The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship


Speaking notes for Dr. Guy Berthiaume, Librarian and Archivist of Canada
Speech for IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions) Satellite Meeting
Toronto, Ontario
August 10, 2016
This speech was delivered in English. Check against delivery.

The former publisher of Wired magazine, Louis Rossetto, linked the digital revolution to

social changes so profound that their only parallel is probably the discovery of fire.

And he said that more than 20 years ago.

Today, the tools of that revolution are part of our daily life: social media, e-books, Wikipedia, big data, blogs, mobile apps, podcasts, the digital humanities, mass digitization, linked open data, and virtual reality. 

These tools have had a profound impact on the way we read, develop, and learn.

In fact, they call into question the very nature of how we expand our knowledge of the world.  

But what does this mean to the library community?

What are these social changes that Rossetto was talking about?

And what are the skills that librarians will need to respond effectively?

The answers to these questions might well compare to the discovery of fire or at least to the gesture of Prometheus, who got the ball rolling by stealing fire from the Gods to give to man, and conferring on mankind the capacity to master all the arts and techniques of the day: pottery, metalwork and cooking, to name just a few.


I’d like to start with a premise: that libraries have a tremendous opportunity to translate and articulate the world of digital information in ways that can change people’s lives.

Case in point: LAC recently went through the exercise of developing a Three-Year Plan for 2016 to 2019.

It opens with an analysis of 12 major current trends that serve as a compass for the activities that compose the plan.

Out of the 12, seven are specifically related to the digital world—from connectivity and production of mobile apps to long-term digital preservation.

So, let’s have a look at this digital revolution, and think about what it means.

In 2014, 24 million Canadians owned cell phones. That doesn’t mean that Canadians spent all their time talking!

Eighty per cent of these phones were smart phones, used mostly with apps rather than for voice communication.

Although when you read about the antics of people playing Pokemon GO, you wonder if it is appropriate to call them smart phones!

According to the latest Pew Research Study, 65% of adults now use social networking sites, a tenfold jump in the past decade alone.

And it’s not just young people—35% of people 65 and older reported using social media, compared with only 2% in 2005.

This vast network of connections is redefining libraries.

So is the world of digital publishing.

In 2014, Booknet surveyed Canadian publishers and found that 93% of them were producing e-books.

Not to mention self-publishing platforms like Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing.

They are becoming more popular and they are a significant part of the market.

One third of traditional Canadian publishers have made 75% or more of their collection available digitally.

The circulation of e-books, audiobooks and other digital media in Canadian and American libraries went up by 33% in 2014 alone.

We have also witnessed the growth of digital libraries, like Gallica, an online library created by the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

By the end of 2014, Gallica was providing free access to 3.2 million items, including books, periodicals, maps, recordings and photographs.

At the same time, print still accounts for roughly 80% of global book sales.

According to another Pew Research Centre survey, 90% of e-book readers continue to read actual “physical” books, the kind you can put on a shelf, hold in your hand and lend to your friends.

This presents a genuine challenge, especially for public libraries, who are expected to maintain both print and digital collections.

The digital revolution has also put collective knowledge and information in shared and collaborative spaces, like Instagram and YouTube.

Which means that information flows in all directions—up, down, across and sideways.

Libraries have to respond to the constant flow of data and resources with innovation and courage.

And with the kind of leadership that resides in a network of people, rather than a single person or organization.

The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) is a good case in point.

The DPLA provides free online access to over 14 million items from libraries, archives, museums and universities across the United States.

It started with 500 contributing institutions, and in the mere three years since its launch, that number has shot up to over 2,000.

Among the contributors -- the Smithsonian Institution, the Boston Public Library, the Hathi Trust, the New York Public Library and Harvard University.

Access to this much digitized content is only possible when a network gets involved. 

One of the reasons it has been so successful is that its leadership is distributed.

Six working groups across the United States tackled the initial start-up, and the process of moving it forward continues to be a collective one.

DPLA only has 15 staff to manage it all.

It’s the opposite of a traditional hierarchy.

And it’s redefining the way we look at libraries, and at information.

