Troubled Times at Library & Archives Canada

Over the past few days, there has been an increased amount of conversation regarding disturbing activities at Libraries and Archives Canada — the organization that we librarians (and others) refer to as LAC.

For those who are not aware, LAC is a rather quiet and unassuming, but incredibly important, department of the Canadian government. LAC preserves and makes accessible the documentary heritage of Canada. It also serves as the continuing memory of the Government of Canada and its institutions. This heritage includes publications, archival records, sound and audio-visual materials, photographs, artworks, and electronic documents.

LAC’s mandate:

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) combines the holdings, services and staff of both the former National Library of Canada and the National Archives of Canada. As outlined in the Preamble to the Library and Archives of Canada Act, LAC’s mandate is as follows:
  • to preserve the documentary heritage of Canada for the benefit of present and future generations;

  • to be a source of enduring knowledge accessible to all, contributing to the cultural, social and economic advancement of Canada as a free and democratic society;

  • to facilitate in Canada co-operation among communities involved in the acquisition, preservation and diffusion of knowledge;

  • to serve as the continuing memory of the Government of Canada and its institutions.

Source: Library and Archives Canada web site.

LAC is the kind of important institution that most Canadians don’t think about too often, but is vitally important to our history and our heritage.

In recent years, like most government-funded institutions, LAC has suffered many unfortunate cuts to services due to increasing budget constraints. These cuts have been occurring quietly for almost a decade. For a detailed list of services in decline at LAC, please see the list Ex Libris has compiled.

This past weekend (March 16-17 2013), LAC released a Code of Conduct that all LAC employees are directed to adopt. Several details within the code are very disturbing: LAC employees are required to clear “high risk” activities, such as teaching and speaking at conferences, with their managers, for fear of creating a conflict of interest with their employer.  This new code also states that LAC employees are obligated to a “duty of loyalty” to the “duly elected government”.

On Monday March 18, during Question Period in the House of Commons, Andrew Cash (MP for Davenport) accused Heritage Minister James Moore of being afraid of librarians – a back-handed way of addressing the appalling code of conduct introduced by LAC. For the video of the exchange, see the video posted by The Huffington Post.

This Huffington Post video of the exchange between Cash and Moore received a great deal of Internet traffic on Monday afternoon and evening, prompting a small group of librarians to question Minister Moore’s comments via Twitter. Minister Moore (@JamesMoore_org) engaged in a Twitter conversation (documented in Meg Ecclestone’s blog) and repeatedly insisted that since LAC is an arm’s length agency, that he had no knowledge of the Code of Conduct being enforced at LAC. To quote Minister Moore’s comment on Twitter:

@mjecclestone LAC’s code of conduct is 100% their internal decision. I have no role whatsoever in its drafting or adaptation. Facts are good.

If Minister Moore is not the person to query on this issue, then the next step is to take up the issue with the Deputy Head and Librarian and Archivist of Canada, Dr. Daniel Caron. Meanwhile, the academic librarian listserv I belong to was buzzing with activity regarding the Code and the Twitter conversations that ensued.

On Tuesday morning I learned that my colleague from BC, @Bibliocracy, had been interviewed by CBC’s “As It Happens”. The interview aired Wednesday evening.

As a citizen, there is only so much I can do to bring attention to this important issue. Encouraged by CBC’s interest, later on Wednesday evening I emailed a slew of media folk to ask that they pay attention to the troubling activities at LAC.  Jian Ghomeshi responded to my email, letting me know that his opening essay on Friday morning’s episode of Q will address this “very disturbing news”. I will post a link to the audio after it airs tomorrow morning at 10am ET.

More updates will be added as they occur.

Let your elected officials know how you feel about what’s happening at LAC.
Contact your MP.