Don't know much about geography: perspectives on local, regional and territorial archives
Dr. Guy Berthiaume, Librarian and Archivist of Canada
Queen’s University Archives Annual Lecture
October 26, 2017
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Thanks to Martha Whitehead and to Queen’s for inviting me to give the Queen’s University Archives annual lecture this year.
I would like to begin by acknowledging that the land on which we gather is the traditional territory of the Anishinaabeg (ah-nish-nah-beg) and Haudenosaunee (how-den-oh-saw-nee) Peoples.
If you had dropped into Library and Archives Canada on May 5, around 2 in the afternoon, you might have thought you were in the wrong building.
There was a shaggy-haired rock star, complete with sunglasses and guitar, belting out songs in our conference centre.
People were dancing.
Posing for selfies.
That rock star was Canadian legend Michel Pagliaro.
And he had just donated a lifetime of music to Library and Archives Canada.
I begin my talk with this example because it illustrates some of the themes I will be discussing today.
I will explore themes of territoriality, significance, and the need for all archives, regardless of geography, to work together to find the best fit for archival materials.
And I’ll also try and give you a quick overview of what the opportunities offered by the digital landscape look like.
So, to go back to my buddy the rock singer, why Pagliaro at LAC?
Why would a national institution want the fonds of one of the best-known and best-loved stars in the Quebec music scene?
Someone whose song “J’entends frapper” became one of the bestselling singles in Quebec history.
Someone with such a high profile in his native province.
I was asked these questions, as you can imagine.
For me, one of the most outstanding aspects of his career was that he became the first singer to actually make it on the French and the English charts at the same time.
Back in the 70s this was unusual.
It was well before Céline Dion and others went on to do the same thing.
This made him a truly national figure, and so I thought it was fitting to have his archives at Library and Archives Canada, in a national institution.
And to ensure that Pagliaro’s contribution to Canadian music—both published and unpublished—was preserved for future generations.
The issues surrounding how we acquire, preserve and provide access to our documentary heritage lie at the heart of the archival system.
This heritage includes private records of national, regional, and local significance.
For which collectively, we share responsibility.
As archives at all levels, we understand that working together is the best way to ensure not only that we preserve archival records for the long term, but that we give the public access to them.
This was the vision behind the creation of the National, Provincial and Territorial Archivists Conference (NPTAC) in March of 1970.
And it is the vision behind our philosophy of collaborative acquisition.
But strong as our vision was, we also realized it needed a backbone: a consistent, logical and feasible approach to finding the “best” or most suitable fit for private records.
So in June of 2016, after much discussion, we issued a statement of guiding principles for identifying the best-fit repositories for private archival records.
We had to answer a lot of questions.
- What would make a repository eligible as a “best fit”?
- How would we define territoriality?
- Who would make the final best-fit decisions?
- What order would we use to apply best-fit criteria?
- What about “no-fit” material? How would this be handled?
- And how would we ensure that any decisions would be made in good faith, motivated by co-operation, and with the long-term belief that the acquisition of documentary heritage by any one institution or partnership supports the development of a national collection as a whole.
My motivation for asking the NPTAC to address “best fit” was rooted in the controversy surrounding the acquisition of Michel Tremblay’s fonds in 1992.
Many felt betrayed when it was announced that Tremblay, Quebec’s best-known playwright and a major cultural figure in the province, had sold his papers to a federal institution.
There was controversy about the fact that Quebec’s Bibliotheque nationale had refused to buy the papers.
The head of the Quebec writers’ union called it an insult to all writers in the province.
There was controversy about what the federal government paid for his papers.
And controversy about whether or not they should have gone to the highest bidder.
LAC now has a rich collection that includes manuscripts of Michel Tremblay’s plays and novels, unpublished texts, production records, translations, audio tapes, photographs and much more.
Tremblay has joined many of his fellow writers from Quebec who merit a place in our collection.
Quebec writers like Jacques Godbout, Gilles Archambault and Marie-Claire Blais.
But if there had been a set of guiding principles in place, at the time Tremblay was seeking a home for his fonds, the process may have been far less acrimonious and the outcome different.
Today I will unpack the principles developed by the NPTAC and look at some practical examples of these principles in action.
I will also take you on a brief journey into the future.
But first, a bit of history.
These guidelines were developed by a working group created at my very first meeting of the NPTAC, in June of 2014.
It began with a discussion paper that called on all NPTAC members to consider what principles should guide a collaborative approach to acquisition.
