16 December 2012

A sad tale: Library and Archives Canada

Last Sunday saw a one-day conference at the War Museum in Ottawa on the commemoration of the First War. Aside from a variety of speakers several organizations were present to publicize what they are planning for 2014-2018. One institution in this country, the one that holds virtually all of the official records of the war, Library and Archives Canada, was conspicuous by its absence. It's not exactly a long way for LAC to travel to the War Museum. The Archives of Ontario managed to make the trip from Toronto and had a booth.

A recent post by LAC stated that there are four exhibits by the organization on display in different parts of the country, yet they're unable to get to a one-day event in their backyard dealing with the Great War for which they hold such great records!

This is yet another LAC instance of all talk with little real delivery. I'm informed that Librarian and Archivist Daniel Caron believes that recent media coverage of the organization he heads is inaccurate. He wants to re-establish the integrity and professionalism of the organization. There is no question regarding integrity and professionalism of the staff, only that of some top management. Caron is the head of the organization. He must face up to the reality of the situation, not just the perception, and his very personal responsibility for the decline of LAC services.

I'm told that Caron is encouraging staff to: Inform. Consult. Participate.
One need look no further than the Great War conference to see how seriously "Participate" is being taken.
"Consult" appears to be directed within the organization. At this time when jobs are being cut how many staff are going to be prepared to speak out and deviate from the party line? The exceptions appear to be an annual meeting with archival and library organizations and set piece appearances by senior staff at conferences such as the Canadian Library Association. There is no consultation with users struggling to make the system work for them, and with the thousands of now former remote clients who will no longer have access to the collection through interlibrary loan.
"Inform" is the best of this lot. We learn on a weekly basis of a couple of dozen images from the collection placed on Flickr to mark timely special occasions, semi-annual podcasts, which to give credit are well done, and the touring exhibits. Weight that against being informed that interlibrary loan is cut, no more funding for the National Archives Development Program although LAC wants to rely more on smaller partner organizations for delivery.

Just released are results of a survey of 400 members of the Canadian Library Association. It found overwhelmingly agreement, 98% of respondents, that cuts will impact both local and national library services. Areas most likely to be affected were identified, and include: access to material/information, research, interlibrary loans, Community Access Program, preservation, staffing cuts, digital issues. CLA, which had previously been criticized for not taking a strong enough stand, is preparing follow up actions based on these survey results.

As we come to the end of a sad year for a once proud organization it has to be said that not all the blame for the LAC's situation can be laid on the organization management. Heritage Minister James Moore clearly doesn't care and acts as if he has no responsibility for this organization which part of his ministerial portfolio. As another Caron, the NDP Heritage critic put it, Moore is "washing his hands" of the situation and referring all questions to public servants. It's not good enough.


Archivus said...

Bravo, John Reid, bravo! When will the bleeding stop? When will have a national library and archives that we can all be proud of? I am not convinced that the present management have any idea of what these institutions were and what they could be. Sad indeed.

Anonymous said...

I did the last past 5 years cataloguing foreign documents from England, celtic, France, United States, etc. I found sometimes rare books that I put in the collection. I heard that they want to get rid off those documents. They are packed right now and waiting for their last home or else.
AT my last job, documents not current 2000 and under are stacked and nobody is cataloguing them.