Royal Society of Canada convenes an Expert Panel to review Library & Archives Canada

Thanks goes to John Reid of the Anglo-Celtic Connections blog for posting the following on Saturday, 17 August 2013:

Libraries, Archives, and Canada’s Future

This will be of particular interest to genealogical and family history societies across Canada.

Stimulated by problems arising from actions, and inaction, at Library and Archives Canada, and a changing environment for archives and libraries generally, the Royal Society of Canada has convened an Expert Panel with mandate:

  • To investigate what services Canadians, including Aboriginal Canadians and new Canadians, are currently receiving from libraries and archives.
  • To explore what Canadian society expects of libraries and archives in the 21st century.
  • To identify the necessary changes in resources, structures, and competencies to ensure libraries and archives serve the Canadian public good in the 21st century.
  • To listen to and consult the multiple voices that contribute to community building and memory building.
  • To demonstrate how deeply the knowledge universe has been and will continue to be revolutionized by digital technology.
  • To conceptualize the integration of the physical and the digital in library and archive spaces.

The Panel is inviting comments on their blog and have scheduled consultations for: Yellowknife (Sept. 13-14); Vancouver (Sept. 19-21); Ottawa (Oct. 4); Winnipeg (Oct. 18-19); Calgary (Oct. 22-25); Montreal (Oct. 24); Edmonton (Oct. 28-29); Halifax (Nov. 8-9); Toronto (Jan. 15-17).

It’s unclear how the consultation sessions will work. Some very short session are scheduled at the first stop in Yellowknife. I expect clarification next week. There is also the opportunity for written input.

Given the importance of archives and libraries for genealogy and family history, and with many small and not so small archives depend on volunteers from our community, the Expert Panel should hear from us, likely through the major societies we support to represent our interests. 

Those interested in the future of libraries might want to read a report Facing the Future (pdf) written by one of the panel members, Ken Roberts which in discussing interlibrary loan mentions:

“many of the requested items are from people conducting genealogical research and who seek cemetery records and newspaper birth announcements. People might gain better, and more immediate access if there were a focused effort to digitize such material. While initially more expensive, digitization may save ongoing Interlibrary loan costs. We don’t know because, to my knowledge, no studies exist.”

1921 Canadian Census on Ancestry

1921 Census of Canada Released


The 1921 census of Canada has finally been released from Library and Archives Canada.  It is available, free of charge at Ancestry:

At the moment, you are only able to browse a geographic index with links to the census images, and you need to be registered with Ancestry to do this.  You will need to know the province, district, and sub-district where your ancestor lived, and then be ready to scroll your time away.

 Ancestry intends to have a name index available for its customers by autumn, available free of charge at LAC after three years.

Library and Archives Canada’s Code of Conduct: Values and Ethics — March 2013

The code — “Library and Archives Canada’s Code of Conduct: Values and Ethics” — came into effect in January, says Richard Provencher, LAC’s senior communications adviser.  He says the code was written by  LAC in response to the April 2012 Values and Ethics Code for the public sector, which called for federal departments to establish their own codes of conduct.

One thing the code says is:  “As public servants, our duty of loyalty to the Government of Canada and its elected officials extends beyond our workplace to our personal activities.”  Now federal librarians and archivists who set foot in classrooms, attend conferences, or speak up at public meetings on their own time are engaging in “high risk” activities.

What exactly is the risk?  What is LAC afraid of?  What is the federal government afraid of?  The truth will out, no matter what.

The following articles explore what the new code means for federal librarians and archivists:

Canada’s federal librarians fear being ‘muzzled'” by Margaret Munro, Postmedia News, March 16, 2013,”

The Association of Canadian Archivists (ACA) concerning the LAC Code of Conduct), March 18, 2013:

No Need For Muzzle on Librarians
By Bob McClelland, The Ottawa Citizen, March 19, 2013:

Read more:

Give a listen to this CBC broadcast from last night (March 20), for an even better understanding:




March 2013


The following two articles are updates on the status of changes at Library and Archives Canada, and how these changes are being interpreted by critics as limiting the access of academics, genealogists, and the public at large, to its Ottawa-based materials.  Also, fear is expressed that because of the changes in determining what historical materials will or will not be acquired by LAC, the future of our national documentary heritage is in jeopardy.

