What We Have Lost: What We Stand to Lose : The Future of Archives and Archivists in Canada

By Jennifer Dekker.

I attended the forum tonight organized by John Smart and sponsored by the Eastern Ontario Chapter Archives Association of Ontario (AAO East/Est). It was completely packed with many people sitting on chairs outside of the main hall and at least a dozen people stood for more than two hours. There was definitely a lot of excitement as people really wanted to discuss what is happening in the archival community. I sat next to a woman who was part of the Friends group of the City of Ottawa archives who explained that she became interested in archives after researching the history of her home. (For anyone who doesn’t know, city archives have lots of historical records relating to buildings and land use such as maps, photos, fire insurance plans and the like).

There were four speakers: Patti Harper from Carleton, Jim Turk from CAUT, Jim Burant (formerly of LAC) and Laurie Dougherty, Archivist of the Arnprior McNab/Braeside Archives.

Patti spoke about the challenges to archives and the way forward. She spoke about the impact of the loss of the NADP.

Jim Turk spoke about the CAUT campaign, Canada’s Past Matters and announced a new CAUT campaign to come tomorrow. He emphasized that the problem at LAC is not one simply of budget cuts but of an approach to history and history-keeping that de-values information workers (my term). Jim’s presentation highlighted the doublespeak on the LAC website regarding modernization and spoke about what is actually happening in terms of staffing, service delivery and collections.

Jim Burant spoke about the endurance of the analog archive and Laurie was eloquent in her talk about being an archivist in a small community based archive, the need to mentor newer archivists (more urgent than ever) and about her desire for a professional accreditation for archivists in Canada.

After all was said and done, something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately came to mind again. Which is that really, whatever happens in Parliament or within the ‘walls’ of government doesn’t actually matter. What really matters is what happens outside of Parliament or government – on the front lawn, in the streets, on the highways, on the railways. What matters is how people come together to protest decisions made by government. Take the Idle No More movement. Take the Toronto Public Library Strike. These are not communities or movements that substitute their active participation  by depending on an organization or an association to do the difficult work of advocacy, of talking to people, of direct contact with those affected. Librarians and archivists have to understand that. The CLA is not going to stand up for what we think is important – we know that. CAUT is standing up, but can only do so much. The ACA is doing a great job, but still not enough. The most important and critical piece in all of this is on-the-ground grassroots social activism that the Idle No More movement has at its core – that’s what can effect change. And this is what we lack.

It takes a lot of time and a lot of active volunteers. But mobilizing with groups such as social activism groups, unions, workers’ groups, citizen groups, churches, indigenous groups, friends groups, political groups etc. is how this can change. We must build a large and active community. Like Jim Turk said (paraphrasing)- the best arguments in the world don’t change the minds of politicians. Idle No More changes the minds of politicians.

Crowd at City of Ottawa Archives, January 2013

Crowd at City of Ottawa Archives, January 2013

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