10 May 2012

Deceptive and misguided: LAC RPP 2012-13

You'd think a document tabled in Parliament to justify allocation of public funds would contain current information. Not so.

On Tuesday the document Library and Archives Canada 2012-2013 Report on Plans and Priorities (pdf) for was tabled, along with those for many other departments and agencies.

It shows total financial resources decreasing from $117.7 million this year to $95.7 million in 2014-15, an 18.7% decrease. Human resources are show as stable at 1,117 Full Time Equivalents, something that will come as a surprise to 235 Public Service Alliance of Canada member LAC employees who received notices with the information that 105 of their positions are expected to be eliminated. A total 20% staff cut is expected which is a long way from stable! There was no response to an email sent to Mark Melanson, Senior Director General and Chief Financial Officer at LAC requesting clarification.
As we can't rely on the numbers perhaps there's information in the words and trends.

This year's Wordle for the RPP shows mostly the same words to be prominent as last year's. Modernization, which ranked with documentary and information last year warranting 61 mentions is reduced to 28 mentions this. Again this year there is no mention of genealogy or newspapers. 

The financial planning summary table on page 16 shows substantially reduced expenditures anticipated in the next three years for "Collaboration in the management of government records" and "Preservation of Continuing Memory". Increased funding is for "Documentation of the Canadian Experience".

The section of most interest to clients is Resource Discovery on page 5. Here it states that "LAC understands that its clients expect to have access to Canadian documentary heritage when, where and how they want it."
Yet last week LAC announced it is terminating the Interlibrary Loan service. ILL made published materials, including microfilmed newspapers, available through local libraries. The service is popular. It delivers LAC service locally so folks don't have to travel to Ottawa to view the materials. Why is LAC going backwards? Why won't LAC walk its talk?

The same Resource Discovery section mention "a new service model approach that supports digital service delivery as the primary access channel for clients."  Digitization of content on demand is given as an example. That's an expensive option. Commonly referenced information should be made available without the financial burden falling on the first user. Yet LAC has limited resources for digitization, and little inclination to index records.
Why is LAC now so reluctant to enter into partnerships, as in the past with Ancestry? It's in the interest of LAC to have more materials more widely available, an objective delivered by services like Ancestry Library freely available at many public libraries. Individual subscribers pay for individual access, and commercial partners get more clients, employ more people and pay more taxes. Who loses? Why won't LAC walk its talk?

Also in the Resource Discovery section it states "LAC will refocus services so that staff expertise can be gradually applied in the most cost-effective ways in accordance with the services that clients value." LAC measures cost-effective as number of clients served. Of two clients, one a genealogist satisfying their curiosity about their family history, the other a researcher for a book or TV program that will be seen by tens of thousands, doesn't one do more to "contributing to the cultural, social, and economic advancement of Canada" in the words of the LAC mission? Yet the reduction in service on Wellington Street is placing obstacles in the way of that researcher in making effective use of the LAC collection.

There's further information on the deteriorating state of LAC services at http://www.savelibraryarchives.ca/update-2012-05.aspx


Anonymous said...

Here is a simple observation. This government can find millions of dollars to spend marking the War of 1812-1814, but says it can no longer pay for inter library loans, digitization of materials or staff to work with us. How shortsighted is that? MAS

Anonymous said...

Bravo for your critique, John. We have never met but as a genealogist and former senior employee of the National Library of Canada (retired in 2000), I am now an avid reader of Anglo-Celtic Connections.
At an informal meeting of more than 20 former employees of LAC recently convened by CAUT, many horror stories about what has gone on and is going on at LAC were exchanged around the table. We are all struggling to get a handle on what is really happening at LAC through the screen of spin and deception, and to devise a strategy to fight it.
One approach is to challenge the claims of LAC management that digitization is great and working. It seems to many of us that LAC's current digitization activities are a drop in the bucket and that they have seriously and intentionally underestimated the costs of a "full service" digitization program applied to the whole collection. It is more likely that LAC's digitization will be applied only to that subset of the existing collections which LAC chooses to retain and provide access to. Just how small that subset may be is a cause for concern, given the brutal organizational and financial slashing that has gone on.
It appears that LAC management have sold a digitization bill of goods to the government and so far their political masters have bought it. We have to try to counter that.

BAB from Kanata

Ruth Chernia said...

What's even more of a concern is Caron's plan to decentralize the collection. "LAC is not selling or destroying any heritage items. Rather, it is creating partnerships with trusted organizations such as other Canadian libraries and archives so that certain heritage items may be appraised collectively and, in some cases, transferred to where they will get the greatest use and visibility."

Anonymous said...

Great comments! What a lot of typical bureaucratic gobbledygook. Can anyone explain "Whole of Society Model"? This would be good fodder for Rick Mercer!
Katperson, Ottawa