08 June 2020

Library and Archives Canada can help reduce GHG emissions

Here is the text of an email I sent to Minister of Canadian Heritage Stephen Guilbeault.

Dear Minister Guilbeault:

I am a retired Ph.D. atmospheric scientist who, among other things, was a negotiator on amendments to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. Since retiring I have been involved with history and a client of the excellent resources of Library and Archives Canada (LAC).

Unlike myself, most of LAC's clients have to travel considerable distances to reach one of its offices with the inevitable consequence of emissions from fossil fuel combustion. You could contribute to reducing emissions owing to services offered by your department by requiring LAC to increase the archival resources it makes available online. 

Only a few percent of LAC's current holdings are presently online. While a wholesale increase is likely impractical what is practical is free digitization on demand. Access to LAC holdings is always free.

The National Archives of Australia has had a system of free digitization on demand since 2001. Archival records are available online for viewing through the Archives online database RecordSearch and new images are made available each week. That makes for more convenient access, reduces travel and the handling of the collection, helping to preserve it for future generations. Furthermore, it helps maintain social distancing.

Unfortunately, since LAC completed digitization of First World War service files the pace has slowed. In 2018-2019 LAC digitized 4.8 million images compared to 10.2 and 9.3 million in the previous two years.

I urge you to challenge LAC to change in its operations to greatly accelerate its digitization initiatives of archival and library holdings, subject to copyright clearance, and introduce timely free digitization on demand.

Stay safe

John D Reid


Btyclk said...

John, I agree with you. LAC really does need to increase their online presence with more documents. Not only will it help with genealogy and family history research, but, as you said, it will help to reduce emissions. It will also help those who want to research but don't have the means to travel and stay in the Ottawa area for an extended period of time. I feel that their projects can continue on, but also add in that personal service as required.

judylynne said...

I wholeheartedly support the sentiments you expressed in your letter to the Ministry.
I cannot afford to undertake research at LAC -- I cannot afford the accommodation that would be necessary nor can I afford to be away from the Archives that I chair here in Gravenhurst for any length of time. There are so many documents and photographs at LAC that would be invaluable to researchers if only they could be accessed online.
We can only hope that LAC will realize that it is in their best interest to be as relevant to a rapidly changing world as possible, and to be much more environmentally friendly to a rapidly deteriorating planet.

Jim Foulkes said...

To suggest that more digital is more green would be very false and misinformed indeed.

The amount of energy required to store and transmit digital information is *exponentially* more than analog. The emissions are much higher given the extreme resource requirements (24/7 365 air conditioning at server farms, for instance).

Unfortunately for many of us old timers, the seduction of the “digital age” and this neat thing called the Internet far outpaced our willingness to actually become knowledgeable about the tech we are using and promoting. The result is people, unfortunately, thinking more digital records = less emissions, under a very simplistic and wrong assumption that digital is greener.

The opposite couldn’t be more true.

JDR said...

Jim: Perhaps you'd be kind enough to share where you find information that the emissions from additional online storage outweigh the emissions from travelling to an archive.

Anonymous said...

The comments about energy required to store digital information reminded me of the old - very old - days, when computers were housed in ultra-air conditioned storage areas with acolytes in white coats to serve them and surrounded by many shelves full of enormous tapes which contained the information which they could read. Paper records, on the other hand, were stored anywhere that was available - often underground. At the Public Archives of Canada in the winter someone went around once or twice a day to add water to the trays on top of the radiators in order to provide a little humidity to the atmosphere. And in the summer everything was damp. And then came the great day when the Archives moved into a new, air conditioned building!!
Nowadays, of course, original documents are stored in air conditioned vaults. And one small USB can hold much more information than many of those old computer tapes. The search rooms at LAC are much less full than they used to be. This is partly because of the amount of material available on the internet, meaning less need to travel, and partly because many people cannot afford the time or expense involved in a long stay at LAC. And most of the people in the Search room are photographing documents so that they do not have spend as long taking notes.
Certainly LAC should be encouraged to increase the amount of material being digitised.
Elizabeth Vincent