Robert Darnton, the Librarian Emeritus at Harvard and one of the chief spokespersons for the DPLA, describes it this way:

….as an open, distributed network of comprehensive online resources that draw on the nation’s living heritage from libraries, universities, archives and museums, in order to educate, inform and empower everyone in current and future generations.

Educate, inform and empower.

These sound like the pillars of any great library.

So how do we work, in the midst of this revolution, to educate, inform, and empower?

And how can we use human resource management to enable this?


We know that today’s librarians need a new blend of skills and expertise.

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) itself arose from the vision of a knowledge organization staffed by librarians and archivists who would be fully integrated between two disciplines.

It was a bold idea at the time.

We are still the only G-20 country with this kind of combined national institution, designed to:

  • integrate expertise and technology, and
  • offer a seamless service to an increasingly seamless world.

Belgium, the Netherlands and New Zealand have tried to merge their national libraries and archives, and they all failed.

Singapore did it in 2012, and by all accounts, it seems to be a success.

LAC had a unique opportunity in 2004.

However, the marriage of two very different cultures was not easy.

Since we were the first ones to merge our documentary institutions, we really had no model to follow and we worked on a trial and error basis.

We may have pushed the envelope a bit too far, trying to make librarians and archivists interchangeable, without enough regard for their individual expertise.

So this year we reorganized our operations sector, trying to harmonize the disciplines, rather than make their distinctions disappear.

We put together five main branches: published heritage, private archives, government records, public services and preservation.

In terms of HR management, the decision-making that led up to it is very interesting.

We consulted with LAC managers and directors, we met with employees—over 340 out of 1,000—and we got more than 160 emails from staff with suggestions and ideas.

We also consulted with our Stakeholders Forum, a group of the 12 major Canadian professional associations, and reached out to our consultative committees.

We now have a structure that makes sense both inside and outside the organization.


Many of the librarians and archivists who work at LAC bring the perspective of several disciplines with them.

They specialize in areas such as Canadian Studies, Literary Theory, Near Eastern Studies, Linguistics, Art History and even Classics!  

And, increasingly, they bring to the table skills related to information science and digital technology.

Librarians with graduate degrees in library science who are also subject matter specialists in another field bring a vital research perspective to the work.

This is essential to building collections and providing services to users.

According to a recent study from the Faculty of Information Management at Universiti Teknologi in Malaysia, professional competencies for the librarian now include knowledge in the areas of :

  • information resources,
  • information access,
  • technology,
  • management and research,
  • and the ability to use these areas of knowledge as a basis for providing library and information services.

For example, one of the most cutting-edge units at LAC is the one that looks after web harvesting, including the collection of Government of Canada web sites.

This unit curates thematic web collections on topics ranging from the Keystone Pipeline, to Fort McMurray, to the 2014 attack on Parliament Hill.

It provides strategic advice on digital library and archival assets to the Government of Canada, the public, and universities.

It wrestles with issues such as how you determine the authenticity of a digital record.
And it’s run by a team of librarians and archivists, working side by side, in a distinctly digital area.


This is important, because libraries need to make sure that skills from the analogue world are transformed for the digital one.

And that the librarians of tomorrow have the capacity to identify what has value in a vast heap of data!

The sheer volume of information created digitally means that our decisions will have profound implications for the libraries of the future.

This is one of the reasons that LAC undertook a study in 2014 to review the new competencies for information professionals in the digital era.

The report came up with a number of key findings that may be of interest.

The first is that digital transformation is not simply a technological issue.

It’s more about organizations adapting their business models to the new environment.

Secondly, certain competencies are good for “all” professions in the 21st century:
the ability to collaborate, a desire to adapt to change, and a willingness to be always learning.

And the professions will still need specialized knowledge, on top of these all-purpose skills.

Last, but not least, the competencies needed for the digital world are being acquired from the perspective of a “digital logic.”

Let me explain.

What this means is leveraging technologies so that the work environment is non-hierarchical, and so that networking and collaboration flow easily throughout the organization.

Our success will depend not just on how we adapt to technology, but on vision, strategy, organizational culture and redesigning processes.

So the road map for how we work as libraries in the 21st century is going to look a lot different from the road map we are used to.

