The Idea and Purpose of National Libraries and Their Future in a Changing World
Guy Berthiaume, Librarian and Archivist of Canada
June 4, 2018, 1:30–3:00 p.m.
Meeting of the Conference of European National Librarians
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I want to begin by thanking our colleague Roly Keating for inviting me to deliver this keynote presentation.
When I received his letter in December, my initial reaction was that I really did not have much to offer such an experienced and distinguished group as CENL.
Many of the national libraries represented here are light years ahead of what we have accomplished in Canada, and I would hardly presume to brief you on our best practices.
I shared these concerns with Roly, who sought to reassure me by explaining that what he was looking for was “a voice from outside,” the perspective of someone who was not running a national library in Europe.
With that in mind, I set out to prepare this presentation, being careful to avoid suggesting that I had anything to teach.
My only intent is to share my vision, mindful that it may not resonate with those of you whose realities happen to be quite different.
Many of our recent initiatives at Library and Archives Canada – LAC for short – only make sense if we keep in mind the tremendous democratization of knowledge we have seen in the wake of digitization.
At one time, only graduate students, faculty and researchers visited national libraries.
That was certainly my personal experience at the Bibliothèque nationale de France’s Salle Labrouste, when I used to go there, as a graduate student, 45 years ago.
Access to the 320 seats in Salle Labrouste was reserved for faculty and graduate students, and you had to get there early in the morning, at the rue de Richelieu, and line up so you could get one of those coveted seats once the doors opened.
These days, thanks to the Web, anyone and everyone – not only from our own countries, but from anywhere in the world – has total and unimpeded access to our documents.
This has awakened an appetite for knowledge that we frankly find difficult to satisfy.
In the French-speaking world, a turning point in the conception of the role of national libraries happened on July 14, 1988, when President François Mitterrand announced his intention to create an entirely new kind of library, one that would be open to everyone and that would be equipped with all types of supports.
Since then, the long-standing distinction between a national library and a public library has blurred,
and the unprecedented traffic we are seeing today at places such as the British Library and the Bibliothèque nationale de France are but two examples of that manifestation.
Over the past four years, LAC has plunged head first into this movement by bringing itself physically closer to public libraries.
That is why, last November, we moved our Vancouver offices that used to be located in a technology park in a remote suburb, to the premises of the Vancouver Central Library, which, as its name suggests, is located right in the heart of that Pacific Coast city.
This shift has already borne fruit, not only in terms of attendance, but also in terms of the receptiveness of our employees towards their new colleagues and new clients.
And when it comes to breaking silos and blurring borders, what could possibly be more symbolic than our project to relocate our public services to a new facility that will be shared with the Ottawa Public Library, as of 2024.
This innovative project, which amounts to a wedding between a merged national archives and national library, on the one hand, and a public library on the other, was made possible by the provisions in the Canadian federal budget of February 27, 2018.
The only limitation to this project will be that of our imaginations.
If I am right in thinking the movement to break down the barriers between national and public libraries started at the turn of the 21st century, I believe that the past few years have seen another shift in the tectonic plates.
And that is a redefinition of our relationship with our clients, or users, if you happen to prefer a less commercial term.
The service models developed by Amazon, Google and especially Wikipedia, are encouraging our clients to transcribe, translate, label and describe our documents, thus becoming more partners than clients, even though this is leading some of our colleagues out of their comfort zone.
I understand that librarians and archivists may be concerned about seeing the hoi polloi engage in operations that were once their exclusive domain.
Nonetheless, I believe that the experience with Wikipedia and its reliability demonstrates our users’ ability to self-regulate and self-correct.
So, if there is some truth in what I am saying, I propose to address the changing role of national libraries this afternoon by exploring a certain number of activities, in which LAC is involved, that one does not generally associate with national libraries.
I am going to use, as an indication of the most common activities of national libraries, the recent survey conducted in 2016 on behalf of the National Libraries Section of IFLA.
It was distributed to national libraries through the mailing list of the Conference of Directors of National Libraries – CDNL – and 46 responses from 45 sovereign states were received, including 27 from European national libraries.
The results were presented at the 2017 meeting of IFLA in Wroclaw, Poland, at an open session of the National Information and Library Policy Special Interest Group.
Naturally, the survey revealed that collection development and collection management, preservation and conservation, as well as making collections accessible and outreach were roles that were widely shared among national libraries.
