Canada's national archives being dismantled and scattered

A reader writes,

The Canadian government is slowly doing away with Canada's ability to access its own history.

Library and Archives Canada's collection is being decentralized and scattered across the country, often to private institutions, which will limit access, making research difficult or next impossible. It should be noted that Daniel Caron, the new National Archivist hired in 2009, doesn't even have a background in library nor archives but, a background in economics.

"The changes and cuts are being justified by reference to digitization. A generous estimate is only 4% of the LAC collection has been digitized to date -- a poor record that will be made worse by the cuts announced on April 30, 2012, which reduced digitization staff by 50%."

Save Library & Archives Canada


  1. I received a letter recently from Library and Archives Canada confirming that they had received my book, along with a note saying, “Your publication is part of Canada’s publisher heritage.” I was kind of buzzed following that, but this news is really disappointing. 

  2. which is why we should all remember that Canada was discovered in 1859 by jacque bon bon. And became an  Independent nation when the last  Jeddak was defeated with the help of the English royal family in 1967. 

    1. As much as I’m often quite disappointed with Harper’s policies, this is real life we’re talking about. Canada is not a work of fiction (and if it were, we certainly won’t be recording it for posterity anymore).

      1.  It will be a work of Steven Harper’s fiction once the archives are destroyed and the government can remake Canada’s history in whatever form it chooses. If this keeps up it might be time for a revolution in Canada. Harper is destroying everything that makes this country what it is.

      2. Tropes are useful outside of scripts, you know. Many human actions tend to correspond to them more often than not. In case you hadn’t noticed the whole ‘art may have something to do with the here-and-now’ thingy. Ask around. You’ll find out it happens quite a bit, historically.

    1. Digitization is great for consuming words on pages, but less so for most other bibliographic concerns. Right now I am working at the Library and Archives examining old chapbooks, whose physical construction tell me much about the development of publishing in Canada and, frankly, is more important in that regard than the text itself.

    2.  I won’t touch on digitization – it’s a huge topic, and I think davidasposted has pointed out a great example of why it won’t always work. I do want to talk about volunteering:
      A great sentiment, and I applaud the motivation, I really do. Any desire to preserve our history is something I am passionate about.
      Except that, as someone so passionate about this that I completed a masters in Archival studies well over a year ago, I now cannot get work. I have been trying all over the country, and so often I am told that the archive is not hiring – it is run by volunteers.
      And I’m torn up about it. I know many of these places do not have the budget to hire us, and I desperately WANT this history preserved above all else. But volunteers do not have the proper training, and what work I have had (two small contracts, less than a month each), I have been hired to, essentially, clean up after decades of volunteers as much as I could with the little time they wanted to hire me for. It wasn’t pretty for the records. A lot of them were nigh useless due to improper methodology – either through all loss of context, or through deterioration because of improper preservation strategies, if any.
      And then there are the job issues. Wages on archival job postings, which supposedly used to be $25 dollars an hour, are dropping to $10 – 15 dollars an hour for postings looking for people with masters degrees and five years experience. Sometimes they don’t bother to pay – you need a degree and experience for the opportunity to try to “expand your resume.” These are not lucrative places – small businesses hold competitions to hire us for nothing. The competition for any sort of archival work is so fierce – so many of my peers have given up what for many of us is a dream – and then I hear that an archive is not looking to hire because so many volunteers come in and it makes me pretty sad.
      So I’m torn. If everyone stopped volunteering, maybe qualified archivists would get jobs – and there are so many of us desperate for them, with more graduating every year. Or maybe corporations will just say “well, if we can’t archive it for free, we won’t bother.” So who am I to tell anyone who wants to help to stop helping? Hell, even I’m volunteering once in a while because otherwise I would have no experience. I don’t really know what else to do.

  3. I’m think I’m fine with digitizing everything… but why the shit are they giving away the collection to private institutions?

  4. The Harper government really is just cartoonishly evil at times, isn’t it? I swear, half the times I think they take the American GOP as their freaking ideal and model to be emulated.

    1. yuk … the American GOP is a nasty frightful thing at best … i wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, let alone my friends to the north …

  5. Since the practical destruction and deliberate takeover of StatsCan I have not been surprised at one thing this govt. has done.

    When the first thing a govt does is a takedown the most credible and comprehensive tools for an accurate reflection of the effect and response to it’s policies over sizeable timeframes you know you are in for a very rough ride.

