Published by The Ottawa Citizen on June 13, 2013:
OTTAWA — Canada’s former chief librarian and archivist is harshly critical of the deal to have a private company digitize our public documents and photos.
Ian Wilson says it smack of “desperation” by the federal government.
Further, he says the contents of our archives are “a public good” like historic sites and national parks, and shouldn’t be sold back to us.
Library and Archives Canada is already “superb” at preserving documents, he said.
“The key issue is now digitization, and how to get, in a modern era, this material out to Canadians from coast to coast to coast” at all times.
The issue blew up Tuesday, when the Citizen revealed a secret deal in which LAC will provide millions of documents to Canadiana.org. The non-profit company will make digital images and can sell them for 10 years to cover its costs. Originals remain public property.
“My own interpretation of this is it’s a very clear sign of desperation,” Wilson said. “In effect we’re downloading the cost of digitization to the universities,” because Canadiana.org is formed by university libraries across Canada.
“Other countries see this as a national responsibility. England (and) the United States are putting huge amounts of money into digitizing their documentary heritage.”
“We shouldn’t ask our university libraries to fund it. It’s our memory, our recorded memory. It is an online museum. When you go through the record, you get the authentic voice of those who made this country. You get the letters and the diaries … you get the cabinet minutes. You get records that show in their own voice what they were trying to do, and their hopes and achievements. It’s all there.”
The mass of material includes “documents and photographs and documentary art and portraits and film.” He calls it “a source of national pride.”
“We have not been able to secure that kind of funding in Canada.”
“We still don’t have online the papers of all our prime ministers,” he said.
“We’ve got John A. Macdonald’s papers online but no Laurier papers, and the Borden and the Bennett (papers) — where are those? Those should be online.”
There should also be personal papers of ordinary people online, Wilson said.
“All of that belongs to the people of Canada. It’s all ours, we are paying to store it, we are paying to preserve it properly.”
“And there’s real demand out there.”
“The key is to have a systematic national program to digitize the key records. Not everything; we couldn’t do it all.”
There are 1.2 million maps in the collection. “Why aren’t those maps available? I think the earliest is (from) 1508. Why isn’t that available online? Other countries are doing it but for some reason we haven’t been able to get the attention and drive for it.”
“Let’s do it once, do it well. It’s the knowledge economy version of a capital project. It’s our intellectual capital and it’s worth getting up there.”
In 2011, the Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage recommended digitizing archival documents and putting them online.
“What Canadiana is proposing is, I think, a very generous way and I think a very creative way” to do what the government is not doing, Wilson said.
But the Canadian Library Association is all for the deal.
“We think it’s fantastic,” said president Pilar Martinez.
She says the government shouldn’t be “downloading” the cost of digitizing onto the libraries. But she also said it’s sometimes necessary for the public to pay for access to things it owns — for instance, to enter a national park.
She said Canadiana.org has been making archival materials available for many years and can be trusted because it’s a non-profit agency.
It’s essential to make these national collections available more widely because “this is part of who we are,” she said.
At the University of Toronto, Wendy Duff also says the Canadiana.org deal may be the best practical way to get the information to anyone who lives outside Ottawa.
“I’m a huge believer in making material available,” said Duff, who’s in the faculty of information.
“I think this will make material available” that isn’t today, she said. “I am of course concerned about a pay wall. I would hope there would be a way that the public libraries could license material.”
“Doctoral students will be able to use archival resources if they live in B.C. or Halifax or Newfoundland without having to go to Ottawa. As a person who has spent a lot of time in the Maritimes, that would be a good thing.”
“Twenty years ago I would have said, ‘Oh, no, no, no, no, we can’t go into business,” she said. “Canadiana is a non-profit. It is dedicated to making material available.”
But she said there has to be assurance that access will include the public, and not just university researchers.
“This … will only be realized if, whatever the pay schedule is, public libraries and schools are given an ability to get this without spending millions of dollars.”© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen
Submitted to and published by The Toronto Star, May 27 2013:
Re: Stephen Harper should appoint a pro to head Canada’s library and archives: Editorial, May 21
Stephen Harper should appoint a pro to head Canada’s library and archives: Editorial, May 21
Your editorial on the replacement of Daniel Caron as head of the Library and Archives Canada makes a significant point about having a professional in charge of the most important repository for our printed and archival history.
