17 May 2012

Saving Library and Archives Canada


As noted in the latest issue of The Ottawa Genealogist, the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) has launched a campaign asking Canadians to join in ensuring our history and heritage is preserved by Library and Archives Canada (LAC)—the only national institution with the mandate and capability to fill this role.

The response to the CAUT campaign has been mixed with many associations reticent to lend their open support in fear of damaging their relationship with LAC.  Other associations have announced their support, however, including the Ex Libris Association, the Canadian Historical Association, the Canadian Association of Law Libraries, the Jewish Public Library Archives and others.  Supportive articles have also been published in a number of major newspapers, including Victoria’s The Times colonist which noted Prime Minister Harper’s interest in the War of 1812.  The federal government is spending $28 million to help Canadians to remember the War of 1812, an event "of great national significance" that "laid the foundation for Confederation," but the very records that that document this history are at serious risk because the government is attacking the foundations of Canada's history and heritage by allowing significant changes to the mandate of LAC. 

The Minister of Canadian Heritage continues to insist that LAC will be able to fulfill its mandate thanks to its significant digitization activities.  It is estimated, however, that only 1-4% of paper documents have thus far been digitized and we are told that 50% of the digitization staff of LAC have been surplused in the present round of government cuts.  Given the known massive cost of digitization activities, estimated to be in the billions of dollars, it is not credible that existing resources will permit adequate electronic access to materials. 

LAC’s recently tabled Report on Plans and Priorities states that one “of the pillars of the mandate of Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is to ensure that Canada’s continuing memory reflects Canadian society and is of interest to current and future generations.”  Unfortunately, it is impossible to predict what will be of interest to future generations and future Canadians may be denied their historical heritage because material is not collected today.  An excellent example of this possibility is the recent discovery of an obscure document in LAC’s collections that could hold the key to citizenship for persons known as “lost Canadians” because they were born out of wedlock outside of Canada before 1947. 

Latest updates to the CAUT campaign can be found on the website at:  www.savelibraryarchives.ca/update-2012-05.aspx

Posted for Ralph Manning, Membership, the Ottawa Branch Board

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