The paper also presented some common terms and language that could be used, drawing from other models, strategies and principles.
NPTAC members were mindful of the fact that they did not wish to impose on each other or on other members of the archival community.
So the immediate scope of their ideas was limited to themselves and the institutions they represented.
It was never intended to be a “prescription,” something that had to be strictly adhered to.
Even the word “strategy” was dropped.
It was agreed that a common set of principles would be enough to ensure collaboration.
We mustn’t forget, however, that NPTAC members have a larger vision in mind.
A vision for a national collaborative approach that would extend beyond their immediate institutions and involve all members of the archival community.
So, we decided to include a vision statement along with the guidelines, to encourage true community-wide participation.
To set out our hopes for increasing collaboration among all archival institutions.
And to demonstrate leadership on a national level.
I am very proud of the work we have achieved together, and I have great expectations for the future.
So now let’s take a closer look at the eight guiding principles.
I’ll sum them up quickly, then go through each one in more detail.
The first is inclusivity, taking into account the full consideration of all NPTAC repositories.
The second is respect for archival principles, the adherence to tried and true core principles.
Respect for regional importance is the third, which looks at the region of creation and most frequent use.
Respect for donors comes in at number four, in no particular order, considering and often deferring to donor’s wishes.
Number five is the respect for partner institutions—their mandates, policies and capacities.
Number six is respect for external stakeholders—for researchers, external partnerships, and non-partner acquisition policies.
Number seven stresses co-operation over competition, with preservation and access goals as priorities; and finally,
Number eight is accountability: the need to demonstrate consistency and transparency.
By agreeing to and posting these guidelines on our collective websites and on listservs, and through ongoing discussions not only with archives but with university libraries and other key players, the goal of the NPTAC was not to take the lead.
Rather, it is a more humble position.
We want to encourage individual archives, especially at the provincial level, to implement these guidelines in their own way.
There is no magic formula for success.
But by avoiding unilateral action and by keeping the lines of communication open, we stand a better chance of preserving as much of our heritage as we can, and getting it out to Canadians.
Let’s look at the first guiding principle, inclusivity, to start.
What this principle means is that all archives, large or small, and regardless of location, are encouraged to discuss “best-fit” repositories for significant private-sector records.
In fact, to launch and get actively involved in these discussions.
The results can be quite beneficial.
Consider the papers of Jean-François Lépine, one of Canada’s most distinguished journalists.
For many years, Lépine worked for Radio-Canada, our national broadcaster.
The acquisition of his fonds corresponds directly to LAC’s mandate to document journalists who have had a significant impact on Canadian society.
Bibliothèque et archives nationales du Québec, which was offered the fonds, referred this offer to us because it considered this material more reflective of our mandate than theirs.
It also complemented the fonds of other important CBC media personalities, such as Michelle Tisseyre and Henri Bergeron that were already held at LAC.
This is an excellent example of inclusivity in practice.
The second principle is the respect for archival principles themselves, such as provenance, and the integrity of the fonds.
The Théatre du Nouveau Monde (aka TNM) in Montreal was founded in 1951, when it launched its first play.
L’Avare by Molière.
Since then the TNM has become one of the most beloved theatre companies in Montreal, as well as a popular venue for theatrical productions.
In the 1970s, the former director of the theatre loaned hundreds of photos from the company to LAC to make preservation copies.
The photos documented the early years of the company, going back to the 1950s and 1960s.
There was no formal acquisition process.
But, to keep the fonds together, we decided to transfer the photos to Bibliothèque et archives nationales du Québec, which already had the rest of the company’s fonds.
In making this choice, we stood behind one of the oldest and most respected principles of the archival profession—to keep the fonds together.
Two years ago we received an offer on behalf of the Globe and Mail to donate one million negatives and seven hundred thousand prints.
It would have been considered an accrual to the existing Globe and Mail fonds at LAC, which already included 1.8 million negatives.
A meeting was held between LAC, the Globe and Mail, and the Archive of Modern Conflict.
And since the Globe and Mail fonds already at LAC was in a processing backlog, we agreed that the new materials, which included many portraits and subjects of special interest to Toronto, would be more appropriate for another archival institution.
And so last year, LAC transferred the offer of new material to the Archives of Ontario and we are also considering deaccessioning the Globe and Mail fonds at LAC to the Archives of Ontario.
To preserve the integrity of the fonds.
A great example of principle number two in action.
As we look over these first few examples, the choices seem logical, obvious even.
And as we go through these principles, you may think well, if these are so basic and obvious, why was there a need to spell them out in a formal agreement?