First Article is by Joseph Hall, News reporter for the Toronto Star, Published on Sun Mar 10 2013 :

“Many of his comrades were sick from fouled water after breaking camp on Lake Erie that fall.

But as his 21st U.S. Infantry Regiment prepared to attack Canada, — perhaps at Montreal, though Kingston and Prescott were also rumoured targets — Sgt. John Bentley took time in late September 1813 to write a four-page letter to his wife back in Thomaston, Me.

With a price tag of $1,500, that War of 1812 missive was offered for sale as a quill-and-ink first draft of our history.

The body charged with accumulating and preserving such Canadian artifacts turned it down.

It also rejected a collection of personal narratives from fugitive slaves in Upper Canada dated 1856. The same goes for the correspondences from 1836 to 1839 between senior British officials on the state of Indian tribes in the colonies.

Indeed, since 2009, Library and Archives Canada hasn’t wanted a whole lot of the historic letters, journals, books and maps it once collected so dutifully, critics say. It has also, they charge, stopped collecting a comprehensive array of this country’s current cultural and artistic output and limited the access that academics and genealogists have to its Ottawa-based materials.

And as of February, it’s barely even lending out books anymore.

A decade-old service, LAC’s interlibrary lending program gave libraries across the country access to its unparalleled Canadian book collection, a reservoir that includes at least two copies of any piece of literature published in the country since the 1950s.

The lending volume has been declining, in recent years, but LAC still loaned out more than 20,000 books last year through the program, says James Turk, head of the Canadian Association of University Teachers.

“And the Library and Archives Canada just cancelled it, full stop.”

That “full stop” is not an entirely accurate description of the LAC policy, says Daniel Caron, the organization’s head. He says discussions are underway to ensure books are still travelling across the country.

In the meantime, Caron says LAC will continue to provide electronic search engines that allow outside librarians to find books and documents in other centers.

But only if searches of all other libraries show the sole copy rests in LAC stacks, will the national centre lend it out. The decision to radically alter its lending program is the latest twist in what many Canadian librarians and academics see as a deliberate move by a secretive federal government to gut the institution, this country’s equivalent of the U.S. Library of Congress.

“The Library and Archives Canada is most assuredly being dismantled,” says Turk, whose organization is helping lead a growing pushback.

“Every country, their equivalent of the LAC . . . is a national treasure,” Turk says.

The first blow, Turk says, came when the decision was made after Caron’s 2009 arrival to alter LAC’s mandate to collect and keep the full gamut of the country’s cultural offerings, past and present.

“They are moving to a much narrower approach. They use terms like ‘well, we’re going to have a representative acquisitions model. We’re going to have essential documentary heritage.’ ”

The problem with eschewing the comprehensive collection model, Turk says, is we don’t know now what might prove “essential” decades down the road.

“Fifty years ago, had there been this approach, we may not have collected material about residential schools, for example.”

Caron, however, says that in its various incarnations over 140 years, LAC has never been completely comprehensive, a task he labels impossible.

“This idea of comprehensive . . . it was a dream,” says Caron, whose budget took a $9.6-million hit over three years in the 2012 federal budget.

“We had a collection (in the past) that was built differently because in (the) . . . pre-digital world, we were able to control to some extent the printed environment,” he says.

The digital world is changing the picture. Caron points, for example, to LAC’s six-decade old legal right to receive two copies of all books published in Canada – a practice which continues today.

With the proliferation of electronic media, however, the organization has much more material to choose from than ever, and has to be more “selective,” he says.

“It’s not everything that is of enduring value,” Caron says with understatement “We need to have the tools to be able to appreciate, to appraise, to evaluate what is being produced there.”

Moreover, Caron says, electronic materials give LAC a new opportunity to be more rigorous and revelatory with its collections, not less. It can now, he says, go beyond government documents and newspaper stories to blogs and other electronic analysis, to chronicle today’s important events for future generations.

Caron admits, however, that the experts needed for this web-based archiving have not yet been hired. And he does not know when they will be.

“These competencies honestly are not easy to find on the market,” he says.

In the meantime, Caron says he has “invited” current LAC archivists and historians, used to dealing in the analog milieu, to help on the electronic retrieval side.

Caron also points out that there are 800 archives and some 25,000 libraries in Canada that can help serve as a collective repository of our culture and history.