It also showed that the development of library standards and the promotion of reading and information literacy were standard activities at national libraries.
Indeed, 78% of national libraries that responded to the survey indicated that they were involved in the first activity and 72% in the second.
By focusing on some of the other activities this afternoon, if you will be so kind as to bear with me, I would like to borrow from Michel Foucault, who so aptly illustrated that systems are best understood by what goes on at their margins.
That is the line of thinking that I would like to use, again, without in any way implying that we, in Canada, have a monopoly on any of those themes … quite the contrary.
If LAC stands out in any way, it may be in terms of the number and variety of its initiatives, rather than the originality of any one of them considered individually.
I would like to explore these initiatives with you by grouping them under the two themes I raised at the beginning of the presentation.
First, the ones that touch on the willingness of national libraries to welcome new users, and second, the ones that are the consequences of the new role played by those users.
1. Willingness to welcome new users
National libraries are increasingly used – both physically and virtually – by the public at large.
For instance, in 2017, the Bibliothèque nationale de France experienced a very significant 14% increase in attendance.
This is not uncommon, and in fact, the same thing happened at the British Library.
I quote from one of their recent documents:
The more screen-based our lives, it seems, the greater the value of real human encounters and physical artefacts; activity in each realm feeds interest in the other
Indeed, the more people use the Web to access our collections, the greater their appetite for visiting our physical spaces.
What can we do to satisfy our readers’ appetites?
One thing, of course, is to introduce tools that provide greater access to our collections through digitization.
All over the world, memory institutions recognize the importance of making their collections available online.
And they are busily developing strategies to make this happen as fast as they can … working together, as well as with the private and non-profit sectors.
I remember, when I joined the ranks of the documentary community, back in 2009, some archivists wanted to hold campaigns to convince the population of the falsehood of the notion that “if it’s not online, it doesn’t exist”.
We have come a long way since then. We now understand that this mentality is so ingrained that it is as useless to oppose it as to try to stop the tide from coming in, like King Canute.
The documentary community – libraries as well as archives – has received the message and it is doing everything it can to provide online access to as many documents as possible, even if sometimes the job may seem like emptying the ocean with a shell, as in St. Augustine’s vision.
In February of 2015, the Council of Canadian Academies published a report entitled Leading in the Digital World: Opportunities for Canada’s Memory Institutions.
In this report, the Council challenged memory institutions to work together to meet the digital expectations of Canadians.
So, LAC did a survey of some of the major digital initiatives going on around the world.
Europeana, naturally, and Gallica, and the fabulous work of the National Library of the Netherlands.
And of course, the Digital Public Library of America.
The DPLA is a unique, nationwide, collective that works towards a shared goal of bringing the riches of the nation’s cultural heritage organizations to a broad public.
A portal of discovery.
The DPLA brings together a collection of over 16 million items from dozens of hubs and thousands of contributing institutions.
Millions of people, from students to seniors, have taken advantage of the free and open resources offered through the DPLA.
The success of the DPLA is due largely to its network of partners, and their willingness to come together to achieve a common goal: maximizing public access to shared history, culture and knowledge.
The DPLA model was very much top of mind when we created Canada’s National Heritage Digitization Strategy (a.k.a. NHDS).
The NHDS was announced in June 2016, and it is based on the best practices we saw in other countries.
It was developed by Canada’s major memory institutions: large public libraries, academic libraries and archives, provincial archives, national associations of archivists, librarians, historians and museums.
The idea is to coordinate our approach to digitizing the hundreds of collections found in Canada’s memory institutions.
Its scope includes access, discovery and preservation.
And the strategy covers both published and unpublished digitized material from archives, libraries, museums, galleries, historical associations and other memory institutions across the country.
Our steering committee includes organizations from across the cultural and academic sector, such as the Internet Archive, the Canadian Museum of History, the Writers’ Union of Canada and numerous universities.
And we have had a lot of interest already from the broader community, wanting to get involved.
As of May 2018, 58 organizations have pledged their intent to partner with us.
We have created working groups, with more on the way.
And we have received initial funding of 1.1 million Canadian dollars from the private sector.
I take a special pride in the way the NHDS works as a co-op, because it is my belief that LAC should not view the ecosystem of memory institutions as a hierarchy.