There are a number of reasons for this.
First of all, the choices are not always as clear cut, and so the application of these principles becomes even more important.
Also, the acquisition of private fonds can be a tough, competitive sport.
Questions of resources and suitability may be sidelined by those of pride and prestige.
By agreeing to these principles formally and collectively on paper, we think there is a good chance they will be played out informally in practice.
And as you would imagine, more than one principle can apply to the same situation.
The frontiers between individual archival mandates often overlap.
Archives are likely to be of national, local and regional significance at the same time.
Like those Russian nesting dolls, where each one fits neatly inside the other.
We all agree on the need to preserve them. But by applying the most relevant guiding principles in each situation, we ensure that the main goal, acquiring our heritage, is achieved.
For example, when LAC transferred a 1933 photo of Fort Hope from its collection to the Nunavut Archives it recognized the photo’s regional importance.
An example of principle number three.
Giving it a home in Nunavut made more sense according to territoriality.
That is to say, placing the record in an archive located within the region where the records were created and accumulated, and where it will most likely be used.
Another important consideration is respect for the wishes of the donor.
That’s the fourth principle.
In June 2015, we received a request from the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra to transfer its fonds to the City of Ottawa Archives.
We had been acquiring the Symphony’s fonds since 1971, along with those of its predecessor, the Ottawa Philharmonic Orchestra.
The fonds included 6.24 metres of textual records, 300 photographs, 115 negatives and 20 slides.
We were very happy to work with and respect the orchestra’s wishes.
We also knew that the City of Ottawa Archives, with its new state-of-the-art facility and highly qualified staff, would be perfectly suited as the new home for these records.
The Ottawa Archives agreed.
Another case in point…
When LAC was about to send letters to some well-known performers linked to Newfoundland and Labrador, looking for their donations, the manager of our Literature, Music and Performing Arts Archives reached out to the acting head of the Archives and Special Collections section at Memorial University.
To see if they had already begun discussions with some of these same artists.
One of these artists was comedian Andy Jones.
As it turns out, Andy has been donating his records to them since 1993.
In fact, the Archives and Special Collections section at Memorial houses the largest collection of performing arts material in the province, including CODCO and Rick Mercer’s collection.
So LAC backed off on its outreach campaign and launched an ongoing dialogue with Memorial, respecting this partner institution.
Which is principle number 5.
Now let’s review the sixth principle, respect for external stakeholders.
In 2010, when I was the Chair and Chief Executive Officer at Bibliothèque et archives nationales du Québec, we signed an agreement with the Musée de la Gaspésie to transfer Gaspésie’s public archives to the museum.
Up until then the archives had been kept at our Centre d’archives du Bas-Saint-Laurent et de la Gaspésie-Iles-de-la Madeleine, in Rimouski, some 400 kilometres from Gaspé.
We knew that those records were near and dear to Gaspésiens.
By repatriating them, we respected an external stakeholder.
And we provided both a public space, as well as easy access to information about the political, economic, social, religious and cultural life of a region whose hisory goes back over 200 years.
At the root of all of these examples is a commitment to co-operation.
As the seventh guiding principle states:
“The acquisition of documentary heritage by any one archival institution in Canada contributes to the development of the nation’s collection as a whole.”
Long-term preservation and access goals must always outweigh those of individual ownership.
You don’t have to go far to see this in action.
LAC already had the bulk of the Peter Winkworth Collection of Canadiana back in 2015.
Other parts had been acquired by the National Gallery of Canada and the Museum of Canadian History.
But on April 1, 2015, a final auction of material from the collection was held at Christie’s South Kensington house.
The Winkworth collection was amassed over 45 years and, in the opinion of Canadian art experts, had no equal anywhere.
It included more than 100 paintings, 1,200 watercolours and drawings, and almost 4,000 prints, all related to the history of Canada.
LAC selected 27 items of interest from the auction.
If we were successful, the 27 items would expand LAC’s coverage of First Nations people and arctic exploration, among other things.
We had already demonstrated our expertise in describing, conserving and housing the bulk of the collection.
So with the help of two other major national institutions, the Gallery and the Museum, we were able to acquire the items.
Another great example of heritage building and co-operation in action.
I was fortunate enough recently to listen to a fascinating presentation by the head of Wikimedia Canada, and I’d like to quote something he said:
“We have more to gain in sharing than in the jealous conservation of heritage. We have more to share in meeting each other than in isolation.”
I think we could say the same about archives.
