28 July 2013

History of Library and Archives Canada

A few days ago I spotted an article lamenting the absence of any history of Library and Archives Canada on the organization website.
LAC is a young organization, formed in 2004 from the amalgamation to the National Archives and National Library under the Library and Archives Canada Act. Perhaps the organization is too young to have a history! It does have roots.
The older component, the Archives, history to 1997 is documented in the Canadian Historical Association booklet #58 which is on the LAC website, albeit well buried, at http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/obj/008004/f2/H-58_en.pdf.
Despite having been formed as long ago as 1953 the National Library of Canada appears to have no comparable history. The Canadian Encyclopedia has a short article.
AWikipedia article on LAC would be unlikely to receive official endorsement but does have a reasonably factual history for the period prior to the present problems, including lists of national archivists and librarians.

1 comment:

Barrie Burns said...

This the third time I have tried posting this comment. I hope it works.

It is true that there has been no history of LAC written to date and likely for the reason you give, but also because the grievous cuts of the last three years have seriously impaired its collective institutional memory. In short, there are very few left in LAC, certainly in senior management positions, who know or care much about its history. They are focused instead on satisfying the whims of their political masters, which are oriented to goals which can be or can be seen to be delivered in the very short term.
The idea of a national library began with a speech by Sir John A. Macdonald in 1883. Many former employees of the National Library of Canada (like me) will recall that in 1978 on the occasion of the Library's 25th Anniversary, a very fine commemorative history of NLC was published. "The National Library of Canada, twenty five years after : a retrospective overview" was researched and written by Ian Wees, a senior member of the Library's Bibliographic and Reference Services division, who was a staff member from the beginning. His 60-page survey covered the 70-year struggle to found the National Library (more extensively documented by Francis Dolores Donnelly in her 1971 Ph.D. Thesis, subsequently published in 1973 by the Canadian Library Association) and reviews the many innovative and collaborative projects in collections building and networking undertaken by the Library after its founding, under the leadership of the first two National Librarians, W. Kaye Lamb (1953-1968) and Guy Sylvestre (1968-1983). Further contributions to a history of the “library” side of LAC and national library services can be found in “The National Library of Canada and Canadian Libraries : Essays in Honour of Guy Sylvestre”, published by CLA in 1996. Innovation and collaboration at NLC were ably and energetically carried forward by Dr. Sylvestre’s successor Marianne Scott (1983-1999)
Innovation and collaboration in collection building and national service development sadly seem in short supply under the current LAC management regime. Some indication of the attitude of LAC current management towards institutional history was on view in November of 2011 at a presentation convened by the Friends of Library and Archives Canada at which papers were delivered on the contributions of Guy Sylvestre and Jean-Pierre Wallot (National Archivist, 1985-1997) to the building of LAC collections and services over the years. The then head of LAC, Daniel Caron, welcomed the audience and then promptly left before the speeches began. He doubtless thought little of the achievements of these two men. For him collections were mere random aggregations of physical objects, not the real national memory he was going to build with “analog” collection-building embargos and phantom digitization initiatives.
We must not forget our forebears and the struggles they faced in building true national cultural institutions.
Barrie Burns