Canada 150: What does it mean for LAC?

I was reading over the transcript of the House of Commons Committees, Canada’s 150th Anniversary in 2017, when I was reminded of when and why the current LAC building at 395 Wellington in Ottawa, was built. In 1967, for our nation’s 100th anniversary, Canada offered its (at the time) National Library a brand new building as part of a great building infrastructure project which saw the creation of the National Arts Centre, the Museum of Science and Technology, the Nova Scotia Museum, the Ontario Science Centre, and so on. Did Daniel Caron flinch at all when he mentioned that? I hope so, because things are VERY different for Canada’s 150th anniversary, and especially for our National Library and National Archives.

Sadly, with respect to the House of Commons study regarding the 150th anniversary celebrations, the only other reference to the LAC is under 3.2 “The role of information and telecommunications technologies.” Specifically, this section pertains to the digitization of Canadian historical records where the LAC plays second fiddle to a group of Canadians who have formed ‘Canada150:’

Several witnesses suggested that 2017 be identified as a pivotal year in the digitization of our documentary heritage. Ms. Healey sees access to and the availability of archival material as a unique opportunity to make Canadians more aware of their history: “In this digital age, it seems to me that so much more can be done to make archival materials from across the country available to all Canadians. Inspiring students to learn their history in documents is possible if the documents are widely available.”[97]A group of Canadians has joined forces under the name Canada 150 “to record their family histories, their community and organizational histories and corporate histories.”[98] Canada 150 hopes to collect millions of letters, diaries, photographs and other records that tell the personal and collective stories of millions of Canadians. The organization is relying on ITT to build “the most ambitious digital edifice of its kind in the world.”[99]As the repository of Canadians’ permanent memory, Library and Archives Canada will actively continue the process of digitizing Canada’s documentary heritage it began several years ago. Mr. Caron, the Librarian and Archivist of Canada, observed that the digitization of records will be a major challenge in the years to come: So 2017 has thus become a year of celebrations for Library and Archives Canada, but 2017 also represents a milestone in the modernization of the institution. The exponential growth in the number of information resource producers and the subsequent astronomical increase in the level of production make it impossible to acquire all the documentary production.[100]

Hmmm…it gave me pause to think for a moment. With all of the rhetoric regarding LAC’s modernization and by extension digitization effort, I’m wondering how much of the commitment to digitize is tied to the 150th anniversary and also why such a large project is being undertaken by Canada 150 rather than the LAC?

I did a little snooping around on Canada 150’s website to find out that its funding sources are:

Canadians already are paying for their own computers, software, print-on-demand books, video recorders, scrapbooks, CDs, websites, etc. We will offer them encouragement, a database to find local resources that can help them, and a place to put these records, in perpetuity, as all of our gifts to Canada on its 150th birthday, and

Governments (all levels), granting agencies (e.g., foundations), and corporations will be asked  to provide funding to co-ordinate this largest history gathering project in Canadian history. As well they may help fund local and national programs that make special efforts to reach those Canadians who are less likely to record their stories without help and provide some of the equipment, such as digital scanners, to help communities record their local photos, films and documents in perpetuity.”

One wonders how much the various level of government are spending on this initiative, which seems dubious to me based on its website, sources of funding (Canadians with their own equipment? really?), Board of Directors and founding partners (a real mixed bag) and the fact that is essentially a crowd-sourcing project. Is this what was intended by crowd-sourcing archives? I guess I can see the role that a project like this might have in the marking of the 150 year celebration, but is it the major digitization effort that Canadian Heritage is supporting?

Regarding Caron’s statements, which come after Canada 150’s, he makes the following comments:

1) LAC cannot acquire all online documents (statement previously released, and not really relevant to the 150th celebration project which is a new digitization project, and is specifically targeted at the conversion of analog resources into digital)

2) Digitization of records will be a major challenge for LAC (because they’ve let go 50% of their digitization staff? So are they or aren’t they digitizing anything?)

3) And what’s this about 2017 being a milestone for LAC in terms of its digitization in the context of 1) and 2) above?

Hmmph.With the recent announcement of the change in name and mandate of the Canadian Museum of Civilization and the $25 million in funding it will receive to prepare itself for the 150th anniversary, where is the LAC? Where is funding for the Canadian stories it could tell about our history? For the records it could digitize? For the staff it could employ to digitize those records? For the curation and life cycle management of those records so that they persist beyond the celebration? Does anyone seriously believe that Canada 150 can be responsible for a project of national significance? Why isn’t Daniel Caron out there fighting for a place in this? Fighting for funding, staff, and the LAC writ large? It’s extremely frustrating.

Now I don’t want to be too critical about the Canada150 project, but I found this on its site under “Resources:”

“The Internet is a wonderful source of information. Use your search engines to find specific sites for your own research. Plan extra time to visit sites not related to your research but that are really just worth the visit! Otherwise, you’ll never get your own work done.

On the following pages are links to various sources of information. Spend a bit of time getting familiar with the different types of information available through the Internet. Keep in mind that some sites are more accurate in their information than others. Depending on what you are researching, make sure that what information you take from a site comes from reliable sources. For example, something you find on a national or provincial archive may be more reliable than something found on a single person’s website.”

We are in trouble if this is the major digitization project being planned for our 150th celebration. The site’s timeline also, (my last critique I promise) does not even attempt to incorporate ANY aboriginal history whatsoever. And THAT is an important story to tell.

Help plan Canada's birthday poster

Help plan Canada’s birthday poster

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