Response of 14 NAC Reference Archivists to CHA brief - English Committee
[The other 85 NAC archivists do not necessarily share this point of view]
Ottawa, October 19, 1998
Professor Greg Kealey, President, CHA
Professor Bill Waiser, Chair, Archives Committee, CHA
395 Wellington Street
Our attention has been drawn to the Canadian Historical Association's response to Professor John English, regarding the future of the National Archives and the National Library of Canada. We were astonished to read several statements in the brief purporting that services provided to researchers at the National Archives of Canada had dramatically deteriorated to a low level. Given the small number of user studies and the fact that the most recent date from the early 1990s, questions naturally arose as to where the authors of the brief obtained the information they used, and what type of analysis or criteria led to their conclusions.
It appears that the authors neglected to mention that the same services offered to researchers have, especially during the last decade, been made available to the general public, whose response has been nothing short of phenomenal. A telling fact, moreover, is that professional historians represent only 5% of the total number of researchers who use the Archives. It is clear that the arrival of this new clientele has had profound consequences on the delivery of services to researchers, not forgetting the constant reduction of resources faced by governmental organizations. It is, therefore, disconcerting to learn that a few historians, some of whom are making a study of the working classes, are so quick to associate the democratization of the National Archives clientele with a presumed "mediocratization" of research services. Can it be that the Canadian Historical Association is offended, because a Canadian institution has finally succeeded in opening Canadian historic and archival heritage to all Canadians? Where is the Historical Association's fine talk about the importance and the necessity of sharing our historical sources? Where are the democratic consequences of social history, which you so ardently defend?
Rather, your remarks leave us with the impression that the members of the Historical Society have become intolerant to the point of refusing to be associated with the mass of researchers lacking a diploma that we call "amateurs." Do we have the means in Canada for a National Archives whose doors would be open to a mere handful of accredited historians who have in any case deserted the halls of the Archives? Should the knowledge of our past be reserved for a small group of intellectuals who would receive first-class service, leaving everyone else to be content with economy class?
As reference archivists, we are deeply disappointed by the remarks of the Canadian Historical Association with regard to an understanding of the real issues related to the future of research services in an archival depository such as the National Archives of Canada. Really, what criteria are used to judge the effect of a service which treats its clients equitably, which proposes a single-wicket formula and which guides researchers through all the Archives' services, in a perspective of global archives? By all means question the fact that diminished resources means that the copying service of the Archives cannot fill requests in a reasonable time. It is unacceptable, however, for the Historical Society to accuse Archives personnel themselves of engendering an "anti-intellectual" climate in the reference room. Should we haul out our diplomas before serving you?
Since you have widely distributed your brief, we would appreciate having this letter, as well, brought to the attention of the members the Canadian Historical Association in the same way.
We hope that this brief is not representative of the thinking of the full membership of the Canadian Historical Society, and remain,
National Archives of Canada
c.c.: John English, Head of the NA/NLC consultations
Lee Macdonald, Acting National Archivist
Members of the SMC
Jean-Pierre Wallot, former National Archivist and Chair of the Royal Society of Canada