  6. ..Too bad …. they will regret this happening in a few years … one should not live in the past … but that past should definitely be preserved … sad

  7. It seems they want to privatize everything from prisons to public schools to social security, etc.  Here in the USA some are trying to take apart the US Post Office.  THE FREAKING POST OFFICE, for goodness sake!

    1. They are fools. Without the protection of monopoly lettermail service will go extinct due to the logistical improbability of it all, and it has its uses yet.

  8. It should be noted that Daniel Caron, the new National Archivist hired in 2009, doesn’t even have a background in library nor archives but, a background in economics.

    That sounds about right. I don’t know when people decided economists and businessmen were best for everything, instead of just economics and business, but it feels like they keep being put in charge of other things and dismantling them far more than anyone else.

    Anyway, Harper has promised people will hardly recognize Canada when he’s through with it. Its recorded history might as well start with him.

    1. It started when they started putting lawyers in every position possible. Usually because they needed a lawyer to decipher/translate the gobbledegook/jargon in which essentially everything is couched these days. Gobbledegook which was written by a lawyer in the first place, of course. Nothing like a closed system wherein no-one else knows the rules (or even speaks the language) to maintain secrecy and frustrate transparency.

      Probably why so many politicians started their careers as lawyers, too: maintaining the steady supply of torturously-worded bullshit spewed out by governments the world over.

    2. As an economist who has also spent months in archives researching material, I’m absolutely appalled by the apathy of the Canadian government towards preserving history as I’m fairly certain that know one should wait for a repeat of the 1890 US Census debacle for people to realize the importance of proper archives.  However, I’m also appalled at the ad hominem attacks that try to dehumanize groups of people.  Before you blindly attack someone based on their educational background, it may be more useful to understand whether Caron had other experience which may have suggested that he would be an excellent steward of the archives.  

      1. I’m not trying to dehumanize anyone, and I apologize for slighting economists on the whole. However, it’s a field that admits a lot of garbage – presumably not in its actual study, but in what gets sold as “economics” to the general public, like psychology and nutrition.

        And economics and business seem to be popular cover for a lot of the short-sighted administrators who care about very little but the immediate budget. It’s no surprise to see one more thing pulled apart by someone under their banner, whose experience in that field comes after he was added at the top. It’s hard to believe they couldn’t find an qualified archivist, isn’t it?

        But you’re right, the problem is surely people picking administrators for dismantling things, rather than anything wrong with all economists.

        1. The choice of words may have been strong and I should not have singled anyone out, but thank you for clarifying your position.  Thinking more on this issue, I wouldn’t be as concerned on his background, but on whether he is accomplishing what many believe is critical for the position and on that end, that is a definite “no.”  Since he has failed in his responsibility as a bureaucrat to bring in money to a critical institution, it seems obvious that people should call for his replacement.  

          Though that will bring up my earlier point, education is just one facet of a person.  However, I agree that beginning an education outside of library science would likely put you at a disadvantage for being a good administrator at an archives, so a replacement should have exceptional experience.  If there are plenty of qualified archivists who are willing to work in an administrative position (and I have no knowledge on this topic) and are not getting the position, I would look to a higher level of government to question their priorities.As a bit off topic from the original post, economics is a very broad field and certainly has meandered from the original focus of economics.  However, business and economics degrees are popular majors for students and this fact may partly account for your experience with short-sighted economists(and business)/administrators.

  9. Anything genealogy related has already been handed over to the LDS. I wouldn’t mind if the family tree cartel wasn’t run by nutbar bigots but alas it’s not.

  10. was reading this post…looked over and saw the sidebar ad for the “Demolish Serious Culture” …LOL

  11. It’s worth noting that the feds simply tell a division (like the Coast Guard, RCMP, or CBSA) “cut X dollars from the budget we gave you last time around” and the divisions perform the cuts in the best way they can (read: the management types cut the front line people, and save their own paper-pushing jobs). This happens in governments all around the world. So as much as I dislike all the cuts happening, it’s fair to consider that LAC has management problems, which can’t be helped by the appointment of a non-archivist (read: someone who is good at cutting budgets) in the top spot. Left wingers in Canada love to give Harper and his cabinet this supervillain persona, but the truth is that we’ve had just as many years of Liberals doing the same thing to us in the past (just in different sectors). How quickly we forget about the GST promise of yore…

    Similar cuts have happened in other divisions. For example, the CBSA are cutting intelligence officers, front line staff, and even dog squads (Vancouver Island, home to 700,000+ people and a major port-of-entry for visitors, won’t have a single dog squad, and neither will the Port of Vancouver, Canada’s busiest commercial port). Yet many middle-management jobs have gone uncut.