The final principle, number 8, is about accountability, consistency and transparency.
This can be demonstrated in a variety of ways, but the example that is closest to home for me is LAC’s Acquisition Strategy for 2016 to 2019.
The strategy is available on our website.
It explains clearly how LAC intends to focus its evaluation and acquisition efforts over the next three years.
This includes published heritage, Canadian government records, and the acquisition of private archives.
What I am most proud of is that the strategy was developed in consultation with our stakeholders forum, our partners in the Canadian library and archival network, and members of our Acquisition Advisory Committee.
Each of these eight principles is rooted in archival practices that go back many years.
Yet these principles also offer a solid foundation for the future.
I’d like to turn now, if I may, to the brave new world of archives in 2017.
Let’s begin with DigiLab, which LAC opened in March this year.
DigiLab is LAC’s newest makerspace.
It completely disrupts traditional approaches to using archival collections by letting our clients decide themselves what the digitization priorities will be.
It provides a place for people to gather and create together.
It is a hands-on digital lab located at our building at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa that provides free access to high-quality scanning equipment and description tools.
In its first few months alone, DigiLab has enabled over 24,000 pages of textual material and over 1,000 photographs to be digitized and made available to the public.
Things like records that track the rain, thunder and lightning over Ottawa in the 19th century.
These will be used for research in climate change.
Photographs that show the Relief Camps established by the Canadian Government to support unemployed labourers at the height of the Great Depression.
They will be featured in an upcoming documentary film.
Half a century of action in the Logistics Branch of the Canadian Armed Forces.
A 100-year-old road trip from Montreal to Vancouver.
The legacy of Japanese-Canadian internment camps.
These are just some of the fascinating archival materials that might otherwise remain undiscovered in the files for years.
Archival materials that are now organized, described and accessible.
The innovative DigiLab puts our archives in the hands of all those who can make use of them, not only archivists, researchers and students, but one of our most important clients, the general public.
DigiLab underscores the new role being played by archives throughout the world.
Not simply as repositories, but as active, creative and dynamic information hubs.
Places where information is shared, repackaged and reused.
By a population eager to discover their stories, their histories, and their heritage.
Another good example of this brave new world is crowdsourced transcription.
Digital technology allows citizen archivists to make a major contribution to the availability and understanding of our heritage… by transcribing historical records that would normally be seen only by archivists.
In June of last year, the Manitoba Metis Federation celebrated the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Seven Oaks, a battle that marked the emergence of the Métis Nation.
To support the commemoration, LAC invited the public to transcribe the Coltman report.
It was handwritten in 1818 by William Coltman, a prominent lawyer at the time.
It remains one of the best sources of information on the fur-trade war, a reasonably fair-minded account of the battle, and a key document in the history of the Métis Nation.
The entire 521-page report was transcribed by members of the public in less than a month.
The chance to get up close and personal with our history proved to be a big draw.
In fact, the pilot project was such a success, we invited the public to transcribe a second document: Lady Macdonald’s diary.
When Sir John A. Macdonald was building a national government for the new Dominion of Canada in July 1867, his wife, Lady Susan Agnes Macdonald, started writing a diary.
The diary is a fascinating first-hand account of the earliest days of the new Dominion.
It provides the viewpoint of one of Canada’s most prominent women of the time.
And not only does it offer a window on her daily life, it also gives us a vivid insight into the political culture of the new nation.
We put the diary up on June 29 and it was completely transcribed by August 22.
No mean feat, since the archivists tell me that Lady MacDonald had very messy handwriting!
The potential reach of digital technology within the archival field extends far and wide.
Recently it has enabled us to take the first key steps to preserve, revitalize and enhance Canada’s Indigenous languages and cultures.
This is a wonderful development.
Did you know there are 32 Indigenous languages in British Columbia alone?
As Canada’s national archives, we have an important role to play in building a relationship with our Indigenous communities.
We were allocated 14.9 million dollars in the last federal budget to develop two ambitious initiatives in consultation with these communities.
The first one, called See Our History will mean that LAC records containing First Nations, Inuit and Métis-related content, such as treaties, photographs, and Indigenous language dictionaries and lexicons, will be digitized.
Which, in turn, will mean free and unrestricted online access to this wealth of material.
The documents help to illuminate and restore memories, and they can also be used by individuals to protect their rights.
The second initiative is Hear Our Voices.
Which will offer support and expertise to Indigenous communities as part of their own efforts to preserve and revitalize First Nations, Métis and Inuit languages.
The focus here will be on preserving oral histories and recordings.
