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The CHA's Reponse to LAC’s list of priority actions in connection with your institution’s modernization programme

December 21, 2010

Dr. Daniel Caron
Bibliothèque et archives Canada
395, rue Wellington
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0N4

Dear Dr. Caron,

Thank you for your recent letter enclosing LAC’s list of priority actions in connection with your institution’s modernization programme, which was addressed to Lyle Dick, Vice President of the Canadian Historical Association and our LAC portfolio chair. The CHA appreciates the opportunity to provide input into these important initiatives. Our executive has considered the list of LAC’s priorities carefully and we would like to provide an initial response to some items and request clarification of others.

It is somewhat difficult to respond fully without more details as to the substance of these initiatives, especially items 1 through 5, so we would appreciate it if more information regarding these priority actions could be shared with us.  In fact the entire list would benefit from a greater elaboration of what these capsule summaries will mean in practice.

Pending such elaboration, it would be helpful if some of the operative terms could be clarified.  For example, we assume that the term “whole of society” refers to LAC’s diversity of constituencies across Canada, but would appreciate having your working definition so that we know what precisely is being referred to.  The Canadian Historical Association understands that LAC’s has a mandate of serving a wide array of constituencies and we are not opposed to this notion so long as the needs of the professional historical community are being addressed within the scope of the “whole of society.” If there is no detailed definition available, we would appreciate knowing whether LAC would be prepared to consult the CHA in fleshing out the meaning of the "whole of society"?

Regarding item no. 4: “Beginning in April 2011, LAC will conduct a systematic review of the relevance of its holdings based on its mandate and using the whole-of-society appraisal approach,” we would appreciate having a more detailed elaboration of this objective.  A clearer sense of what is meant by both “whole of society” and “relevant” and what they mean for this review of LAC’s holdings would enable the CHA to respond more meaningfully to it.  Pending such clarification, we would like to reiterate our view that LAC is appropriately a major repository of private archival collections of value to the history and identity of Canadians as well as public collections, and the private collections should not be downplayed owing to an overly narrow definition of “relevance.”

Regarding item no. 3: “In April 2011, LAC will begin to apply a whole of government appraisal framework to guide the development of RDAs.” Here we have significant concerns that a government-wide appraisal framework should not be implemented until there has been consultation and opportunities for significant input in the drafting of that framework.

In that regard, the Council of the Canadian Historical Association met with LAC ADMs Dr. Rimmer and Dr. Piché in November to consider their presentation “Presentation to the Canadian Historical Association and LAC’s Modernization Programme” and we provided initial comments.  On 29 November I wrote to Messrs Rimmer and Piché to express various concerns, focussing in particular on the draft appraisal framework, which are appended to this letter.  At that time concern was expressed about the asserted close relationship between the “business value” of a prospective archival collection as assigned by the governmental generators and the archival or historical value as assigned by researchers.  In our view historians will view the two kinds of value as very different and one should not be viewed as a subset of the other. We remained concerned that the essential archival function at LAC should not be subsumed under or subordinated to the federal government’s records management function.

The Canadian Historical Association views this item as particularly pressing, as it is slated for implementation across the federal government by April 2011, which is only months away.  When we met with Messrs. Rimmer and Piché last month, we asked them whether the proposed appraisal and acquisition framework is cast in stone or whether there would be opportunities for meaningful input into refining these concepts.  They assured us that such inputs would be put in place for us to contribute meaningfully to this process.

Further, as is elaborated in the attached letter to Messrs Rimmer and Piché, the CHA believes that we can play a very important role in providing professional historical inputs into other major components of LAC’s modernization programme.  We would therefore appreciate your advice as to the mandate and structure of the forthcoming consultative committees that will be set up and the role that the CHA can play in helping LAC ensure that its priority activities are optimally structured to serve the community of serious researchers and clients of LAC, of which the CHA is a leading member.

I look forward to hearing from you on these various matters, and would also appreciate knowing your response to the more detailed comments in the attached letter to Messrs Rimmer and Piché, dated 29 November 2010.

Sincerely,
Mary Lynn Stewart FRSC

President, Canadian Historical Association/Société historique de Canada

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