On the contrary, I like to think of LAC as a link in a chain, rather than a pharaoh at the top of a pyramid.
And the Steering Committee of the NHDS is a good example of this.
The strategy was developed initially by a 21-member steering committee, a group that is currently chaired by the chief librarian of Queen’s University, one of the member institutions.
LAC is a member of the steering committee, and one of our employees acts as corporate secretary, but I do not chair the committee, and LAC is only one player among 58 others.
The technical components and the governance model are defined and developed by a network of players, which is how it should be.
In the spring of 2017, NHDS joined an international consortium led by the DPLA and Europeana.
RightsStatements.org provides standardized statements that can be used to communicate the copyright status of digital cultural objects to the public.
This is an extremely important and often contentious issue.
By working together, with the DPLA, Europeana, and representatives from India and Australia, a more inclusive, global system will be created.
It will allow cultural heritage partners, who hold digital works, to clearly communicate to their users what they can or cannot do with the objects they discover.
Needless to say, a co-operative system such as the NHDS only makes sense if its members do their own digitization to feed into the platform.
For LAC, our greatest digitization initiative to date has been 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 carefully taking the Canadian Expeditionary Force files, digitizing them, and putting them up on our website.
640,000 of them! Some 32 million images! We started in 2014, with box number one, and we’ll be going in order all the way to box number ten thousand, six hundred and eighty-six!
By the end of 2018, in time for the 100th anniversary of Remembrance Day on November 11, all 640,000 files will be online.
As of May 2018, we had already digitized over 91% of the total. These files 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. Files like these are a major resource for genealogy and historical research.
In order to digitize so much material quickly, our technicians took scanners designed to handle double-sided cheques at high speeds, and adapted them to scan fragile documents, photos, and unusual formats such as medical records and pay slips.
LAC was the first institution in the world to use BancTec scanners for heritage conservation, and we are very proud of this achievement.
Technology has also allowed us to continue the dialogue of reconciliation with the Indigenous peoples of Canada.
And to provide a bridge between the past and the present, even in the most remote areas of the country.
Back in 2001, LAC teamed up with a training program at Nunavut Sivuniksavut (see-voo-neek-sa-voot) College and the Government of Nunavut to create the Project Naming program.
The idea was to digitize and identify Inuit individuals and communities seen in historical photos from our collection.
Many had remained unidentified for decades.
The goal was modest – to digitize and identify 500 photographs within the year.
But Project Naming took on a life of its own.
Since 2001, we have digitized over 10,000 photographs and we are still going strong.
Some 2,500 people and places have been named.
People like Martha Kasudluak (ka-sood-loo-ak) from Inukjuak (inook-jew-ak), Nunavik, whom we see with photos of herself at three different ages.
And so many others.
Families have been reunited.
And mysteries solved.
All of this information, along with the images, is available on our website.
And we have expanded the project to include Inuit living in the Northwest Territories, the northern part of the Province of Quebec and the region of Labrador, as well as First Nations and Métis communities in the rest of Canada.
I am very proud of the fact that last December, Project Naming won the innovation award at the eighth Francophone libraries’ Livres Hebdo Grand Prize in Paris.
To serve all of our clients, we also embarked last year on a project to preserve, révitalize and enhance Canada’s Indigenous languages and cultures.
LAC was allocated 14.9 million Canadian dollars by our federal government to develop two ambitious initiatives in consultation with the communities themselves.
As a result, we will digitize LAC records that contain First Nations, Inuit and Métis-related content, such as treaties, photographs, and Indigenous language dictionaries and lexicons.
The goal is to offer unrestricted and free online access to this wealth of material, as well as digital access tools.
Acknowledging the importance of language as an integral part of Indigenous culture, we will also offer support and expertise to Indigenous communities as part of their efforts to preserve and revitalize First Nations, Métis and Inuit languages.
The focus here will be on oral histories and recordings.
As part of these two initiatives, LAC will also create jobs for Indigenous people in locations across Canada.
And LAC has already gathered a unique Advisory Circle of leaders and knowledge keepers who will guide us to implement these initiatives in a way that is culturally appropriate.
Another component of our relationship with the general public, of course, is the use of social media, which today uses a lot of space in the daily lives of libraries of all types and, notably, national libraries.
