Sunday, 2 June 2019

The New LAC/OPL Building at 555 Albert

On Saturday afternoon I had the opportunity to attend a consultation session — Phase 2: Spaces and Relationships asking for public input on how spaces in the new LAC/OPL facility complement one another, the exterior and the views. The welcome and introductory remarks were by OPL CEO Danielle McDonald and Librarian and Archivist of Canada Guy Berthiaume.

The session lasted two hours and mainly consisted of breakout groups of about 8 people discussing a strawman layout of the facility.

I had gone to the Saturday session with two points I wanted to make.

First, LAC used to provide affordable community meeting space. Room 156 was available for groups such as the Ottawa Branch of OGS for monthly meetings. With the auditorium and other meeting spaces, it was suitable for small conferences where three parallel sessions could be accommodated. The new facility should be able to accommodate such conferences. That was all before the disaster precipitated by a previous Librarian and Archivist, the one who succeeded Ian Wilson and whose name is best forgotten.

Second, I wanted to make sure that OPL was prepared to devote the resources to a shared genealogy facility and not just rely on LAC staff. At present, OPL does not even have a person dedicated to the Ottawa Room, which will be part of a separate facility in the new building. While there is genealogy expertize it resides in staff at various OPL branches.

I was encouraged by the group session. There was considerable expertize at the table and no hesitation to suggest changes to the strawman layout proposed. One person pointed out the contrast between the OPL spaces which were more dynamic — children, teen, maker space — and the LAC space which was more academic with tables and bookcases. Is that inevitable owing to the nature of their mandates?

The UK National Archives (TNA) has a large and busy space where no reader pass is required to access online materials for free which elsewhere are pay-per-view. Also, the British Library where similarly the newspaper area has an open access section with no reader pass required. The very existence of a registration requirement is a barrier.

Of course, it would help if LAC, and also OPL had more resources digitally searchable such as newspapers and directories. That will eventually happen and perhaps the new facility will stimulate the transition.

As a national as well as a local facility all Canadians are invited to share their thoughts and comments with the architects regarding the location of major program spaces and uses within the building. Until June 5, have your say here in how this new landmark destination comes to life!

Another view on the importance of libraries.

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