23 July 2014

How does LAC rate?

On Tuesday Chris Paton posted Comparing the UK's three national archives on his British GENES blog. Chris compared the National Archives at Kew (www.nationalarchives.gov.uk), the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (www.proni.gov.uk), and the archive facility at the National Records of Scotland (www.nas.gov.uk) along 11 dimensions: Coverage/responsibility; Centralised location; Convenient opening hours; Wifi access; Cafe facilities; Ordering documents; Digitisation programme; Cataloguing; Can you take photos; Social media use; User base engagement.

Benchmarking an organization service against those provided by peers is a standard management practice. Let's look at how Library and Archives Canada performs.

Coverage/responsibility: Unlike the UK institutions LAC integrates the functions of the national archives and library. LAC has a legislated mandate and operates within a national reality, summarized by Mackenzie King as too much geography and not enough history. Provinces and territories, and municipalities have archival functions and LAC has a mandate to "facilitate in Canada co-operation" but no role in providing strategic direction. In recent years LAC has been criticized for neglecting its mandate to preserve the documentary heritage of Canada choosing instead to focus on its role as an archives for federal government records.

Centralised location:
LACs public face is at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa on the ceremonial route. The location is less than one kilometre from the Parliament buildings, half a kilometre from a major public transit corridor and with limited three-hour pay-parking on-site and close to other pay parking.

Convenient opening hours
LAC offers full service from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. each weekday with some services available from as early as 9 a.m. and as late as 5 p.m. depending on the day and facility. However, see the comment below re ordering documents. The facilities are open for consultation of self-service items and items ordered in, previously retrieved, and stored in lockers, from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m each weekday and 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

Wifi access
Yes, freely available throughout the building.

Cafe facilities
Vending machines on ground floor.

Ordering documents
Very little original archival material is available in the building, it has to be brought from off-site involving significant delay. Those accustomed to waiting for less than an hour between ordering and delivery at other archives are shocked to discover delays of several days to a week are common at LAC depending on where material is stored. This is not prominently disclosed on the LAC website. Much material is available on microfilm and, increasingly, online.

Digitisation programme
Key parts of LAC's holdings are digitized, either through partnerships, notably with Ancestry and more recently Canadiana.ca's Héritage project. LAC is currently digitizing complete WW1 service files. Much of the recently digitized material is neither name indexed nor well covered in finding aids.

Is this something LAC has forgotten how to do? Legacy catalog available.

Can you take photos?
Yes, requires permission and depends on material and equipment.

Social media use
LAC makes substantial use of Twitter, Facebook, a blog and occasional podcasts. LAC provides no means to speak directly to an information service; you access a series of pre-recorded messages or leave a voice-mail.

User base engagement
Essentially none. No stakeholder group. No volunteer programs. This lack of any meaningful user engagement is a telling indicator of client-orientation at LAC.

With the exception of the hours when the facility is open for consultation of self-service items there are no aspects of LAC service that excel compared to that provided by the three other archives Chris reviewed. The delay in obtaining ordered materials means LAC service lags substantially in this respect.


turner said...

Has Friends of LAC been disbanded? If not, one surely could consider it a volunteer resource, couldn't one? Cheers.


JDR said...

BT: The LAC Friends organization exists largely as a fundraising organization. Their best known activity is the annual book sale. They do not act to represent the concerns of users nor provide volunteers for work on records as does the friends group at TNA.

Hugh Reekie said...

Too bad that Chis Paton did not review the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth. It scores highly on most points - e.g. an excellent cafeteria and bookshop. On my visit I was delighted that retrieval or original material was less than an hour.

Hugh Reekie