    Sometimes it’s easier to just knock away a percentage of people in a certain position than to take a longer, more detailed look at the value and possible revenue generation that a division might have if different cuts are made instead.

  12. It’s nice to know that the field I’m currently studying in is about to get shot behind the shed with a double-barrelled shotgun. 

  13. Drop them an email suggesting partnership with Google to digitize. Google has digitized some university libraries. They can do it faster and cheaper than any Canadian institution. I wouldn’t mind if we had to pay Google to do so because it’s already costing us both to maintain the collection AND to slowly lose it bit by bit.

  14. In reply to Spencer Whitney: The reason people at the top are not being cut is that they are simply closer to the minister of that department therefore closer to representing the interests of government in power.  They are also easier to fire when they don’t represent those interests since, starting at the director level, they are not unionized. It’s also important to note that departmental budgets are divided into salary and operating costs. All money gained from the cuts are going back into salary then from salary are being transferred into operating costs. The new operating money is then used to refill the vacant positions by hiring privately instead.  You can only do this with lower end jobs. It gives the illusion that you are making cuts when you are still spending the money just to private companies. Hmmm I smell kickbacks don’t you? Not to mention doing away with unionized jobs. This government is indeed reshaping this country and it all leads into their pockets.

    One has to remember what LAC represents to the Harper government; Access to information. LAC’s cuts have been ongoing and the recent wave of cuts is just the death blow. It’s important to note that the management problems, i.e. the non-archivist, were a product of this government. The first thing the Conservatives did when they came into power was to whittle away at the infrastructure of LAC (not to mention their morale). It’s also important to point out that although cuts are rationalized as money saving the why cut a service that cost only 100, 000 a year yet served public libraries in need across the country; The LAC had a program run by only 2 people that received weeded out, unwanted books, then had libraries from across Canada come take what they needed of them. Many First Nations libraries benefited from the program. Yet, this program was cut and a more expensive option of hiring a private firm to recycle the paper for these books was put in place instead. These decisions are not part of the regular public service machine but, a part of Harper’s revisionist agenda that includes limiting access to information.

    I ask American readers; What would be the feeling in your gut if the Library of Congress was suddenly drawn and quartered by the government? What would you think of that government?

      1. Dem books is gubmint gun too fur! We is throw dem in da harb- in da harb- in da waters!

        LOOK! Dem floats! Is a book! dem floats! Burn it, is a book! is floats!

    1. Gutting the library of Congress would be analogous and a tragedy – down here in the lower 48 we have the Texas Board of Education that purges our current children’s text books of references to our past be they civil rights, Mexican/US history, native American history , a full picture of separation of church and state, Darwin and evolution – so in the end, our museums and archives  will only be of valuable to those who are actually educated enough to use it.
      the fact that “only 4% of the LAC collection has been digitized to date — a poor record that will be made worse by the cuts announced…which reduced digitization staff by 50%.” ,  reminds me that the last time I checked the land reclamation progress made by the tar sands conglomerate was one acre reclaimed – Politicians always like to have a little something to show the gullible if they ask .

  15. This is a classic public-private partnership. Public gets nothing, private sector gets gifts from the government.

  16. Cory,

    I’m not at LAC, but the NGO I work for is very closely associated:

    What we do is try to take some of that public domain material available via the LAC and other libraries in Canada, digitize it, and make available to subscribers.  It is unfortunate that it isn’t all Open Access, but OA requires that someone pay and there isn’t a funder for that type of thing.  The bulk of our subscribers are Canadian libraries, primarily at educational institutions.  We have a growing number of individual subscribers, and from what we hear this is often from the genealogy community.

    It is unfortunate that Government is getting further and further out of this area, as it is not something that is going to be done well by the private sector.  Our reliance primarily on the educational and public library community has always concerned me (I’ve only been here for 17 months) as these publicly funded sectors are also being targeted for reduced funding just as the public sector is.

