22 January 2013

Laurie Dougherty on The Future of Archives and Archivists in Canada

This is a partial and truncated record of comments by Laurie Dougherty, Archivist of the Arnprior McNab/Braeside Archives to the Eastern Ontario Chapter Archives Association of Ontario on "What We Have Lost: What We Stand to Lose The Future of Archives and Archivists in Canada" on Wednesday evening. She commented that perhaps two-thirds of the people in the room were associated in one way or another with Library and Archives Canada. By contrast she is at a small archives and aside from volunteers is the only person on staff.

She started the presentation referring to a Star Wars film where an archivist claimed an planet could not exist if it was not in the electronic records. Relying on electronic records to define reality invites disaster, or at least delusion.

Given the choice of material to come into the archives she prefers paper records, although they do have some types of other media. Future management of electronic records, with seemingly ever present technological obsolescence, will pose major challenges to a future volunteer board of management with extremely limited funding. This reflects the immense pressures on community archives that operate without a corporate sponsor. The loss of NADP funding is putting a premium on the efforts of the archivist to fund raise and jeopardizing the viability of the operation.

There are three activities archivists should be engaged in to strengthen the profession in Canada.
1. Mentorship. Based on her experienced being informally mentored she believes it's incumbent on every experienced archivist to become a mentor. While the Association of Canadian Archivists (ACA) has a mentorship program which has grown in recent years there is more demand than mentors willing and able to fulfil the role. This will build a better profession and professional network. See http://archivists.ca/content/aca-mentorship-program
2. Acceditation. To be taken seriously a profession needs standards. Today anyone can get away with calling him or her-self an archivist. ACA is developing online courses, regarded as a pre-requisite to accreditation, but it will take 3-5 years. There is a US certification process, Canada has no less a need.
3. Advocacy. (At this point my notes peter out!)

While writing this I wondered whether local archives impacted by the elimination of the NADP had considered contacting their MP, especially their Conservative Party MP, to ask for assistance in finding funding and sponsors to replace that lost. In the case of the Arnprior McNab/Braeside Archives the MP would be Conservative Cheryl Gallant. If nothing else it would sensitize the local representative to the local impact of the national decision.

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