But with its perceived reluctance to purchase materials from our past, LAC is also directing important pieces of Canada’s shared history into private hands, experts say.

First offered to LAC, the Bentley letter, for example was later sold to a private collector.

Liam McGahern — who sold the letter — is president of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of Canada and says collectors in his organization would routinely offer their Canadiana finds to the national archives first.

McGahern, however, says LAC placed a nine-month moratorium on such purchases in 2009 to assess their acquisition policies.

“And really since that started they’ve really just stopped,” he says.

Caron says LAC is still acquiring historic material, although with a more discerning eye.

He suggests that previous regimes often spent money unwisely, with materials of questionable historic value being purchased simply because “year-end budget” surpluses were available.

“Someone told me once that seven copies of a rare book is not too many copies,” he says.

Caron says LAC has now implemented protocols to judge the historical importance and rarity of materials to best use its budget. But that budget tells a story.

In 2008-09, before Caron’s appointment, LAC spent $385,461 on historical items. In 2011-12 it spent nothing; in the 2012-13 fiscal year it spent $12,000.

But critics say the shift they see in collecting strategies also take LAC down a different path than its U.S. and European counterparts, where a more comprehensive approach continues to be sacrosanct.

“The whole world is going through modernization and digitization,” McGahern says. “But the great libraries, the Library of Congress, the British Library, they’re still actively engaged in acquiring things. You can’t document and archive and digitize what you don’t have.”

The Library of Congress’s acquisition budget hovered steadily between $18 million to $19 million annually from 2009 to 2012.

Critics also charge LAC has limited its hours and redeployed its seasoned archivists from specialty to generalist roles.

As a result, Turk says, many requests for information, from historians or genealogists for example, go unanswered. Hours reductions, staff cuts — from 1,192 in 2009 to 946 this year — and a decentralization of collections have added to the headaches, Turk says.

And LAC’s move to a new, digital age is far too slow in coming, Turk says.

Caron admits that, even now, only about 1 per cent of his collections have been digitized, but says priority is being given to those materials that are most in demand.

Caron also says some of the digitization will also be farmed out to private-sector and non-profit groups who donate to the archives.

Critics believe LAC’s perceived diminishment is symptomatic of the current Conservative government’s reluctance to divulge information of any kind.

As Ottawa shifts to electronic record keeping and communications, Caron says LAC will rely more on officials to decide what materials to send to his collections.

“People are working on Twitter, they are working on Facebook, they are working on many social media,” he says.

“And so we force them to say ‘if it is a decision that is of importance, if it is something that has enduring value . . . you need to bring it to us, so make sure you keep it.’ ”

How much Ottawa will keep and share has become a burning questions with some top librarians, who worry its move to online-only access by 2014 can lead to a loss of information by government fiat.

“You can take down the content or whatever before (we even) notice,” says Sam-Chin Li, government publications librarian at the University of Toronto’s Robarts Library.

Li and colleagues at the University of Alberta had to scramble to save documents from a federal aboriginal website that was shut down with minimal warning last month.

Many would be tempted to use LAC budget reductions — from $172.64 million in 2008-09 (which included some special capital costs) to $117.7 million in 2012-13 — to explain changes made at the organization, Turk says. But that would be a mistake.

“For what they’re cutting Library and Archives Canada they spent more than that ($28 million) in their celebration of the War of 1812.”


Second article: Canadian Library Association Responds to Article on LAC in Toronto Star:

CLA submitted the following Letter to the Editor of the Toronto Star, in response to a recent article featuring Library and Archives Canada (see above article).

“Letter to the Editor

The Toronto Star

In response to the story on Library and Archives Canada (see story above), the Canadian Library Association (CLA) is deeply concerned about the significant reductions being made within the institution.  The changes being implemented as part of LAC’s modernization plans (e.g. the sharp reduction in purchased acquisitions), in addition to cuts to services and activities due to their 2012 budget reduction (e.g. ending interlibrary loan services), result in the inability for LAC to meet its mandate.  Public stewardship of Canada’s documentary heritage, ensuring the long-term preservation of materials and facilitating access to them, is central to LAC’s mission.  Decisions such as ending interlibrary loan services are being taken unilaterally, and consultation with stakeholders on how to fill the service gap only happen once the decision has been made.  The future of our national documentary heritage is in jeopardy.  CLA was founded in 1946 and one of our first activities was advocacy for the establishment of a national library; the National Library of Canada was established in 1953.  Sixty years on, we must continue to advocate for a strong national institution that has the capacity, both financial and professional, to meet the mandate set out in its legislation.  Dr Caron does not have to look far for people with the competencies to manage documentary materials in the new digital environment:  they are librarians and archivists.

