13 December 2014

News from Library and Archives Canada

On Thursday evening Librarian and Archivist of Canada Guy Berthiaume spoke at the Ottawa Public Library to an event organized bythe Library Association of the National Capital Region (LANCR) and L’Association des bibliothèques de l’Ontario-Franco (ABO-Franco).
The presentation was structured around five priorities and four commitments available as a handout.
In opening he reflected on the Grande Bibliothèque in Montreal which receives 2.5 million visitors annually, part of his former responsibilities. He acknowledged enjoying the scent of the book, and the scent of clients including the homeless with wool hats and mitts, enjoying the public library facility. He loved the mission of a public library helping everyone regardless of race, status or gender. He said they reminded him of the Emma Lazarus poem at the Statue of Liberty .
"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."
He mentioned Marianne Scott, Ian Wilson and Roch Carrier as important figures in the history of LAC from whom he takes inspiration, and Arthur Doughty for having laid the foundations.
He reviewed where the institution has been, its assets including documents, books, art, photographs, as many hours of audio and video recordings as he has lived, and more. In the first half of the fiscal year starting in April LAC acquired 65,500 titles and continues to build its collection of material from notable Canadians such as Marc Lalonde and Malak Karsh.

He admitted LAC has had a difficult month of November with the report of the Auditor General and the Royal Society Report on the Future of Libraries and Archives, but that concrete steps have been taken to respond to the issues and recommendation raised. He sees a willingness on the part of LAC staff and partners to see the organization regain its place nationally and internationally.

Berthiaume gave some examples of how LAC is changing such as digitizing and making available free online the service files of First World War Canadian service-men and women; loaning 40 items from the collection to the Canadian Museum of History for their Canada 2017 exhibition; hosting an exhibit on the Franklin Expedition while the Museum of Science and technology is closed; items placed on the Flickr account in 100 thematic collections attracting five million visitors; podcasts, eight of which are among the top ten federal productions, and, after considerable debate and effort to ensure preservation, loaning for a year the Canadian Constitution signed by the Queen and Prime Minister Trudeau  in 1982 to the Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg.  This is all part of an effort to give LAC a higher profile in serving Canadians, including by revitalizing 395 Wellington Street as a memory institution location to visit in Ottawa, through partnerships and social media.

In closing Berthiaume  made reference to the Secret Bench of Knowledge which stands in front of 395 Wellington saying that it should not be a secret ... and neither should LAC.

During the question period I had the opportunity to ask about the organization plans for newspapers, the city directory collection and how input from the genealogical community, the largest single user group, would be obtained in further developing programs. On newspapers and directories he admitted these were items he had not been able to focus on. A member of the audience, a former reference librarian at LAC confirmed that city directories are popular but many of the them have "preservation issues" - they're falling apart. On consulting genealogists he had no firm plan but mentioned focus groups for both visitors to 395 Wellington and online clients.

Will we see action?

Much of the Ottawa presentation was taken from a speech in Montreal on 2 December the text of which is available at 

In other LAC news the Canadian Library Association Digest notes the retirement of Cecilia Muir, LAC's Chief Operating Officer, who had the misfortune to serve during turbulent times.

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