Flowers in Memory of Library and Archives Canada
Yesterday a large funerary bouquet was left before “Secret Bench of Knowledge,” the statue which is situated at the door of the Library and Archives building on Wellington Street. The flowers vividly symbolised the loss of services that Canadians have experienced recently in their NATIONAL Archives and NATIONAL Library. These losses will be greater now that the job layoffs have been announced for the institution, which has lost over 450 positions in the name of austerity. The flowers were quickly whisked away by building security, disappearing much like the services and staff at LAC.
I have been reading a great deal of newspaper accounts, twitter feeds and hearing rumours and so forth about the loss of jobs and services at Library and Archives, and wish to make my opinions clear. While I understand where some people are coming from when they say that this is only an Ottawa thing, because after all the jobs and the archives are situated there. This is however a rather short sighted and unrealistic opinion. Library and Archives Canada belong to Canada as a NATIONAL institution. They are charged to preserve CANADIAN history – its literature and its documentary heritage. Our national capital is merely its venue, not its priority. They are there so that any Canadian or others interested in Canada (and yes those people do exist) can come and consult the documents and make of them what they see fit. They can research anything that has to do with Canada be it our fauna, our politicians, our government departments or their family’s history.
Their collections are vast and varied. And up until recently, they were staffed with easily accessible archivists and librarians who knew their collections, and who could assist you finding the information that you required. They did not ask if you are an academic, a genealogist, a crack pot, they helped you out. They are absent now, unless you can make an appointment. Then of course they are also understaffed, and will be losing the people with the most knowledge because of early retirement packages. Have fun researching!
Of course the collections still are there. But there will unlikely any new stuff coming from private individuals or companies. The collections policy has changed and they will now turn away donations from these people, encouraging them to donate them to other archives. As if other archives don’t already have their own budgetary concerns, before being expected to take on material that used to be the purview of the National Archives. That bodes well for researchers in the future.
There is always the digitisation that the Archives intend to do, making the archives building theoretically redundant. This was clearly designed by someone who does not actually understand what purpose archives play in the researching process and the importance of the actual real physical document or book to the researcher. And since the institution has had severe budget cuts, the idea that everything could get scanned in a reasonable amount of time, and be placed on a searchable and simple platform seems unrealistic. Documents don’t scan themselves, nor do they place themselves into databases on their own.
So like the flowers someone placed in front of the Library and Archives Canada building, the Canadian story, the documents of our people and the words of our authors will disappear. Doesn’t anyone care?