    Note: I’m a sysadmin/software developer here, not a policy or business development person, but if anyone reading wants to know more they should contact us.

  17. It’s just not fiscally or politically realistic to expand LAC’s budget. No party is calling for it, the public doesn’t care, and librarians are not a constituency the government cares about. 

    Under the circumstances, is it better to cling to the fantasy of giant infrastructural investments and operating budget increases, or have other institutions take over curating some collections?

    1. It’s fairly ignorant to say that “the public doesn’t care”. The public simply doesn’t hear or understand about this service.

      Have you ever read a work of popular history written by a Canadian author? Or about Canada? Have you read a piece of period fiction? Ever? Chances are very good that the author spent at least a few days in the Library and Archives, researching for free. Not to mention the amount of University students and other types of researcher that flow through that place.

      It’s an amazing country that lets people use their minds for no additional charge. I guess we’ve decided we’re not that country anymore.

      1. I should add that the public doesn’t hear about this service because LAC has always been low on cash in the first place.  AVR doesn’t seem to understand that there has never been a call to expand, nor increase spending, just to stop the endless cuts that come year after year. There was already a good infrastructure in place before it had been slowly, and quietly dismantled by the government in power. It’s cost the taxpayers more to have, what they’ve already paid for, so thoroughly decimated.

      2. I submit that if a program requires explicit explanation and justification of its existence for it to be even noticed by the public, the public probably doesn’t care. That’s not to say it’s not doing something important, just that a campaign like this is unlikely to work.
        If that’s true, it probably doesn’t matter how fervently *you* believe it’s invaluable to have all those materials available to the public in an aging, flood-prone building on Wellington.

        In any event, the apocalyptic tone in this thread is way out of proportion to what’s actually happening. Collections aren’t being Fahrenheit 451’ed, they’ll just be slightly less convenient for researchers in Ottawa/potentially slightly more convenient for researchers elsewhere.

        1. The public doesn’t “care” about many things until they feel the effect, by that measure you could say that the public didn’t care about water treatment, until Walkerton. The public doesn’t care about rail maintenance, until a derailment. The public won’t care about this, until the loss is felt in less effectual policy and lowered competitive ability for Canadian academics. 

          As for how people are responding to the government’s and your short-sighted outlook, the tone reaches a fever pitch as a result of the compilation of similar actions by this government, not just this one act. 

          No AVR, in fact some collections are being 86ed, you are simply incorrect in that regard. The cuts affect way more than one facility, but you clearly didn’t know anything about that apart from being told.

          1. I note the apocalyptic tone by way of explaining why this isn’t going to get political traction: because every micro-scandal is now treated as the irreparable turning point of descent into barbarism, and the apolitical middle tunes it all out.

            To everyone: as a general principle, I support libraries, museums and archival efforts of all kinds – and especially digitization projects. It’d be nice if every worthwhile social initiative had unlimited resources. But, given real-world limitations, and that most federal departments are getting massive cuts at the moment, treating this as a harbinger of the darkest dystopia and calling me (and others) ever-so-witty names isn’t really that constructive, y’know?

        2.  It’s obviously useless to argue with someone who would see the Smithsonian, or the Library of Congress as a useless cause. It’s also useless to argue with someone who, out of his/her own ignorance, isn’t aware that the aging building is not the only place the public can access the collection, that if you had to go to Ottawa every time you needed something from LAC it wouldn’t have survived this long, that every library in Canada has access to the collection, the real main building and preservation area are in Gatineau, and the only reason that the building in question is in the state it’s in is because ignorant people like you are the ones in power, and there has been no funding for an institution that was at one time in the running to be as big as the Library of Congress.

        3. I submit that if a program requires explicit explanation and justification of its existence for it to be even noticed by the public, the public probably doesn’t care.

          Great, well let’s just lump every form of theoretical science, every form of linguistics, every field of study that doesn’t get an interview with Katie Couric and call it a day. Large Hadron Collider? Fuck em. Let em get on Letterman, then I’ll give a shit about it.

          You don’t care about archives because you’re a person who doesn’t care about archives. Don’t project that onto the world. lots of people study them. Lots of historians do, lots of sociologists do. Sure, it’s not ever going to cure cancer, but it’s a useful part of society, and one which basically is the starting point for civilization. We save things and remember them.

