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Archived - Bewitched, digital and bewildered: the surprising 21st century world of Library and Archives Canada
Dr. Guy Berthiaume, Librarian and Archivist of Canada
Speech delivered at the Canadian Library Association National Conference and Tradeshow
June 4, 2015
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Thank you for inviting me to give the keynote speech at your conference.
It is an honour and a pleasure to be here.
It is also very timely.
As memory organizations in the 21st century, we face a number of critical challenges.
Changes in technology, the use of information, the volume and scope of client demands and the role of libraries.
These phenomena have altered just about every aspect of what we do and how we function.
These changes are the primary drivers for our future, and how we respond to them determines whether or not we are prepared for it.
We are going to need new models, new ways of working.
I look forward to sharing some of these with you today.
Amongst so many librarians, I feel that I am in familiar territory.
After five years at the helm of Bibliothèque et archives nationales du Quebec, I agreed to take over the reins of Library and Archives Canada last June.
A change of employment makes us rethink our approaches, and reconsider our old habits and ways of doing things.
Reinventing ourselves and how we view things is part of any new job.
I should know. I am in my fourteenth job!
Reinvention comes with the territory for libraries in the digital world.
Staying relevant, both to clients and stakeholders, sometimes means facing up to our challenges and looking critically at the areas that need urgent attention.
It is the kind of work we are undertaking at LAC, and I believe that by sharing what we learn from this exercise we will both benefit.
And so will our clients.
At LAC, we are well aware that the decisions we make have a profound impact on your work and on the future of libraries in Canada.
Let's go back for a moment.
LAC began with a conversation.
Between a librarian, and an archivist.
Former National Librarian Roch Carrier and Ian Wilson, former National Archivist.
They understood that the web had changed the way the world used information and defined knowledge.
Perhaps Ian Wilson picked up a map - where did it belong? A library or an archive?
Perhaps Roch Carrier produced a roll of film from his pocket - library? Archive? Who knows?
From that conversation, a great idea was born.
They began to conceive of an organization that would combine the National Library and the National Archives, that would house books, images, art, text, sounds and objects in a single collection, and that could provide seamless access.
They developed a new term, to broaden the scope of what they could collect, preserve and share: “documentary heritage”.
And they began the work of creating a new organization dedicated to the preservation of Canada’s collective memory, in all its forms.
In 2004, Library and Archives Canada was born.
The merger of these two organizations was ambitious.
Many other countries have tried and failed to merge their National Library and their National Archives. The Netherlands, Belgium, New Zealand, to name a few.
But here in Canada, we have succeeded.
By putting the collections of the library and archives together, LAC has been able to document the full complexity and the diversity of the Canadian experience.
And, thanks to the digital world, we have extended this vision even further.
In a few short years, we have put millions of pages of documents, photographs, maps, portraits, records and other kinds of information online, for easy access by Canadians.
We have become one of the most popular websites in the Government of Canada, with an average of 1.8 million visits a month.
Our Flickr site just reached six million views.
We have our own channel on YouTube, and last year we had our first viral hit with a rare newsreel film of the 1919 World Series that was originally discovered in a cache of films buried in the Yukon permafrost.
We have launched successful new partnerships with other libraries, archives, museums and the private sector.
And our archivists and librarians, working together, continue to acquire, preserve and provide access both to the past and the changing record of current times.
It may not seem this way, but the core of our mandate has not changed over the years.
- to preserve the documentary heritage of Canada for the benefit of present and future generations; and
- to serve as the continuing memory of the government of Canada and its institutions.
But the world in which we deliver this mandate has changed considerably.
Take the state of digital publishing in Canada, for example.
Booknet surveyed over 70 publishers in 2014 and found that 93 percent of Canadian publishers are currently producing e-books, and that 88 percent of those books have actual sales.
One third of publishers have made 75 percent or more of their collection available digitally.
About one quarter of all publishers are developing mobile apps.
There is no doubt these changes are affecting the library world.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg, one small area which has experienced a big shift.
When you begin to add them up, the challenges are immense.
Shortly after I arrived at LAC, I introduced four commitments that I thought would help a memory organization meet challenges like these.
I discussed these commitments with the executive board of the CLA last year, and the reception was quite positive.