The LAC report on competencies includes a framework for digital transformation based on something called “People 2.0”.

Although it was intended for any organization trying to adapt to the new paradigms of technology in the 21st century, much of it still applies to us.

For example, Collaboration 2.0.

This depends on a kind of collective intelligence… one which allows for interactive decision-making, creation and innovation from anywhere in the organization. 

Gone are the ivory towers.

The report also discusses HR 2.0, which includes digital recruiting…reaching out to a wider talent pool through social networking sites like LinkedIn and Twitter, in real time.

Not to mention the use of digital tools, platforms and social listening tools to capture ongoing feedback.

This is a brave new world.

With new models to attract staff, new ways to retain and teach them.

Things like peer learning and web training, coaching and mentoring, goal-tracking, real-time feedback and enterprise-wide recognition of achievements.

And finally, Management 2.0.

Management in the digital era is about transparency, active listening, trust in the wisdom of the team, giving credit where credit is due, and a willingness to try out new ideas.

It’s complex, and it requires a different vision of the future.

A vision which is being expressed at libraries, archives, and other memory organizations throughout the world.

For example, the US National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

NARA’s strategic plan from 2014–2018 includes “a commitment to provide all employees with the training and opportunities to successfully transition to a digital environment.”

Here is an excerpt from that strategy:

We have an opportunity to become more—to find ways to be more supportive of our staff, better at our jobs, savvier in our decisions, and bolder in our commitment to leading the archival and information professions to ensure continued relevance and flourishing of archives in a digital society.

Inspiring stuff.

In my own workplace, at LAC, we are also working on a new vision of human resource management.

For example, the need to share expertise, knowledge and technology is one of the main reasons we signed two unique agreements with the University of Ottawa and Dalhousie University last year.

These agreements are the first to be signed by LAC with Canadian universities that have an interest in sharing their expertise with us.

Partnerships like these position both our institutions at the cutting edge of library and archival sciences.

And they mean that researchers and graduate students will enjoy greater access to LAC resources and staff to support their work—especially in the humanities and the social sciences.


Thomas Jefferson said that “The field of knowledge is the common property of mankind.”

Sentiments like these are near and dear to a librarian’s heart.

Librarians devote a good deal of their working lives to putting this common knowledge into people’s hands.

Traditionally, this has meant finding and recommending the right book, and loaning it out.

The choices made by libraries were fairly straightforward.

National libraries kept copies of everything issued by publishing houses—books, newspapers, journals.

They paid no attention to anything that was self-published, and considered such works to be of no interest.

After all, if the publishing houses didn’t want them, why should they?

But it’s more complicated today.

Now, the number of publications doubles every two years.

New conversations are happening on Twitter and Facebook, creating a free-flowing cultural exchange in real time.

Many publications—like my own daily, La Presse, The Christian Science Monitor, and a whole range of scientific journals—are only available in digital format.

To stay relevant, libraries have to face the new reality and even be ahead of the curve.
We need to understand the “digital stacks” the way we did the old physical ones—because this is where information lives: journals, research, big data, scholarly information, databases, blogs, podcasts, and so on.

And users still need help in finding the right information.

They need librarians who understand how the Web works, and what resources are out there.

The ones who make it easier for users to find what they need, by creating the right tools.

Case in point: in March, the Canadian Research Knowledge Network (CRKN) launched the Canadian National Heritage Index.

This index covers digital collections from across Canada, and creates a single, current list of all Canadian digitization projects.

It is the first of its kind in Canada.

The Index is the kind of service that results from combining the efforts of libraries, archives and other memory institutions to create something that users want. 

I am proud to say it was funded in part by LAC’s Documentary Heritage Communities Program.


I mention these examples because there is a common fear that somehow technology will rob us of our ability to think, to learn, even to remember.

Remember that classic article by Nicholas Carr in The Atlantic back in 2010—Is Google Making Us Stupid?

He followed this with an entire book: The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains.

His argument was that the Internet diminished our ability to concentrate and reflect.

And that the Web, by allowing us to surf through reams of information, had rendered us incapable of deep reading, deep thought.

We can scan, we can skim, we can surf, but the price may be steep—our intelligence itself.

