Speaking notes - honorary doctorate awarded to the Librarian and Archivist of Canada


Dr. Guy Berthiaume, Librarian and Archivist of Canada
June 10, 2018 - University of Ottawa

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First, I want to thank the University of Ottawa for the honour it is bestowing upon me tonight.

The university is one of Library and Archives Canada’s major stakeholders, and being recognized by the U of O today has very special significance for me.

The University of Ottawa was the first Canadian university with which Library and Archives Canada signed a memorandum of understanding, in June 2015.

Through this agreement, we committed to working together to develop joint activities for the greater good, not only for our own communities, but for the general population of the national capital.

I enjoy working with universities because they share with libraries a commitment to the principles of freedom of opinion recognized in Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

That article states:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference…

In practice, the fundamental right of humans to express their opinions without interference can be exercised only if other people respect this right, even when the views expressed are different than their own.

One may think that this statement is trivial—an obvious truth—and that the era in which Galileo was locked up for daring to claim that the Earth revolved around the Sun is long gone.

Yet in recent years, both libraries and universities have had to defend with renewed vigour the principles of freedom of opinion and intellectual freedom.

Well-intentioned people have sought to deprive certain speakers of their right to express their ideas “without interference,” as the UN declaration puts it, because those speakers intended to support controversial, distasteful or utterly misguided views.

As long as hate speech inciting violence is not used, the institutions concerned must demonstrate courage and reaffirm their underlying values, which are essential to democracy.

At the most recent convention of the Ontario Library Association, whose president at the time was my friend Leslie Weir, University Librarian at the University of Ottawa, they were distributing a sticker that I really liked.

It said:

A truly great library contains something in it to offend everyone!

Behind this joke is the profound truth that universities and libraries have the responsibility to defend and disseminate information.

When the time comes to uphold these principles, I want to assure the University of Ottawa that Library and Archives Canada will be at your side.

I like to quote the 12th-century philosopher Bernard of Chartres, who wrote the famous words:

We are dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants.

The giants that Bernard of Chartres had in mind were the ancient philosophers, especially Plato and Aristotle.

Even though I respect Plato and Aristotle immensely, as a dutiful public servant, I view the institutions that I have had the honour of serving as the giants on whose shoulders I am perched.

Therefore you will not be surprised if I say that I consider this doctorate as an acknowledgement of Library and Archives Canada’s work and our willingness to partner with the pillars of our community.

It cannot be said enough: our institutions—libraries and archives—are beacons of democracy, pillars of knowledge.

They are the memory of both our ancient past and our recent history.

In this era of fake news and alternative facts, let us remember President Barack Obama’s famous words:

Libraries remind us that truth isn’t about who yells the loudest, but who has the right information.

Working in the library and archives community today, in 2018, at a time when these institutions are flourishing like never before, because of the digital revolution, presents a unique opportunity.

In addition, for this unique opportunity to be accompanied by honours as prestigious as the one I am receiving today far exceeds my wildest hopes.

Tonight I can therefore say, quoting Albert Camus, “One must imagine Sisyphus happy”!

Thank you.

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