28 May 2013

Going Overboard

With the resignation of Daniel Caron Canadian media are paying more attention to the serious situation at Library and Archives Canada. It's not that there hasn't been coverage over the past year and more. In the midst of headline grabbing issues with the Senate, Robocall election abuses, questions about the activities in the Prime Minister's Office and substance abuse by Rob and Doug Ford in Toronto, it's encouraging to see the media across the country, such as this in the Peterborough Examiner, paying attention to Library and Archives Canada too.

A letter to the editor of the Toronto Star by David Mason of David Mason Books in response to a May 21 editorial is worth reading. However, I was concerned to read:

"this government thinks its mandate is to replace the real artifacts with more digital retrieval services (whatever they are), and that the purpose of an institution like LAC is to merely provide access to information, not to be the custodian of the actual artifacts of our history."
As a seller of used and rare books Mason has a specialist interest in LAC continuing, or rather becoming again, a client.  LAC should be collecting actual artifacts, but its wrong to dismiss, without even knowing what they are, digital retrieval services. There are currently more clients receiving services directly from LAC digitally that using all other services combined. The organization must be more than a warehouse for artifacts and a research resource for the privileged few who can travel to Ottawa. Look at the path being beaten by the Library of Congress and the British Library, organizations mentioned by Mason, and you won't find them shunning digital services. You will find organizations of this type extending their reach through commercial partnerships that allow for timely digitization, not the three hundred years it will take LAC to digitize its current holdings are the recent rate of progress.
Not mentioned by Mason, but a concern with coverage of the Caron situation, is the emphasis on his expense claims. Public servants are easy targets. Caron claiming for foreign language lessons and numerous meals at the Rideau Club makes an easy target. Looking at Caron's expenses on Proactive Disclosure one wonders about all those expenses in connection with meetings with a consultant.

But it would be a mistake to overlook the benefits of maintaining good contact with peers across Canada and in other countries especially through international organizations. That's especially true for those in leadership positions like the Librarian and Archivist of Canada. A large part of Caron's problem was a failure to listen. If he had he'd surely have seen the flaws in his leadership. A well chosen next Librarian and Archivist will not make the same mistake, and we should not be too hasty to judge her or his travel expenses.


Elizabeth Kipp said...

Well written John and I second your thought that we should not judge the traveling expenses of the Chief Librarian and Archivist of Canada. Learning a third or more languages is an asset as are attending conferences on our behalf around the world. You never know what gems can be acquired on such trips. But I think that we do need to take somewhat of a backward step and separate the Library and the Archives as they were and have a Chief Librarian and a Chief Archivist - their roles are quite different and one can not serve the other adequately in my opinion.

Gerald Parker said...

Given how Daniel "Conan the Librarian" Caron studiously has avoided so many national and North American librarianship and archival conferences and other such events, his sudden interest in laying down government swag-money in huge quantities to be competent at Spanish-language international events seems either curious or just downright dubious. The man has been a Big Spender of the taxpayers' monies.