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January 2010 - Letter to the Chair of the Board of Governors at Glenbow-Alberta Institute

January 6, 2010

Dear Mr. Currie,

As President of the Canadian Historical Association (CHA), I write to express the Association’s deep concern over the recent decision taken by the Glenbow Alberta-Institute to implement staff cuts. These cuts appear to have fallen disproportionately on the Archives division, which has seen the number of archivists it employs fall from six to three.

A reduction of fifty per cent would be serious enough, but its effects are even more alarming than the number alone suggests: the duties of one of the three remaining archivists are devoted solely to the Imperial Oil collection while those of another are split with the administration of the Library and Archives. This leaves the Archives with just one staff member whose time is devoted to the entire collection.

Founded in 1922, the CHA is a bilingual organization with 1,200 members across Canada, the United States and the rest of the world, dedicated to scholarship in all fields of history.  As the leading scholarly organization of historians in Canada, the Canadian Historical Association assumes an advocacy role regarding issues of concern to its members and other practitioners interested in advancing the discipline of history in Canada. The Glenbow’s first archivist, Hugh Dempsey, was an active member of our organization, editing an archives column for the CHA’s newsletter.

While we recognize that the present economic downturn poses challenges to a number of organizations in the heritage sector, we believe the reductions in staffing constitute a serious threat to the ability of the archives to function properly and compromise our abilities as historians to gain access to archival materials.

As Canada’s largest non-governmental archival repository, the Glenbow’s extensive holdings of documents and photographs relating to the history of Western Canada are unparalleled. Generations of graduate students and faculty members from universities across the country and around the world have availed themselves of the expertise of its archivists and relied on its collections. Much of this work has fundamentally shaped our understanding of the region and the nation.

We believe the reduction in the number of archivists will erode the Institute’s ability to “exercise curatorial care of and provide public access to the collection assets” as the Glenbow Alberta-Institute Act requires (section 2.3c). Large volumes of material will have to be stored until they can be processed, and hence they will be unavailable for consultation. Documents in storage may well be at risk of deterioration. None of this is consistent with the Institute’s stated values and beliefs or its management goals: “to refine and build the collection and maximize accessibility, while improving condition, utility and security.”

In addition, with fewer archivists, it is unclear how the Institute will continue to identify, assess, and acquire new materials relevant to the history of the Canadian west. Without an active acquisitions programme, the Institute’s reputation for excellence – the Glenbow “brand” – is in danger of being tarnished, and even more serious, irreplaceable collections of documents and photographs – the heritage of Albertans and Canadians – may be lost to the province and country forever.

We urge you and the Board of Governors to reconsider the decision to implement such drastic staffing cuts to the Archives and to develop creative solutions consistent with the objects of the Institute, “to promote and encourage the acquisition and diffusion of knowledge of the human race, its arts, its history, and the nature of the world in which it lives.”

Sincerely,

Mary Lynn Stewart, President of the Canadian Historical Association

Historians have also protested against the cuts at the Glenbow Museum:

Ron Macleod, professor Emeritus, University of Alberta - Letter

David Finch, Historian - Letter

Katherine Govier, Historian - Letter

March 28 2010 Article in the Calgary Herald - http://digital.calgaryherald.com/epaper/viewer.aspx

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