More on Canadiana from the Council of Canadian Archives

From a message posted on the national archival community list-serv, ARCAN-L.

On October 1st, 2013, Canadians were made aware of several documents relating to the Héritage digitization project, via the blog of Dr. Michael Geist It should be noted that recently the<> Board opened the door to dialogue with the archival community about this project.  However, the Canadian Council of Archives, on behalf of the Canadian archival community, wishes to express our concern and provide clarification about the following points from the undated LAC document entitled “Backgrounder”:

“*Library associations support this partnership and the work of<>[sic]:

[list of Library Associations]

* Stakeholders of this collection are users of public, university and other libraries across Canada.

* The archival community’s only concern is that Canadian’s description approach will be consistent with their own.”

Canada’s more than 800 archives have been, and continue to be, committed to preserving the unique materials in their care and to providing democratic and free access to the information held in the collections, in both analogue and digital formats.

The Canadian archival community was surprised that archives users and archival institutions were not considered potential stakeholders in this project at the time of this document’s drafting. The archival community was not invited to participate in this project, and no discussion about this project had taken place with the community.

Archival description is only one aspect of the professional work required to make available documentary heritage in digital form.  Without any consultation or involvement with the archival community, it was inappropriate to make any assumptions about the archival community’s concerns.  We have welcomed the recent opportunity to discuss this project.


Le 1er octobre, le blog du Dr. ​​Michael Geist présentait aux Canadiens plusieurs documents relatifs au projet de numérisation Héritage.

Il convient de noter qu’une porte a récemment été ouverte par le Conseil de direction<> pour discuter de ce projet avec la communauté archivistique.  Cependant, le Conseil canadien des archives, au nom de la communauté archivistique canadienne, souhaite exprimer ses inquiétudes au sujet des points suivants à partir du document de BACnon daté intitulé «Backgrounder» (en anglais seulement) :

“*Library associations support this partnership and the work of<>[sic]:

[list of Library Associations]

*Stakeholders of this collection are users of public, university and other libraries across Canada.

* The archival community’s only concern is that Canadian’s description approach will be consistent with their own.”

Plus de 800 centres d’archives canadiens continuent à s’investir dans la préservation des documents uniques dont ils ont la garde et à donner accès gratuitement et démocratiquement à l’information détenue dans leurs collections, que ce soit en format analogique ou numérique.

La communauté archivistique canadienne était surprise que les utilisateurs des archives et les institutions d’archives n’aient pas été considérés comme des acteurs potentiels de ce projet au moment de la rédaction de ce document. La communauté archivistique canadienne n’a pas été invitée à participer à ce projet, et aucune discussion sérieuse n’a eu lieu sur le sujet.

La description archivistique n’est qu’un aspect du travail professionnel nécessaire pour rendre accessible le patrimoine documentaire numérique. Sans aucune consultation ou participation de la communauté, il était inapproprié d’affirmer que les normes de description archivistique du projet est la seule préoccupation de la communauté archivistique canadienne. Nous voudrions profiter de l’occasion offerte récemment de discuter de ce projet.

Lara Wilson

Chair | Canadian Council of Archives

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

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

If you are interested and concerned about the situation at LAC and across the country (cuts to NADP, etc.) please attend this important event. Furthermore, we need to support and show solidarity to our fellow colleagues in their struggle.

What We Have Lost: What We Stand to Lose

The Future of Archives and Archivists in Canada

Wednesday January 16, 2013

7.00 PM

City of Ottawa Archives

Room 115

100 Tallwood Drive


Since the 1970s an archival system has been built up in Canada and now it is threatened by recent funding cuts and program decisions at the federal level. This panel will examine the future of archives and archivists in Canada in the light of the decisions Ottawa has taken.

 Our Panelists will address the following topics:

  •  The effects of the disappearance of the National Archival Development Program Patti Harper, Department Head, Archives and Research Collections, Carleton University
  • The new Library and Archives Canada: will it be able to serve its constituencies? James L. Turk, Executive Director, Canadian Association of University Teachers.
  • The new archivist: is digital and web all we need to know? Jim Burant, Adjunct professor (Art History) at Carleton University and former manager of Art and Photography Archives at Library and Archives Canada and Laurie Dougherty, Archivist of the Arnprior McNab/Braeside Archives
A question and answer period will follow the presentations.
Event sponsored by the Eastern Ontario Chapter Archives Association of Ontario
For more information: John Smart

Sad Day for LAC (Post by John Reid)

“As we come to the end of a sad year for a once proud organization it has to be said that not all the blame for the LAC’s situation can be laid on the organization management. Heritage Minister James Moore clearly doesn’t care and acts as if he has no responsibility for this organization which part of his ministerial portfolio. As another Caron, the NDP Heritage critic put it, Moore is “washing his hands” of the situation and referring all questions to public servants. It’s not good enough.”

Read full post on the Anglo-Celtic Connections blog.

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

Bibliographic Society of Canada letter regarding cuts to LAC/BAC

Dated August 7, 2012, signed by the Bib Society of Canada’s President, Janet Friskney, this letter is articulate and makes a lot of wise points, including:

-“LAC/BAC falls within the purview of all Members of Parliament, and not solely that of the Minister of Canadian Heritage… Indeed, Members of Parliament would be falling short of their fiduciary obligations were they not to scrutinize the implications of recent and planned budget cuts at LAC/BAC. Until Members of Parliament have had an informed debate about how budget cuts will be managed so as not to undermine the collection and preservation of, and access to, our national documentary heritage, Parliament is not performing as it should.”

-“A prominent and obvious example of the failure to meet obligations resides in the decision to abolish LAC/BAC’s interlibrary loan service in 2013. Interlibrary loan is a fundamental method of providing Canadians throughout this vast country with access to significant portions of their documentary heritage, without regard to their physical location or their economic circumstances. The decision to eliminate the service is shocking and, indeed, incomprehensible to those of us who are committed to the ideal of democratic access.”

“Staff at LAC /BAC is to be reduced by 20 per cent, a cut that will leave important collections of private papers – such as those related to Canada’s literary, musical, Aboriginal or multicultural heritage – bereft of dedicated archivists. As a result, even when researchers make an appointment, the level of expertise they can expect from LAC/BAC staff will be reduced. Reduction in the number of archivists and archival assistants will also inhibit the speed at which collections are processed for public use, and the rigour with which preservation practices are applied to them.”

-“On LAC/BAC’s website and elsewhere, the institution’s officials have rebutted stakeholders’ concerns about access and preservation with assurances that the institution is embracing a new model of service that emphasizes online delivery of services and digital access to holdings. Canadians experienced in working in libraries and archives are not reassured. Indeed, these assurances are worrying since they suggest a lack of basic knowledge on the part of the highest officials assigned to preserve and provide access to our documentary heritage.”

And so on. to read the letter yourself, see

Coupures budgétaires à Bibliothèque et Archives Canada et élimination du Programme national de développement des archives

L’École de bibliothéconomie et des sciences de l’information à l’Université de Montréal a publié une lettre adressée au Ministre James Moore au sujet de la suppression de postes à Bibliothèque et Archives Canada et l’élimination du programme national de développement des archives. Voici la lettre.

Est-ce que l’École des sciences de l’information à l’U d’O aura le courage de s’impliquer dans la défense de notre BAC ?

The Smokescreen of ‘Modernization’ at Library and Archives Canada

An article by Ian Milligan on May 22, 2012 from the Active History blog.

“The government claims that Library and Archives Canada needs to be modernized so all Canadians can access archival services. Yet the state of Canada’s online collections are small and sorely lacking when compared to their expansive on-site collections.”  Read more