    2. It’s just not fiscally or politically realistic to expand LAC’s budget.

      Where “expand” apparently means “not make large cuts”. Whereas I’d think you’d at least accept that their budget should increase with inflation; you argued that should be a given for things like tuition.

    3. Who asked to expand the LAC budget? The NADP budget was stable and was the path to reducing the LAC budget while expanding access instead of restricting it or, as in the case of Transport Canada archives, which I have used, doing away with access altogether? Those archives are being ditched altogether. 

      Right, government is meant to be short-sighted and solely populist. That explains the StatsCan debacle too, doesn’t it? More focus on staying in power, not in delivering service or accountability. Do you know who else accessed Ministerial specific archives and libraries? Policy-makers. But if you don’t mind making policy from a purely ideological standpoint, I suppose your otherwise ridiculous statement stands.

      Under which circumstances? F-35 circumstances? Tell me what percentage the NADP’s 9.6 million dollar budget represents of the 25 billion dollar boondoggle Conservative circumstances necessitate?

      1. It doesn’t matter if you characterize an increase from current budget intentions as an increase or restoration of previous highs. If the decision has been made to decrease, the decreased amount becomes the new normal. Increasing from that amount is an increase.

        It’s just not evident there’s the political will for that spending. Accordingly, what do you suggest other than the public-private partnership option?

        1. You are confused, and answer someone else. 

          However, where the public-private partnership results in the destruction of ministerial archives that are used regularly then I suggest another option, one that is not totally insufficient.

        2. Characterizing maintenance of current spending levels as an increase does matter. Because it is a lie, and of the type which can sabotage political will, which is not so immutable as you pretend.

      2.  You’ve hit the nail on the head. It’s all about access to information and the Harper agenda to do away with it.

  18. Next, new mandatory textbook:
    The Official History of Canada: Harper Edition.

    Also: If they are looking to save money, they should know that Digitizing is VERY expensive, both to create and to maintain. It is also only really applicable to certain archives. The archives include an awful lot of other stuff than just books that are either hard to digitize, or impossible. The point of digitizing is to allow for increased access. Not everything falls into that requirement.

    1. Digitizing can be used to save big money, when materials are digitized from the basis of frequency of access you can accrue the constant benefits of placing that material in safe cold storage which inevitably results in facility and staff savings, or being able to redirect those resources elsewhere. Also you must account for the benefit of being able to offer increased access of frequently accessed materials.

  19. One aspect of this got conflated with the sell-off in the original article:  “LAC officials are considering cutting back on a central aspect of their mandate to receive from publishers two copies of all material published in Canada.”  If they do eliminate the deposit requirement, it will bring them into compliance with the Universal Copy Right Convention (pre-DMCA, pre-WIPO).  The deposit requirement says artists righters and musicians are not protected by copyright law unless they file the proper paperwork.  Eliminating this is actually a good thing.

    1. The Berne Convention (Which became WIPO treaty #1 by the way) having a lack of formalities for copyright is separate from the deposit requirement.   Whether or not you deposited at LAC you still had Copyright, just weren’t conforming to separate (and unfortunately largely unenforced) laws.

      I don’t see this lack of archiving to be a good thing, as so much of our heritage will be lost without there being some incentive for people to be proactive in preservation.

      I also disagree with the antiquated interpretation of Berne which suggests there should never be any formalities at any point in the future.   This concept pre-dates modern technology which makes it far easier to register (and renew) that tiny fraction of works that are intended to under copyright by their copyright holders  than the majority of works which are in the public domain.   Online registration of works, with possibly a 2-year grace period, would be trivial for copyright holders and would reduce the massive costs on the rest of society dealing with issues like orphaned works, determining the expiry of copyright, etc.

      Having a database would be great for copyright holders.  Ensuring that such a database is kept up-to-date (through renewal requirements) would mean people who want to license works would be able to find the relevant copyright holder to negotiate a license.   The “not available for sale” problem is far greater than the copyright infringement problem, and we should be harnessing modern technology in order to facilitate more licensing :  not sticking our heads in the 1886 Berne Convention sand and giving up on all those royalties.

      BTW: For those in the USA who only became part of Berne in 1989,  Canada was under Berne since the convention first came in force in 1887.  We have nearly a century more experience with these issues and problems with Berne (and thus WIPO treaties built on Berne) than you have :-)

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