These four commitments ensure that LAC becomes an institution:
- dedicated to serving its clients;
- at the leading edge of archival and library science and new technologies, thanks to the expertise of its staff;
- proactively engaged with national and international networks in an open and inclusive way; and
- with greater public visibility.
I have been spreading the gospel of these commitments over the past twelve months, with stakeholders, with staff and with the broader heritage community.
And these ongoing discussions have convinced me that we are heading in the right direction and that the changes we are introducing at LAC are the right ones.
One of the key roles I see for LAC is to be an enabler for other memory and cultural organizations.
For example, we are well positioned to provide infrastructure that libraries can work with.
As you know, we have been engaging closely with the library community on how to replace AMICUS and the National Union Catalogue.
CLA has made a significant contribution to these discussions.
We have listened closely to what you asked for: that NUC and AMICUS be openly accessible for all Canadian libraries, especially the smaller ones.
It’s why we are pursuing a NUC model where the costs will be minimal.
In fact, the issue of financial support for small libraries is at the heart of our negotiations with OCLC.
Two other issues were raised in our discussions with CLA and other stakeholders. The first one is licensing and ownership. The second, the Patriot Act.
On the first issue, I want to reassure you that LAC is committed to ensuring that the information currently contained in AMICUS remains a public asset available to all Canadians.
Vis-à-vis the Patriot Act, our mitigation strategy will be to minimize the amount of personal information that will be entered in the OCLC system.
We are hoping the contract will be signed by Public Works and Government Services Canada this summer.
I know that your membership took a keen interest in the recommendations of the Royal Society of Canada, which came out in its report last year.
That report contained some 70 recommendations, which gives you a good idea of how complex the issues are for libraries, archives, and other similar institutions.
Six of their recommendations were reserved for LAC alone.
I believe the four commitments I mentioned earlier have addressed some of them. Especially
- number 2, recommending greater participation in the work of professional associations,
- number 3, improving the morale of LAC staff, and
- number 5, securing a more active presence in the international library and archival community.
The report also proposed that we set out a five-year strategic plan, in collaboration with our partners and stakeholders.
In response, we pledged to develop our three-year plan for 2016-2019 in close consultation with our staff, our clients and our stakeholders.
The consultation process has already started, with a town hall held with our key academic users, on June the first.
The discussion on our Plan with our Stakeholders Forum is scheduled for this Fall, and I look forward to hearing CLA’s thoughts, insights and suggestions as we embark on this collaborative approach.
As you know, we launched the Stakeholders Forum last year, with twelve of our most important partners, and of course the CLA is a very active member of this forum.
I am quite excited about taking this collaborative approach to planning for our future, because it echoes my own philosophy of allowing our clients, and the stakeholders who represent them, to take LAC in the direction which meets their needs.
The fourth recommendation from the Royal Society is for LAC to put greater effort into harmonizing its two predominant cultures: library and archival.
I am firmly committed to respecting the distinct nature of the two professional cultures, and I believe they can work together in ways that complement each other.
I know this vision is also shared by our new Chief Operating Officer, Normand Charbonneau, and it sits at the heart of all the work taking place at LAC.
And finally, the sixth recommendation encourages us to maintain an ongoing dialogue with Government of Canada decision makers in order to fully carry out our mandate.
We have already made some great strides in this area, especially through our recent work on open government - opening up ten million pages of government documents for the public to consult, and creating the conditions where materials arrive at LAC open for consultation as a default position.
By acting quickly on the recommendations of the Royal Society and on other reports that were published last year, we also began the long process of regaining our credibility with our partners, our clients, the media and with the Canadian public at large.
LAC is striving to be an organization that responds the concerns of libraries, archives and other memory organizations at the national level.
An organization that is both client aware and access-driven.
These two drivers are behind LAC’s new digital strategy, which is designed to ensure that our clients can access their heritage through digital discovery.
It means that all of our holdings, whether analog or digital, are managed in a way that makes them easy to discover.
At every step of the way, from the evaluation of potential acquisitions to preservation and, of course, eventually, access.
In addition, the strategy promotes a culture that thinks digitally, makes the best use of data, and is focused on the needs of clients and partners.
Now that LAC has created its own digital strategy, I want to turn my attention to developing a National Digitization Strategy for Heritage with our Stakeholders.
At our last meeting, on April 28, we looked at some international models. Let me mention just a couple to whet your appetite.