LAC will work directly with community elders and knowledge keepers, through advisory circles and other collaborative approaches.
Making more archival resources available, through the use of digital technology.
We know that language is an integral part of Indigenous culture, in fact any culture, and we want to ensure that anything we do will be done in a way that is sensitive and appropriate.
I’d also like to mention a project that will be near and dear to you—related to the speeches of Canada’s Prime Ministers.
Our Governance and Political Archives section was very happy to work last year with Mariam Lafrenie, a Queen’s undergraduate student research fellow.
She was a researcher at LAC in the summer of 2016, looking at ways to ensure greater access to the fonds of our former PMs and to bring Canadians closer to their political history.
Here is what Mariam had to say:
“Having worked in the fonds of several prime ministers, including Sir Charles Tupper, I have gained a unique perspective on Canadian history and heritage. Each prime minister attempted to redefine Canadian identity and the meaning of a unified nation.”
As a result of her work in the archives at LAC, Canadians will now find it easier to locate and enjoy some of the finest oratory on file, by some of our nation’s most respected leaders.
Consider this extract, taken from a speech given by John Diefenbaker on July 1, 1960, and just as relevant today:
“I am Canadian, a free Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship God in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, free to choose who shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.”
It would be a shame if future generations missed the opportunity to discover great speeches like this one.
My thanks to Mariam for all her work on this project.
The digital world reminds us that today, the core business of memory institutions like archives is not just acquisition and preservation, but access as well.
Indeed, if the goal of our work is not access, then what is the point of acquiring, processing and preserving these materials?
I am often quoted on Twitter as saying “preservation without access is just hoarding!”
But how do we promote access if people do not know what is in our collection?
Do we let that popular and well-worn image endure that archives are just composed of old yellowing books and records?
We must show our works of art, our photographs, our audiovisual material.
We must organize debates and round tables on topics that could not be explored without our archives and monographs. I could go on…
LAC started organizing exhibitions and public events again, after a two-year hiatus, and in 2016–2017 we hosted more than 60 public events.
That’s an increase of 400 percent from the previous year!
Speaking of exhibitions, you probably don’t need reminding, but there is a power to exhibiting authentic objects that exceeds the digital world.
Jack Lohman, the CEO of the Royal BC Museum, said:
Access to significant artifacts or to a masterpiece opens a new world, which cannot be experienced in the same way through a mobile phone or a television.
Even if the Mona Lisa is merely a click away on Google, millions still line up to see her at the Louvre, live and in person, so to speak.
Even if the Beatles music is readily available on iTunes, people line up at the British Library to see the original lyrics of “A Hard Day’s Night” written on the reverse side of Julian Lennon’s birthday card.
There is an emotion, a visceral response that happens when you come in contact with an original document that nothing can replace.
I realize I am preaching to the converted, but I still think it bears saying.
This is a key driver behind our efforts to display our collection as often and as widely as we can.
From June 2017 until March next year, visitors can enjoy Canada: Who Do You Think You Are at our newly opened exhibition space at 395 Wellington.
Using many of our rarely seen archival treasures, it explores the idea of Canadian identity.
Another of our exhibitions titled Hiding in Plain Sight explores how the Métis Nation has been portrayed historically, through reproductions of art and photographs in our collection.
It’s currently on tour out West, and also made its way to Paris last February, with the help of UNESCO.
Last summer, working with the Library of Parliament, we created an exhibition of foundational documents that represent key moments in our history, such as the Proclamation of the Constitution Act.
And I am also very proud of the exhibition that is currently at the Canadian Museum of History, in Gatineau, the first in a five-year series.
It is called Moments from 150 Years Ago and it paints a fascinating picture of everyday life in Canada in 1867.
It features 32 artifacts from our collection, 9 from the museum’s collection, as well as interactive components.
And I should add that photographs from our collection are on display in two dedicated spaces at the National Gallery of Canada.
Finally, I am proud to report that we have embarked on a five-year collaboration with the Glenbow Museum in Calgary.
Starting in March of 2018, we will be showing portraits from our extraordinary collection in our own dedicated space at the Glenbow.
We are also discussing ideas for new exhibitions at Pier 21 in Halifax and the Vancouver Public Library, thanks to the co-location agreements we signed with them this year.
In total, more than 350 items from LAC’s collection will be out on loan next year.
This kind of public outreach takes time, and it takes resources, no doubt.
So you will appreciate this little item I found on Pinterest last week.
It’s called “The Archivist’s Serenity Prayer.”