Pilar Martinez

President, Canadian Library Association”



Here comes the end of requesting interlibrary loans directly from Library and Archives Canada.  At least, that seems to be what they are saying:

End of ILL Services :

“Interlibrary Loan (ILL) services at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) will end in December 2012. Users of LAC’s current services should note the following dates:

  • November 13, 2012: End of loan requests from international libraries.
  • November 16, 2012: End of renewals. All items loaned after this date will be non-renewable.
  • December 11, 2012: End of loan requests, location searches, and ILL-related photocopying services.

LAC’s ILL listserv (CANRES-L) and Canadian Library Gateway also will be archived in December 2012.

LAC will continue to facilitate interlibrary loan activities among other institutions through the ILL form in AMICUS, and through ongoing administration of Canadian Library Symbols.

Through our modernized service channels, LAC will emphasize increased digital access to high-demand content. LAC is working with Canada’s ILL user community in order to inform this approach to accessing the institution’s unique holdings.”


Could it be that AMICUS, (the Canadian National Catalogue), will be our salvation?  Is the fussing all for nothing?

Amicus allows us to search over 30 million records from 1,300 Canadian libraries including LAC – but we still have lots of questions about how it will all work, and whether we will be able to access the same materials as before, like periodicals, or whether charges might apply.  We just don’t know yet. Hopefully our Southern Ontario Library System will have some definitive answers for us, and for you, soon.  Stay tuned!

Below are two independent reviews, December 4, 2012, about the new LAC budget, and the changes coming for public access:

Article by Tom Schwarzkopf, from the Ottawa Citizen:

Article from John Reid, Anglo-Celtic Connections:

Library & Archives Canada : Access Denied?

As we continue this series on the crisis at Library and Archives Canada, and its effect on how any library will be able to provide the people in its community with access to their heritage, here is Professor Ian MacLaren’s letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, from the Edmonton Journal, September 13, 2012:

“As a proud Canadian, proud Albertan and sometime supporter of the current federal government, I recently wrote in distress to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

I did so as a scholar who has spent years researching and publishing about pre-20th-century British expeditions seeking a Northwest Passage. Canadians know this to be an interest of Harper and his government’s.

My distress arises out of his government’s gradual, imperilling withdrawal of funding needed for the efficient operation of Library and Archives Canada. Staff have been cut and service hours sharply diminished, the purchase of materials has been curtailed and loan policies have been cancelled outright.

Scholars from other cities, provinces and countries coming to Ottawa to do research have had their inquiries go unanswered and their trips to Ottawa end in failure to access any records because of the dearth of staff to either reply to correspondence or fill standard requests to see records.

The organization is in utter disarray. In the past half-dozen years, Library and Archives Canada has so deteriorated, it is failing to fulfil its legislated mandate.

The national library was founded in 1953. Its most recent charter, the Library and Archives Canada Act (2004), states one of its chief purposes is to acquire and preserve “the documentary heritage” of Canada. Books and unpublished manuscripts like letters and other documents are the eyes through which we see our country.

The budget cuts have been so deep and capricious as to suggest no understanding of what Library and Archives Canada should be.

The result will be the devastation of what Canada is, as a concept and an idea and as the very real place in which we lead our lives and raise our children. To dismantle a nation’s library and archives is to shoot a bullet through its temple.

A personal example illustrates the value of the library and archives to Canadians who, like the prime minister, take an interest in this summer’s search for John Franklin’s ships, the Erebus and Terror, off King William Island. Earlier in my career, in the 1990s, I was involved in locating two books of watercolour sketches made by George Back, a midshipman who served under Franklin during the first of his overland expeditions to the Arctic.

These sketchbooks, which I found in a house in Gloucestershire, England, contain the first known pictures of any part of Alberta (the lower Athabasca River and Fort Chipewyan. Some of these were published in a book, Arctic Artist, in 1994).

Because Back had been in the Arctic five times, on canoe trips and ocean voyages, he was the paramount adviser to the Admiralty during the search in the 1850s for Franklin’s lost expedition. With William Edward Parry, Back remains a towering figure of 19th-century explorations of what now forms our Canadian Arctic.

