Thursday, 25 October 2007

Remarks to LAC

While I'm still waiting for the text of the CHA press release, here are the remarks I made at the meeting on October 23 between a CHA-led client group and the Librarian and Archivist of Canada with other LAC senior executives.

Although officially representing the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa, I believe I speak for most Canadian genealogists in expressing appreciation for the efforts Library and Archives Canada has made to cater to our community by placing some of the most frequently consulted original records online.

Each community represented here probably has an aspect of the cut in hours that hurts most. Based on my consultation, what directly hurts the genealogical community most is the loss of the weekday morning hours, and thus the ability to get material retrieved promptly so that we can work on it during the remainder of the day. There seems to be no data showing that this morning period was not well used.

The other hours cut seem to hurt genealogists more indirectly. Authors and researchers can no longer as easily complete the comprehensive investigations needed for articles, books, films and TV programs we genealogists would like to see. The historians we genealogists would like to have staff archives, maybe even your successors’ successor, find it more difficult to graduate.

I have also heard considerable complaint about a declining level of service at LAC, especially, but not only, regarding the support staff who rarely stay in one place long enough the master the job. Knowledgeable clients find themselves drawn into helping other clients because staff help is so lacking. The newly reduced hours are being cut even more when staff close off facilities early. This happened just yesterday when a lens was removed from a microfilm reader-printer at 3:45pm while the client was temporarily out of the room.

LAC has been under budget restraint for so long I suspect you are suffering from the pernicious death by a thousand cuts and may not appreciate how critical the situation has become. How do you measure this? It appears the Auditor General has never looked at LAC services, and I’m wondering if any recent internal audits or evaluations have been undertaken.

It’s unfortunate your effort to put more material online was presented as a zero sum game – more material online = less physical access. I know you have partnerships, and plans for more of them. That should lead to more information online. It should mean making the pie bigger, not slicing the same pie differently. I asked on my blog, and four out of five people agreed with the statement "I would accept the presence of banner ads on LAC online products if it resulted in more products becoming available and less pressure to cut back on other services?" Ads are becoming increasingly accepted as a way to support online content, witness changes at the NYT and CNN. That’s one opportunity, I’m sure there are others.

Thank you for taking the time to listen to us today.

In his subsequent remarks Ian Wilson made a specific reference to the notion of ad supported products on the LAC web site saying they had broached the idea but it is contrary to government policy.

I'm sure my perspectives are not everyone's. Share your's by posting a comment.

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