The Netherland’s National Program for the Preservation of Paper Heritage, called Metamorfoze, sets the objective that 90 percent of all books, relevant magazines and newspapers published in the Netherlands before 1940 will be digitized by 2018.
In Sweden, the National Archives have established Digisam, a Secretariat for the Digitization of Cultural Heritage.
Digisam has developed guidelines for the Swedish government and the private sector as well and it serves as the secretariat for digitization, digital preservation and digital access.
The recent report of the Council of Canadian Academies clearly showed that although Canada used to be ahead in terms of the digital world, we are now lagging behind as a country.
I don’t know about you, but lagging behind is not a position I want to be in.
So I look forward to continued discussions about how to proceed, and how we make content of great interest to Canadians known, discoverable and easily accessed.
Since we’re meeting in Ottawa, I want to talk about another of the four commitments I mentioned earlier, that is to make sure LAC and its collection have greater public visibility.
Public programming developed with partners like libraries, archives, museums and universities goes a long way to promote Canadian culture, and the role memory organizations play in it.
Perhaps some of you will recall the days when 395 Wellington was a vibrant presence in the heart of Ottawa.
It is my aim to restore that presence.
We have already had a modest beginning.
We brought in David Ferriero, the National Archivist of the United States, and David Fricker, the Director General of the Australian National Archives, as part of a public lecture series.
Our next speaker is one of the world’s most famous librarians, Robert Darnton, from Harvard University. Bob is the father of the Digital Public Library of America, and on October 7 he’ll give a lecture titled Libraries, Books, and the Digital Future.
We partnered with the Science and Technology Museum to create a joint exhibition on the Franklin expedition, in the sunken lobby of 395, and that space is now occupied by the Double Take exhibition created by our own staff.
The exhibition features intriguing portraits of iconic Canadians, including Joni Mitchell, Jacques Plante, and Louis Riel. It’s well worth a visit.
As a matter of fact, we have exhibitions planned right up to October 2016.
I am looking forward to all of them, as they will showcase our comic book collection, the history of robotics, our collection of Metis heritage, and a tribute to our national pastime: hockey, not politics!
We also have an action-packed year of loans to other organizations coming up, making LAC more visible to a broader public and highlighting the value and the scope of our collections.
To go back to the reports we received last year, I believe they provided the impetus to re-think how we do things where there are gaps, and how we can solve problems.
But, as we enter a period of critical self-review, it is also a good idea to remind ourselves of our successes.
Here are a few highlights:
- We continue to support the TD Summer Reading Club: every year, there are over 2000 libraries participating across the country, and that means children reading about 2 million books every summer.
- Through Legal Deposit we continue to acquire books and online publications - over 170,000 in 2014-2015
- We have just launched a publishers portal, which streamlines access to a number of services we provide to the publishing community
- Our rare book collection has been prominently featured on social media platforms
- There is one acquisition I would also like to highlight, for the bibliophiles in the audience.
- We recently added texts, videos, audio-materials, photos and electronic items from novelist and essayist Nancy Huston, one of Canada’s best-selling and most internationally-acclaimed authors, and one of a few authors whose work truly overlaps the anglophone and francophone realities of Canada.
- We are expanding our Theses Canada program with universities, which already makes over 425,000 works freely available through the Theses Canada portal
- And, as part of our broad mandate, we are engaging with federal libraries, through the Canadian Federal Libraries Strategic Network and the Federal Science Library.
So, thanks to initiatives such as these and others, the future holds a great deal of promise, but also a vast unknown.
We are only scratching the surface of how we interface with areas like augmented reality, digital humanities, big data, hackathons, citizen archivists and 3D printers.
But whatever the technology offers, I think the main message I want to leave with you today is this: I fully recognize the importance of LAC’s role in the library community, and I am committed to working with this community to develop, promote and make accessible the breadth of Canada’s published heritage.
In closing, let me quote the way British writer Caitlin Moran described libraries:
“A library in the middle of a community is a cross between an emergency exit, a life raft and a festival. They are cathedrals of the mind, hospitals of the soul, theme parks of the imagination.”
I’d like to leave you with these images, and also to remind you that I am always looking for new partners and new ideas for ways to fulfil LAC’s mandate.
I look forward to working closely with the library community as we head towards an exciting, and collaborative future.
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