Although private collectors wished to obtain the two sketchbooks, I discussed with their owner the possibility of opening negotiations with Library and Archives Canada so it could bid to obtain them in advance of a public auction. Working with staff, we succeeded in effecting the sale.

These priceless documents and works of art now reside in Ottawa, where they belong. But will anyone ever see them again?

Intentionally or unintentionally, Harper’s government is conducting what amounts to a search-and-destroy campaign against Library and Archives Canada and thus against the cultural memory of Canadians. Think of it as brain surgery performed on us, to deprive us of or deny us access to our memory. That would amount to a shocking withdrawal of our ability to function.

This is an issue of deep importance to all Canadians. The prime minister must be urged to take measures to reverse the brutal withdrawal of the levels of funding needed to keep the national library and archives from becoming a disgrace in the eyes of Canadians and of foreigners wishing to research Canadian subjects.

Surely, Harper is too great a fan of our history, too proud a Canadian to let this happen. Surely, he will not want Canadian history to remember him for this.

Prof. Ian MacLaren, University of Alberta, Edmonton”

Library and Archives Canada : New Website Coming 2013

Library and Archives Canada announced on July12th, 2012 details on how Canadians will access LAC’s holdings online starting in 2013, introducing their new website at the same time.  With only 5% of their holdings digitized to date, and with the elimination of 50% of the digitization staff, it’s hard to believe their new website will be able to address the needs of researchers across Canada for some time to come.  Hopefully, the next  inter-library loan system will still make their holdings available, and affordable,  for all Canadians.

Here’s what they have to say:

“A new gateway for finding out about Canada’s heritage will soon be opening up online: Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is developing a modernized website that will make it easier for you and Canadians everywhere to access its holdings. The new site includes a suite of helpful features and content, including drop-down menus, introductory and educational videos, a blog pilot project as well as quick links to LAC’s social media platforms.

The new site is one of the first federal sites to conform to the new Government of Canada design, with a set-up that already follows the new Treasury Board Secretariat Standard on Web Usability. It includes navigational aids that allow you to quickly browse what the site has to offer, and to complete the most popular online tasks. You will find it easier to discover the collection, do online research, get copies of materials and plan a visit to LAC, as well as access services designed for professionals, such as publishers, librarians and archivists. A short video also introduces you to the work LAC does, and a second video explains the basics of online research.

As content from LAC’s existing website is steadily migrated to the new one, during this transition period both websites will remain online with uninterrupted user access to both. The site will be completed by summer 2013, when all of LAC’s existing Web content will have been transferred. Visit and find out for yourself what LAC is doing to make its information resources easy to find, increasingly available and accessible to all Canadians.”

Canadian Association of University Teachers launches a Save Library Archives campaign

If you are want to help save Library and Archives Canada, go to , where you will find a comprehensive list of ways to take action or at least to receive regular updates about the campaign, organized by the Canadian Association of University Teachers.

What does the Canadian Library Association have to say about service cuts at Library and Archives Canada?

In May 2012,  Canadian Library Association President, Karen Adams, had this to say about the changes taking place at Library and Archives Canada:

“Our national library and archives has a broad mandate to acquire, preserve and make available the documentary heritage of Canada. It is also responsible for the management of the archival records of government. Even before the cuts, Library and Archives Canada was challenged to fulfill its mandate; with this reduction in their financial and staff resources, the job becomes even more difficult.

Canadians expect to have access to the vast wealth of materials managed by Library and Archives Canada, which includes books, journals, photographs, newspapers, personal and corporate archives, government records, paintings, film, and sound recordings. The Canadian library and archival communities expect leadership on professional issues from their national institution, including standards for activities and support for the provision of quality library and archival services to Canadians across the country. These expectations cannot adequately be met with the level of resources now available to Library and Archives Canada.”

Visit – for more details presented by CLA.

What does the Ontario Library Association say about funding cuts to LAC?

The Ontario Library Association has developed a time-line about the 2012 Funding cuts to Library and Archives Canada, saying on May 7, 2012 that :

“LAC staff confirms that the current Inter-Library Loan (ILL) service will end February 15, 2013; the successor to the current ILL program will be announced in the fall of 2012. A notice will be linked to when received.”