At LAC, we use social media extensively to promote our collection and to spread the word about our events, our partnerships and our programs, as well as the services we offer.
The cornerstones of this approach are awareness, engagement and collaboration.
As of May 5, our institution had 55,000 subscribers on its French and English Facebook pages, and 60,500 followers on Twitter.
And we also use Flickr, YouTube and, soon, Instagram.
This enables us to effectively disseminate information about our public programming events and our services,
and that is a big motivator for us, because as an agency of the Government of Canada, we are limited in the ads we can buy in traditional media to create this kind of awareness.
Social media enable us to develop organic content that resonates with our audiences and, in turn, showcase our conferences, exhibitions and many services.
We also use social media to highlight elements of our collection.
Every day, we highlight two or three documents that tie in with current events.
Consider the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation in 2017:
for each day of the year, an event that took place on that day at some point in Canada’s history appeared with the hashtag #OnThisDay,
- including Alanis Morissette reaching the top of the charts,
- women in the military gaining the right to vote,
- and Nelson Mandela visiting Ottawa.
The 2018 Winter Olympics also provided an opportunity for daily messages to focus on past achievements of Canadian athletes featured in our documents.
Sometimes, we just take a chance, not knowing what will interest people … Road Trip is a good example.
On July 31, 1954, freelance photographer Rosemary Gilliat and three of her girlfriends packed up their Plymouth station wagon and began a 12,391-kilometre road trip across Canada.
Our summer of 2015 Facebook posts from her journals and photos of the trip reached over 340,000 people.
Another post that exceeded our wildest hopes happened on April 1, 2016, when we made the military record of James Howlett, a.k.a. Wolverine, available online.
As it turns out, James Howlett had quite the military career before he met Professor X!
And according to our records, he was gravely wounded in action many times and gained a reputation as a gritty survivor.
Of course, I am just kidding.
These are not real papers or authentic documents.
But using Wolverine’s fake file for our April Fool’s joke was our most popular social media post ever.
We got 160,000 likes on our Facebook page, nearly 24,000 comments, 50,000 shares, and in total, we reached over 6 million people!
We were on TV and made the front page of Reddit, and in addition to the Canadian media, the story was picked up on Forbes.com and even Entertainment Weekly.
Of course, that little stunt was conceived to allow us to shine a bright light on the digitization of our First World War personnel files that I have mentioned previously.
Recently, we used humour again to showcase our facilities.
On May the Fourth, 2018, Star Wars Day, we aimed to reach new clients “in a galaxy far, far away.”
So, we published a photograph of me and Lord Darth Vader!
The caption read that the Galactic Empire, plagued by a series of data breaches, had unilaterally declared that once built, our new preservation facility would become the permanent repository of all future Death Star plans.
Needless to say, we went viral again and, in the process, drew attention to Phase 2 of our Preservation Centre, soon to be built next to our main one in the suburbs of Ottawa.
By trial and error, we have found just the right tone for communicating and engaging effectively with our clients: irreverent and amusing to attract attention, informative and cultivated to increase our reputation.
In taking risks and developing outstanding content, we have demystified the world of library science and shone a spotlight on our extensive collection.
Our institution is now a leader in social media within the Government of Canada.
Of course, there are risks associated with using social media, because you are using an audacious medium.
We live in societies where there are fewer hierarchies, and social media are completely in tune with this.
As leader of a national institution, I see my role as setting the stage for our social media staff to be as daring as their imaginations permit.
I think I have created a climate where people feel free to push the envelope.
So far, we have been lucky with our more audacious initiatives and I hope our social media team will keep surprising our audiences.
But I am sure that at some point we will make a mistake, and people will think we have gone too far and blame us for that.
I accept that, and my social media team knows that when that happens, I will stand by them.
That is the price you pay for being innovative!
So far, I have used examples from our institutional social media account.
Allow me to say a few words about using personal accounts to tell your corporate story.
I currently have 853 so-called friends on my personal Facebook page and 1,542 followers on my Twitter account.
Compared to Beyoncé and Kim Kardashian (60 million followers on Twitter), those are small numbers,
but if you consider that most of my friends or followers are book lovers and archives enthusiasts, that is a pretty efficient channel to promote our events.
Not all government leaders are comfortable using social media.
The borders between private and public lives are necessarily blurred, and you need to use a style that is less formal and more engaging.