Of course Plato had Socrates voice similar worries in Phaedrus about the advent of written language.

That it would make us less human, more mechanical.

And that something written down would be less authentic and true.

The New Literacies Research Lab at the University of Connecticut is one of the most widely respected centres in the world for conducting research on the new literacies of online research…and the learning skills required by the Internet and other technologies.

They analysed the way people read online, compared to book readers.

The results are worth considering.

Especially for librarians.

They found that online readers tend to search by asking a question and looking for the answer.

Then they judge and evaluate the sources and the information they find, build an answer from various sites and sources, and often exchange what they learn through blogs and posts.

Book readers don’t have the same tendency to form a question.

Instead, they tend to search indexes and tables of contents, and they have a lot of confidence in books, where information is already organized and synthesized for them.

They are also less likely to interact with other book readers.

These two methods require different skills.

To be literate and to function best in the digital world you probably need both.

Libraries continue to work as physical spaces, in addition to their online resources.

If we, as librarians and information professionals, understand how our users think and learn, then we can also figure out how to continue offering services that are useful to them.

We are not going to change the fact that most people go to Google first to get information. That is the new reality.

If it isn’t online, it doesn’t exist.

But, within this landscape, we can expand our role and our relevance.

And if we understand even a little of how this technology works, then we can begin to shape that technology so that it serves our needs.

Rather than the other way around.


So the goal for librarians in the 21st century should probably be how to make it easier to access information.

The paradigms have changed.

Librarians find themselves listening and observing, figuring out how best to help.

But what does this entail?

A lot has been written about the so-called “soft” skills like the ability to see the big picture, communicate, work as a team, think critically and commit to life-long learning.

In addition, there are the professional skills we already associate with library work, those which are specific to the discipline.

But now there is a third element.

This involves understanding information technology, everything from digital archiving and preservation to content and database management.

Are you feeling the heat from the fire?

From Prometheus’ fire?

But all this really means is helping users find information which is digital, just as we did with physical information.

Perhaps, to do this well, we need to combine the physical and the virtual.

Today’s libraries have become the modern information commons—and people go there not only to seek information, but to gather together, to have a coffee, search databases, make a video, hang out, learn new skills, work together or work alone, visit a gallery, and create new knowledge.

As an interesting sidebar to this, I am fascinated by the fact that many of today’s students still point to the traditional reading room as their favourite place in the university library—the room whose walls are filled with books.

Books they will probably never take out.

Perhaps it’s because here, scrolling through their tablets and their smartphones, yet sensing history all around them, they find their place.

The place from which they acknowledge the past, and get ready to move ahead to the future.

It might mean that we need to put traditional librarians next to computer experts at the help desk.

At the very least, they need to work together.

Because in some ways, the needs that were met by the old information commons…..
are not that different from those of today’s commons, even if they look quite different.

The Information Commons at Loyola University in Chicago is an interesting case study.

It was a co-operative project between the university libraries and IT services.

The libraries provide research assistance, information resources and bibliographic instruction, and the IT group provides hardware, software, technology training, customer support, and the network and wireless infrastructure.

It’s a new model, and a successful one.

One that recognizes the importance of blending different skills and abilities, as well as putting them side by side.

This is where HR management can make a big difference.

By recruiting librarians and other professionals.

Putting older and younger professionals together.

Ensuring knowledge is transferred across the generations.

Helping us to find a common language we all understand, whether we are librarians, archivists, programmers, software engineers or technology experts.

Here is a story that proves the point.

One of the senior archives specialists at the Library of Congress Manuscript Division has a traditional Master of Library Science degree.

But as a recent blog from the Library of Congress pointed out, she is just as comfortable talking about file signatures and hex editors as she is about paper documents.

She got this knowledge through experience on the job, through years of
rescuing digital content off erratic computers, troublesome files, and unstable storage media.

How can we ensure this kind of knowledge is passed on through the curriculum, rather than the hit and miss method she describes?

And how can we make sure that the knowledge gained through her on-the-job experience gets communicated to those who are developing the curriculum?

Food for thought.

The Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL) put out a report last year on human resource planning for 21st century libraries.

