21 May 2013

It Doesn't Take Experience as a Sheep to be a Good Shepherd

In a letter sent to Wayne Wouters, Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Pilar Martinez, President of the Canadian Library Association, wrote on Friday:

"... any individual being considered for appointment to the position of Librarian and Archivist of Canada (should) be a qualified member of either the library or archival professional community."

The quote reminded me of another from "Yes Minister":

"All government departments are lobbies for the pressure groups they deal with. The Department of Education lobbies the government on behalf of teachers, the Department of Health lobbies for the doctors and hospital unions, the Department of Energy lobbies for oil companies and so on. Each department of State is actually controlled by the people it is supposed to be controlling."

When the group is unable to exert the desired control of the corresponding department, librarians and archivists in the case of LAC, they fight for a return to the appropriate situation.

There are also calls for LAC to be "a strong and independent institution at the very heart of Canadian democracy." But that's not what I read in the legal mandate of LAC:

  • To preserve the documentary heritage of Canada for the benefit of present and future generations;
  • To be a source of enduring knowledge accessible to all, contributing to the cultural, social and economic advancement of Canada;
  • To facilitate in Canada cooperation among communities involved in the acquisition, preservation and diffusion of knowledge; and
  • To serve as the continuing memory of the government of Canada and its institutions.

I see no mention of independent, no mention of democracy. Repulsive as the thought is, LAC would still have a mandate if Canada ceased to be a democracy.

I did find one blog post that had a less self-serving viewpoint:

"I'm not convinced LAC needs a librarian at the top. You’d never know it from the way we talk (and talk and talk and talk) about our importance at conferences, but there are people other than librarians who understand the values of librarianship, and some of them are also good at managing large organizations (there are librarians who are good at this too, of course)."

1 comment:

Lorne Bruce said...

I am sure there are good and lengthy arguments, pro and con, on the management issue. But the Toronto Star’s editorial today on “hiring a pro” and our own letter to the government on Friday from the Ex Libris Association takes a different approach. We have had enough of “learning on the job” and don’t want to repeat the last four years again. It is not self-serving to have professional qualifications to undertake the role of leading a national institution. It is common sense.

LAC’s problems run deeper than leadership qualities. Ex Libris has made a clear case that the rationale for combining the national archives and national library in 2004 warrants a review after documenting the fluctuating fortunes of LAC since 2004 (http://www.exlibris.pbworks.com/advocacy). Simply put, LAC as an organization isn’t working for the Canadian public or achieving many of its specific objectives, which go beyond the simple preamble that people often quote. The experience of the last decade shows combining national institutions wasn’t the wave of future it was “ten lost years.”

LAC is a much more complex organization with diverse duties in two languages than the earlier quoted example of Oliver Morley of the (UK) National Archives. The UK focus is narrower and focus on archives. The British Library is a separate institution and Roland Keating, who worked at the BBC beforehand, is the chief executive. Neither of these administrators had to undertake drastic restructuring exercises and slash budgets. It is archives for one and libraries for another, how refreshing simple!

Changing the leader at LAC is just the first step in a long-term process that began in 2004 and has not advanced much since then.

Lorne Bruce
Ex Libris Association