I do think that being able to attach a face and a personal message to an institution through a post or a tweet improves our chances of connecting with citizens.
We can engage them as so much more than a “faceless” bureaucracy.
2. New roles of users: from clients to partners
Now I want to turn to the new roles our clients – or users – are playing.
To illustrate the paradigm shift brought on by relying and trusting our clients, I would like to start with the example of our DigiLab, a client-focused innovation, which we started in March 2017.
DigiLab allows us to engage with our clients and to completely disrupt traditional approaches to using our collections.
Thanks to DigiLab, clients can now choose their own digitization priorities.
So, our clients choose the material they want to scan, and, as long as they are not covered by copyright, they scan the material themselves, using state-of-the-art equipment.
We provide the equipment free of charge in exchange for our users sharing their efforts with the broader community by leaving us with digital copies of the materials they research.
In its first year, DigiLab hosted over 30 client projects, which enabled 29,755 pages of textual material and 9,164 images to be digitized and made available to the public.
They digitized things like records that tracked the rain, thunder and lightning over Ottawa in the 19th century, which will contribute to research in climate change.
First World War correspondence.
Reconnaissance maps from the Second World War.
The legacy of Japanese-Canadian internment camps.
Hundreds of photos of labourers seeking relief at work camps throughout Canada during the Great Depression.
The performance of Shakespeare’s plays in Canada.
And some fascinating shots of the nation’s capital from the 1920s and 30s, compiled by employees of the National Capital Commission.
These are just some of the exceptional materials that are now accessible through the DigiLab.
Another example of the active role played by our clients is our Co-Lab, an initiative launched just a few months ago.
We started exploring the crowdsourcing path a few years ago, in 2016.
In June of that year, the Manitoba Métis 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.
This opportunity was made possible thanks to the introduction of new transcribing software on a partner website, Our Digital World.
The report was handwritten in 1818 by William Coltman, a prominent lawyer at the time.
To this day, it still is 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 report, some 534 pages, 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, and the pilot project was such a success that we invited the public to transcribe another document: Lady Macdonald’s diary.
Lady Macdonald was the second wife of our first prime minister, and while her husband Sir John A. Macdonald was building a national government for the new Dominion of Canada, in July 1867, she 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.
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, in only 25 days.
Based on these successes, last April we officially launched the Co-Lab, thanks to a software we developed in-house.
It is an easy-to-use tool that allows the general public to transcribe, tag, translate, and describe digitized records and manuscripts found in our collection.
We placed four sets of records online, and within less than a month, the correspondence between a former prime minister and a minister of defense, and the love letters of another former prime minister to his fiancée, have already been fully transcribed, and are now completely searchable, making them available to all.
To present another function highlighting the relationship with our clients, I would like to mention another non-European national librarian, my colleague Alberto Manguel, the well-known author and, since July 2016, Director of the National Library of Argentina.
In January of 2017, I invited Alberto to give a conference in our Ottawa location.
He concluded his remarks with the following thought, and I quote:
A national library can, I believe, be a sort of creative workshop, and a place in which material is stored for future readers to find clues in order to imagine better worlds.
A “creative workshop” and a preservation site.
These are indeed the twin poles of a memory institution’s mandate.
The position of libraries in the so-called « creative ecosystem » cannot be reduced to the functions of collecting and preserving works.
We are also present at the beginning of the creative chain, providing inspiration, and material even, to artists of all disciplines – not just authors and poets, but also videographers, musicians, painters, theatre directors and video game creators.
When put in a position where we have to prove our value in the court of public opinion, and justify the investments we receive, this aspect of our presence in the world of cultural industries should not be dismissed.
On this point of the value of libraries, I would like to share with you an initiative that I have been pursuing for a few years with the main leaders in the community of memory institutions in Canada.
These institutions make up the so-called GLAM sector: galleries, libraries, archives and museums.
My motivation for making us work together stemmed from the fact that galleries, libraries, archives and museums were not significantly involved in the conversation on the future of culture in the digital age that was happening in our country – and around the world for that matter.
At that time, I figured that, as a community, we had a responsibility to make sure that both the “powers that be” and the general public understood the important role that GLAMs play in the digital world.
So I enlisted the Canadian Museums Association and the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, and together we invited our members and friends to join us for a Summit on the value of GLAMs on a cold December day, in Ottawa.