Grant me the serenity to accept the collections I cannot decline.
Courage to decline the collections I can.
And the funding to process the backlog.
Seriously though, our entire sector is facing challenges on two fronts: first from the rise in the use of digital technologies, and second, from the growth of on-site attendance.
I know I have been singing the praises of digital technology, but we also have to remember that it does pose challenges as well.
Because the more people use the Web to access our resources, the greater their appetite for visiting our actual physical spaces.
And traditionally, archives have not focused on opening their spaces to the public.
But that’s changing.
The Documentary Heritage Communities Program, which we introduced in 2015, provides funding to archives and other heritage organizations to organize, preserve and share their collections.
The response has been considerable and shows no signs of slowing down.
We’ve funded organizations as diverse as the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation, the Jewish Historical Society of Southern Alberta, the Women’s College Hospital Foundation and the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives, to name a few.
What links these proposals is a wish to make their collections accessible to the public, and a willingness to increase their capacity to do so.
Recent recipients have been doing some incredible work.
The Manitoba Historical Society uncovered hundreds of hard-to-find local histories and digitized them, making it easy for all Manitobans and anyone with ties to that province to access them online.
Through the New Brunswick Queer Heritage Initiative, archivists launched a new website to share their heritage records, which has increased the general awareness of a vibrant and growing community.
The Avataq Cultural Institute digitized and described the personal fonds of two notable Nunavut residents, Yves Michaud and Georges Filotas.
The latter collection includes original audio recordings about key developments in the Inuit community and self-government initiatives going back to the 1960s and 1970s.
It is fascinating stuff.
I know these are largely virtual spaces, but what we need to remember is that activity in one area will feed and encourage the other.
I recall the statement of vision and purpose of the British Library, for 2015 to 2023, which is just as relevant to archives:
“The more screen-based our lives, it seems, the greater the perceived value of real human encounters and physical artefacts: activity in each realm feeds interest in the other.”
As we approach the fourth year of the DHCP, we should keep this in mind.
Using a collaborative approach, we can help to preserve valuable collections and ensure that more Canadians have access to them.
These kinds of collaborations can have dramatic benefits.
Like the pieces of a puzzle, they allow fragments of history to be reunited.
The full stories can emerge, in context.
Families can uncover their roots.
Another example of this is the digitization of our First World War personnel files.
These files are a major resource for genealogy and historical research.
We receive over 3,000 requests a year for this information, but the original paper documents are thin and fragile.
So, our staff is diligently taking the Canadian Expeditionary Force files, digitizing them, and putting them up on our website.
New files are added every week, and by the end of 2018, all 640,000 files will be online.
As of October, we already had 502,740 files digitized, that is 78 percent of the total.
These include the records and papers of famous soldiers, like Frederick Banting, who discovered insulin, One-Eyed Frank McGee, the legendary hockey player, and Grey Owl, one of the world’s first eco-warriors… as well as little-known soldiers whose families are searching for information about them.
This is our biggest mass digitization project to date, but it is also one of our biggest draws.
With archives at the heart of this activity, the public can be assured that authentic information is being gathered and protected.
Archivists are recognized as trustworthy curators, and the records they work with factual and true.
This is no small thing in an era of fake news and alternative reality.
I was speaking about this recently at a round table discussion we organized with the Globe and Mail on October 16.
Disinformation threatens our rights, our democratic institutions, and our ability to inform ourselves and our children.
The phenomenon is so prevalent that I do not believe archivists have the luxury of staying on the sidelines in this debate.
With so many resources at their disposal, they have the duty of helping their fellow citizens to see things clearly.
As the legal maxim Qui sentit commodum, sentire debet et onus suggests, having resources also means having responsibilities.
As the stewards of genuine information, we have a vital role to play.
I’ve thrown a lot of information your way today, and I thank you for your attention.
We began with eight guiding principles for acquiring private sector archives and we have ended with a discussion of fake news and alternative reality.
That’s quite a leap.
Or is it?
The nature of our work grounds us in the real.
We work in the trenches of history itself.
Where the truth is unfiltered and the facts speak for themselves.
Because of my appreciation for the great Sam Cooke, I titled this talk “Don’t know much about geography.”
I was being a bit facetious.
We know a great deal about geography.
And about its role in the selection of private sector archives.
By respecting the importance of geography and its relationship to the records… while at the same time collaborating across the boundaries of individual archival institutions…
We can ensure that archives find “their best fit.”
And that we, as a sector, fit, into a bold, new future.
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