10 April 2012

4,223 bound newspaper volumes LAC hopes you won't miss

Earlier this year I made an Access to Information Act request regarding Library and Archives Canada's intentions for its newspaper collection. Newspapers appeared to be neglected with no digitization program comparable to similar institutions internationally. There were rumours of mass deaccessions.

Last Thursday in response I received in the mail a DVD containing images of documents. The files revealed that no newspaper digitization had been done since the French Canadian Newspapers project in 2008-2009 and there are no newspaper digitization projects as of February 2012.

The files also contained a statement that as of early February 2012 there have been no changes to the access individuals have to newspapers held at 395 Wellington resulting from de-selection or any other developments since January 2010.

That's about to change.

A survey in the summer of 2010 found 4,223 bound volumes, 275 titles from 75 municipalities, of Canadian newspapers in poor condition. That constitutes 25% of the bound newspaper holdings. 99% are available in other formats at LAC or elsewhere.

Various options on how to proceed were proposed, evaluated and costed.

A communication to Daniel Caron, Librarian and Archivist of Canada, recommended:
 "deselection of newspapers based on the condition where the content is available in another format from LAC thus ensuring access to our collection for the benefit of present and future generations, or where the content is available from a source outside LAC and where we can collaborate with others to promote and facilitate access. Retain the 1% of collections that are unavailable in another format or from another source to ensure a fair and equitable access to the content."
In plain language the LAC philosophy is, if someone else has it we don't need to keep it!

The proposal was approved by Daniel Caron on 21 December 2011.

While we should have no objection to deaccession of newspapers where there is excessive duplication, LAC routinely deaccesses over 2,000 paper format newspapers annually, I have the following concerns:

1. There is no evidence that the quality of the existing microfilm which duplicates material to be delisted has been evaluated. Microfilming that occurred decades ago or was made from poorer quality hardcopy may not meet current standards and digitization projects have sometimes had to have recourse to hardcopy to provide a satisfactory source for digitization.
2. Relying on other's holdings of newspapers leaves the national collection vulnerable. Maintaining multiple copies in diverse locations is a common preservation strategy. In some cases the "national" collection could now be dependent on a single copy held elsewhere.
3. In the absence of any digitization initiative researchers will be disadvantaged by not having a single central location to consult a national newspaper collection.
4. Previous experience with 1985 federal-provincial agreements, the Decentralized Program for Canadian Newspapers, was that several provinces failed to live up to their commitment. 
5. A communication strategy to inform clients has not been implemented. It appears no comprehensive effort will be made to advertise the availability of the deaccessioned volumes to potential organizations that may be interested in acquiring them, including provincial archives, university and local libraries, local archives and heritage centres, historical and genealogical societies and the like.

The complete list of newspapers to be deselected is here. the first page is below.
I'd especially encourage those working in the library and archival community to examine the list and get in touch with their contact at LAC if they see volumes they would like to acquire for their institution, recognizing that these are volumes judged to be in poor condition.

Finally, the covering letter I received with the DVD stated some material was not supplied; "certain records or portions thereof withheld pursuant to section 21(1)(b)." Under those provisions the head of an organization has discretionary authority; it reads:
21. (1) The head of a government institution may refuse to disclose any record requested under this Act that contains 
(b) an account of consultations or deliberations in which directors, officers or employees of a government institution, a minister of the Crown or the staff of a minister participate,
I didn't get the whole story. Something is being kept back that is not required by law to be withheld.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your tenacity and reportage.