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CHA Archives Chair's letter to Dr. Caron at LAC

Ottawa, July 11 2012

Dr. Daniel Caron
Deputy Head and Librarian and Archivist of Canada
Library and Archives Canada
550, boul de la Cité
Gatineau (Québec) K1A 0N4
Canada
Dear Dr. Caron,

The Canadian Historical Association (CHA) Administrative Council would like to thank you for taking the time to visit the Council at the Congress on Sunday, May 27, to discuss the work of LAC and its modernization initiatives. We appreciated the opportunity to ask you detailed questions about the impact of recent federal budget cuts on Library and Archives Canada (LAC) as well as recent and proposed policy changes at LAC. We understand that LAC is facing considerable challenges in coping with these budget cuts as well as determining how to acquire new digital material as it is created.

We are sending this letter as a follow-up to this meeting. We attach some additional questions which we did not have time to pursue at the time. We have had a difficult time finding documentation about how the cuts at the LAC are being distributed and so have had to glean our information from the press and other interested organizations. These suggest a staffing reduction from 1065 to 850 staff, including a 50% cut to the digitization staff, a 36% cut to non-governmental archivists, significant cuts to circulation, preservation and conservation staff. We, and we believe, the entire Canadian historical and archival community, would welcome a frank and transparent accounting of where all the cuts and redistributions will happen, this year and next, and the actual effect on the LAC's ability to meet its mandates.

While we recognize that LAC must contend with budget constraints and the challenges (and opportunities) of the “noisy digital world” (as you put it at our May 27 meeting), we are concerned that certain developments (privileging 21st-century digital materials over pre-21st century analogue materials; prioritizing digital at the expense of traditional forms of access; uncertain support for regional archives; involvement of private industry in digitization and acquisition decisions) are detrimental to the essential role of Library and Archives Canada as a pillar of democracy.

We understand that the budget cuts have left you in a difficult position. We are puzzled however, by your insistence that digitization will solve all the problems and the cuts you are making are positive steps in the right direction. We do not share this view. We would also like to suggest the following concrete steps which we view as necessary to balance LAC modernization initiatives with the preservation of its traditional and valuable services:

1. Restore the NADP programme, which was a cost-efficient way to support provincial and local archives and which cannot be replaced by the PCDHN in its current form.

2. Create a visual chart of LAC’s entire collection to indicate which portions have been digitized and which have not.

3. Make the details of the whole of society model more explicit and link it to a well-articulated plan for collecting private documents

4. Create a process by which researchers participate in the definition of which collections are digitized

5. Develop a clear policy which indicates who would pay the cost of digitization, in the case of researchers who formerly requested microfilm via ILL, and restore the ILL service for those cases when digitization of microfilm is not possible

6. Complete the digitization of all finding aids within two years

7. Monitor the on-site appointment system to ensure that same-day appointments are possible and evaluate the effectiveness of Skype appointments at-a-distance

8. Recommit to the five original Stakeholder Forums (separately or some forums combined), providing a calendar of meetings planned at least 6 months in advance, engaging the participation of mid-level LAC employees and fostering their direct dialogue with outside archivists and researchers

9. Demonstrate by language and actions that LAC sees itself as a public institution with a mission to serve researchers and citizens.

We realize that we have put a very long list of questions and comments to you in this document; we know you share our belief that the LAC is Canada’s most important cultural institution, and changes of the magnitude now in progress require close attention. We would be pleased to pursue these questions further.

Sincerely,

Lisa Dillon
Archives Chair
Canadian Historical Association

Daniel Caron's Response

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