peculiar about a crucial public institution which is open when most of its clients cannot access its resources and closes during the hours when they can.

This reminds me of the character Major Major in Joseph Heller's novel, Catch-22, who evades responsibility by telling his sergeant never to let anyone in to see him unless he was not there.

The Vancouver Sun recently researched a series about the role of women in transforming the political, economic and social landscape of the province we enjoy today. In broader terms, it was intended to educate our half-million readers about some untold provincial history.

When the newspaper sought images to illustrate the series, here is what I'm told our photo and permissions researcher encountered:

- Canada's national library and archives, no charge.

- Vancouver city archives, no charge.

- Vancouver public library archives, no charge.

- University of Washington historical archive, no charge.

- U.S. national archives, no charge.

- Smithsonian Institution, no charge.

- B.C. archive -- well, news library researcher Kate Bird says while her memory isn't precise, she recollects charges for the 43 images selected into the thousands of dollars.

I understand reprint fees have since been reduced. Still, the last fee schedule provided me by The Sun's library staff cites an archive publication fee of $100 for use of a single image. I'm told even archival images originally handed out with provincial government press releases, some going back 50 years, are now subject to fees.

In my opinion, this cost recovery and restricted access policy subverts the archive's mandate to disseminate, educate and provide access to the documentary history that already belongs to all British Columbians, information which is essential to the functioning of a healthy democracy and for which your taxes have already paid and continue to pay.

I'll leave it to readers to ponder whether the archive should be shrinking or growing its relationship with the public it is required to serve. And whether politicians who don't mind blowing $1.5 billion on fast ferries and convention centre expansion overruns while offering high-minded platitudes about the value of literacy should be permitted to wash their hands of this great civic responsibility.


© The Vancouver Sun 2007

Anonymous said...

Now the LAC's decision has been raised in the Senate:

Debates of the Senate (Hansard)
2nd Session, 39th Parliament,
Volume 144, Issue 8
Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Library and Archives Canada
Hours of Operation

Hon. Lorna Milne: Honourable senators, Treasury Board documents reveal
that when the National Archives and the National Library merged to
form Library and Archives Canada in 2002, the transformation was not
in any way supposed to reduce the quality of service delivered by the
new institution. Both institutions viewed the move as a strategic
opportunity to expand their mandates and to serve Canadians better.
However, as of September 1, service hours at the National Library have
been reduced from 47.5 hours per week to 30 hours per week.

In addition, reading rooms that were accessible to researchers between
eight o'clock in the morning and eleven o'clock at night, seven days a
week, are now open only until 8 p.m., and are closed on the weekend.

My question for the Leader of the Government in the Senate today is:
What message is this government sending to Canadians when it starves
the archives for money so these changes needed to be made? Is it okay
to be interested in our own history but only during business hours?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government and Secretary of State
(Seniors)): Honourable senators, I do not know what circumstances
prevailed in establishing new hours of operation for the Library and
Archives Canada so I will take the question as notice.

Senator Milne: Honourable senators, I thank the leader for that
answer. I look forward to the response. Researchers from all over
Ottawa and Canada converge on Ottawa to get their hands on the
tangible documents that depict and explain Canada's history. While I
can appreciate the mandated need of Library and Archives Canada to now
cut costs, I do not believe it should result in a tangible reduction
to the quality of the service delivered to Canadians.

The argument that more research occurs online is true and it is good,
but only 1 per cent of the collection is presently online. Therefore,
I would like the Leader of the Government in the Senate to inform
honourable senators how much money these changes will save Library and
Archives Canada, how many people have been taken off digitizing the
present collection to keep the open hours, and how many positions will
be completely lost because of these changes?

Is this government comfortable in knowing it is restricting all
Canadians from accessing their own history for the sake of a few GST
dollars that will amount to about one cent on each cup of coffee that
Canadians drink?

Senator LeBreton: Honourable senators, this government, probably for
the first time in some time, is concerned about our history, our
heritage and the fact that we have a great history and a great
heritage. Unfortunately, our Canadian youth, perhaps, are not as aware.

I am deliberately not looking at Senator Milne because I am sure she
is going through one of her song and dance routines again.

Senator Milne's question was long and detailed. The government, of
course, would not want in any way to restrict access to valid
information that would help Canadians to better educate themselves, to
know our history and to share a sense of pride in the country.

I shall take Senator Milne's question as notice — because to be
perfectly honest, I had not heard that Library and Archives Canada had
changed its hours. I know I am responsible for answering all questions
on behalf of the government, but the opening and closing hours of
Library and Archives Canada has not crossed my desk.