However, what the public will not be aware of is that since Caron’s appointment many professional associations in Canada have been attempting to inform the public of the damage that this man has inflicted on our heritage.
For some time, many professional associations concerned with matters relating to Canada’s history have been trying to raise awareness of Caron’s policies and nobody seemed to care or even notice. The Canadian Library Association, the Canadian Archivists Association, the Canadian Association of University Teachers, the Bibliographical Society of Canada, the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of Canada and other interested groups have all been lobbying the government and attempting to arouse public indignation.
All of these professional associations have thick files documenting their protests over the last few years about the steps taken by Caron to completely stop acquisitions and accessions, restrict and stop access to materials, end interlibrary loans, lay off a huge percentage of accredited/qualified staff (librarians and archivists), and implement a draconian “code of conduct” for LAC staff which, in effect, restricts free speech. It is apparent Caron’s policies at LAC are part of government policy to throw away our heritage.
It seems the government means to dismantle and disperse our printed heritage, the equivalent of destroying the Library of Congress or the British Library. If these groups of concerned professionals are able to catch the attention of the public, it could be stopped before it destroys our past.
Caron will be replaced, maybe even by a professional archivist or librarian, but it seems that this government thinks its mandate is to replace the real artifacts with more digital retrieval services (whatever they are), and that the purpose of an institution like LAC is to merely provide access to information, not to be the custodian of the actual artifacts of our history.
Perhaps if the public voiced its dismay, something could be done. Otherwise in 20 or 50 years when the inevitable scandal is revealed, it will be too late.
David Mason, David Mason Books, Toronto
In addition to losing skilled library staff, including librarians, at Library & Archives Canada, provincial libraries such as the system in Newfoundland and Labrador have suffered cuts to their staff. After recent cuts, there are just 9 (!!!) professional librarians left in the system. Full article below.
The Newfoundland and Labrador government’s decision to save money by laying off five of the 14 professional librarians in the provincial library system was a target of criticism at a public meeting in Corner Brook on Monday night.
Crystal Rose, a former president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Library Association, told a budget forum organized by the NDP that the cuts to the library system defy logic, as other staff will be left to run libraries without actual librarians on site.
“We are just baffled at the lack of planning and consultation that went into the decision-making for the budget cuts, and I think the public library system is a perfect example of the short-sightedness and the complete lack of understanding that went into the layoffs,” Rose told the meeting, which was organized by New Democrats George Murphy and Christopher Mitchelmore.
“The analogy I would use would be if you took a hospital and [then] you laid off all the doctors, and then you said to the remaining staff, ‘We’re just going to divide that work up amongst you guys. Oh, we’re going to fire some of you as well, and, oh, the public is not going to be affected,’” Rose said.
The March 26 budget eliminated $1.2 million in funding for public libraries, or about 10 per cent of the overall budget.
The Library Association is denouncing the cut, which it says will mean that nine librarians will be left to run 96 libraries across the province.
Education Minister Clyde Jackman said last week that the cuts are unfortunate, but government opted to lay off staff rather than close libraries.
Rose said the cuts will affect major centres, and not just small communities.
“In Corner Brook, with our beautiful new library building, where we have had a librarian for 35 years, we now have no librarian,” she said.
“What went into that? What consultation and long term planning went into a decision like that — that you’re leaving the City of Corner Brook without a librarian?”
‘What is here for us?’
Meanwhile, a community development worker on the west coast told the forum that the budget is forcing her to assess whether she should stay in the province.
The Corner Brook public library will soon not have a librarian on site. (CBC)
Heather Davis, who has a master’s degree and 13 years of experience, said she has worked with several organizations, including the area’s economic development board, which is now closing.
“I really feel like the doors are slamming shut behind,” said Davis, whose career has also included teaching at the College of the North Atlantic.
“For the first time since I’ve moved back here, from after doing the Master’s, I’ve really looked at my partner and said, ‘What is here for us?’”
The NDP has been holding public meetings around the province to collect opinion on the provincial budget, which has included the elimination of about 1,200 positions, most through direct layoffs. The remainder include vacant posts that are being closed permanently as well as an early retirement incentive that has been offered to public servants.