It’s interesting to note that although they recognized the need for new skills, both hard and soft, they also reported that the core role of librarians has remained the same: to bring information seekers and sources together.

I may sound like a broken record on this, but I feel it is worth repeating.

CARL identified workforce development as one of the major challenges for HR management.

Over and above retirement, limited budgets, or finding qualified applicants.

But it wasn’t because librarians were reluctant to learn new skill sets, things like bibliometrics, GIS, e-learning or digitization.

In fact, more and more, these skills are being taught, either at the university level or on the job.

What emerged from this study was the need for ongoing training, because, in the new world of information, change is the new normal.

Information, and how it’s accessed, is in constant flux, and to keep up with it, we need to understand it as it changes.

We need to adapt quickly, make decisions without waiting too long.

And figure out the best way to train people so they can keep up.

It might involve workshops and practical training, online courses, on-the-job experience, pairing and job shadowing, self-study and personal development, as well as formal training.

In fact, the way we learn these skills mirrors the world in which we apply them—largely unstructured, and less reliant on traditional sources of authority and knowledge.

To some extent this puts the onus on librarians to develop and acquire these new skills, things like digital forensics, gaming concepts, and a grasp of controlled vocabularies.

But surely there are things we can do to ensure this learning takes place in a less haphazard way.

Which brings me to Canada’s ArchivesA New Blueprint, a strategy for the future which grew out of the Canadian Archival System Working Group.

In the spring of 2016, a Steering Committee on Canada’s Archives was established.

One of its key objectives was to create multi-disciplinary taskforces that could figure out how to meet priorities identified in the Strategy.

The first one corresponds to the development of the workforce.

It will be chaired by the Association of Canadian Archivists.

One of their ideas is to explore links between archival education programs offered by universities and colleges on the one hand, and the challenges experienced by workplace practitioners on the other.

It will build on other related efforts undertaken within the Canadian Archival System in recent years.

A similar approach could be useful for the library community.


These are the same kinds of human resource issues faced by all organizations, even the Public Service of Canada.

Which is responding through Destination 2020.

Public servants have identified the need for improved recruitment and staffing processes that are more nimble, and that can respond more quickly to changing priorities.

They want ways to build competencies and develop skills for the future and are looking for more flexible work options to help foster an agile and high-performing workforce.

They want the kind of mobility which can support innovation and personal development, as well as recruitment in a more open and networked environment.
And to develop their skills with high-quality learning experiences; learn from the best, and learn from each other, just like librarians.

They also want to access learning where and when it works for them.

I am sure there are lessons from this we can share, and apply, wherever we work in the 21st century.


We’ve seen the shift in how people access information first hand at LAC.

Our website gets 90 million visits every month.

We’ve put 25 million digital images online.

Our blog gets 11,000 visits a month.

Our Flickr site receives about 225,000 views every month.

We’re in the middle of our most ambitious digitization project ever. 

We are digitizing the service records of 640,000 members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force who participated in the First World War. 

Over 300,000 records are now available on the internet and our plan is to make all of the 640,000 records available online by the 100th anniversary of the Armistice, November 11, 2018.

I’m happy about these numbers, because they reflect the fact that our information is out there, on the channels people are using.

Making access easy.

In fact, we did a survey just recently in which 54% of our users said that access was their main priority.

Over preservation, over acquisition.

So we listened.

We made access the number one goal of our three-year plan.

Because, as libraries, we probably understand the impact of the digital revolution on access better than anyone else.


I began my talk by asserting that libraries have a tremendous opportunity to translate and articulate the digital world in ways that can change the lives of people.

I truly believe this.

Because we continue to be the custodians of the world’s information.

And in an information world, access to information can spell the difference between a decent wage and poverty, between acceptance and being marginalized, between health and illness, knowledge and ignorance, despair and hope, even life and death.

Libraries are crucial to our development as people, as nations and as a world.

They are a public good—involved at every level of how society functions.

So it is important that we make choices which are both pragmatic and informed.

We can’t always foresee the changes happening down the line, or how people will adapt to them.

And we can’t embrace every new technology that comes along.

But how we manage our precious human resources will be the key to our success.

And that success will make Prometheus proud!

Thank you.     

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