The Summit attracted nearly 300 people and some 30 speakers, a number of them from outside of Canada.
We asked this group to consider some tough questions, such as:
- in a society where digital access is everywhere, why should we build new libraries?
- or, since virtual museums offer culture and history to people across the country and around the world – who needs the expense of bricks and mortar?
- and what about archives – can’t you get everything you need from their own platforms, or those of Ancestry or FindMyPast?
These are the kind of questions that might sound ridiculous to those of us here today, but I assure you, they are being asked on a daily basis, despite the fact that more people than ever are visiting galleries, libraries, archives and museums.
At the end of our discussions at the Summit, we collectively adopted the Ottawa Declaration.
The Declaration is a commitment to moving forward.
Based on a shared recognition of how much we have in common, and how great it would be to work together. We agreed to:
Increase collaboration between our institutions to catalyze new partnerships that spark creativity and enhance engagement;
Develop innovative programs and services to empower us to engage our publics; and
Enrich and expand access to our collections to ensure we contribute significantly to the public good and sustainable development.
Leaving the Summit, we knew that we needed to keep the momentum going.
So, we created a working group to put the Ottawa Declaration into action.
Our mandate is to explore and study how GLAMs bring value to Canadian society.
And to take an active role in identifying areas where partnerships could be developed.
On January 30, 2018, we held a Second GLAM Summit in Toronto, at the Royal Ontario Museum.
The Summit was entitled “Taking It to the Next Level,” and we welcomed some 280 participants on yet another cold Canadian winter day.
We focused on four topics that will act as drivers as we move forward:
- Communities: how can collaborative relationships among GLAMs benefit local communities, as well as provide greater opportunities for building links and fostering community identity?
- Indigenous peoples: how can GLAMs work more closely with Indigenous peoples to renew relationships that are based on mutual understanding and respect?
- Private sector: how can GLAMs work with the private sector to foster greater innovation?
- and Government priorities: how can GLAMs work with various levels of government?
The need for a supporting narrative that demonstrates the value and the breadth of social and economic benefits of GLAMs emerged as the core conclusion of our Second Summit.
That narrative would show relevance, illustrate how GLAMs matter and what they have to offer to partners from other sectors of activity such as the private sector, government and not-for-profits.
During the Toronto Summit, we were reminded of the African saying:
If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
There is no doubt in my mind that by working together and breaking down the silos of the past, the challenges facing all of us will be met.
And our value will be demonstrated.
If you can bear with me just a little longer, I would like to tell you about one more initiative that we undertook over the past year.
We decided to actively engage in asserting the importance of libraries and archives in combatting the spread of fake news, or disinformation.
Even though it has been proposed that the phrase “fake news” should be abandoned, no one can deny that the topic of so-called fake news is prominent at the moment.
So much so, in fact, that the term was named the Collins Word of the Year in 2017.
Usage of the term rose by 365% in 2017, we are told.
So, call it what you will, the phenomenon of misinformation or disinformation is so prevalent that I do not believe librarians and archivists have the luxury of staying on the sidelines in this debate.
With so many resources at our disposal, we have a duty to help our fellow citizens see things clearly.
After all, an institution like LAC has 22 million books, 250 kilometres of records and archives, 3 million maps, 30 million photographs, 5 petabytes of electronic documents, and the list goes on.
As the legal maxim Qui sentit commodum, sentire debet et onus suggests, having resources also means having responsibilities.
And frankly, I think we are in a good position to help.
Whereas people look more and more to the media for support of their biases, for “affirmation rather than information,” to quote the vice-president of news at Google, libraries are still perceived as places where one can find information that is authentic.
According to a Pew Research Institute Report published last August, 78% of adults feel that public libraries help them to find information that is trustworthy and reliable.
And that figure goes up to 87% among millennials.
Because of that, libraries are key to underpinning a healthy democracy, and that suggests to me that we are well positioned to work with the media – social or traditional – to help fight fake news.
We launched a series of round tables across Canada. We have held three so far, and two more are scheduled for the fall.
Our objective is to get organizations like Facebook and Google to understand that national libraries are prepared to work with them upstream to help define the algorithms that will detect fake news at the speed of social media postings.
Our aim is also to issue a public reminder of our existence and of our relevance regarding an issue that is central to the future of our societies.
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