Dr. Guy Berthiaume, Librarian and Archivist of Canada
Speech delivered at the Association of Canadian Archivists Annual Conference: Perspectives on the Archival Horizon
June 12, 2015
Check against delivery
Thank you for inviting me to address the Association of Canadian Archivists annual conference.
And for inviting me to offer my perspective on Library and Archives Canada (LAC).
I believe that today, more than at any other period in history, archival records play a vital role in our society.
As for proof of that, we don’t need to look further than the evening news.
The ongoing and widespread destruction of historical records, whether they are books, archives, or ancient monuments, is ample proof of their importance.
Anti-democratic forces do not want the evidence of the past to be available or for its voices to be heard.
The new head of the British Library, Roly Keating, had some interesting things to say recently about libraries in the digital age.
“Stop worrying about the future of libraries,” he said.
Libraries, and the values they represent, like trust and authenticity, will outlast the Internet.
And I think the same goes for archives.
Both libraries and archives work with time in a way that builds trust over generations, and this is not likely to change.
Here is more of what Mr. Keating had to say:
The time frame we think on, centuries back and centuries into the future, allows us to think about trust in its highest sense, and authentication and provenance of information and digital information in particular. Those are hard-won privileges and values, and they’re worth defending.
I couldn’t agree more.
And in times of expanding information, I think it is especially important to keep these values in mind and to consider the vital role of records, and record keeping, in an open and democratic society.
We also need to be thinking of questions of authenticity and reliability in a world of blogs, tweets, and 3D reproductions.
And ultimately, what all of this means in terms of the collective, public memory.
So, in short, I don’t see us disappearing any time soon.
A great deal of work is going on right now at LAC to ensure that Canadians continue to engage with their documentary heritage in ways that make sense to them.
Now, ten years from now, and hundreds of years from now.
I’d like to try to paint a picture for you today by describing some of the measures we are putting in place at LAC to prepare for the future.
Including how we intend to work with like-minded communities, like the Canadian Archival System and other documentary heritage partners, to ensure that change is guided by as many viewpoints as possible.
History has always required memory institutions to respond to the unfolding of society itself, with all its shifts and unexpected consequences.
So it seems obvious that memory institutions can never stay the same, and LAC is a good example of this.
Although our mandate has remained the same…
- to preserve the documentary heritage of Canada for the benefit of present and future generations; and
- to serve as the continuing memory of the Government of Canada and its institutions.
… the way we achieve this mandate has undergone a significant and rapid evolution.
In a few short years, we have put millions of pages of documents, photographs, maps, portraits, records and other kinds of information online, for easy access by Canadians.
We have become one of the most popular websites in the Government of Canada, with an average of 1.8 million visits a month.
Our Flickr site views just reached the six million mark.
We now have our own channel on YouTube, and last year we had our first viral hit with a rare newsreel of the 1919 World Series that was originally discovered in a cache of films buried in the Yukon permafrost.
We have launched successful new partnerships with other libraries, archives, museums, galleries, and the private sector.
And our archivists and librarians, working together, continue to acquire, preserve, and provide access both to the past and the changing record of current times.
As we all know, the analogue and the digital world will continue to live side by side for the foreseeable future.
For example, a few weeks ago we acquired ten key heritage items from the Winkworth Collection, sold by auction at Christie’s in London.
This purchase was made possible thanks to the ongoing collaboration of the Friends of LAC and Heritage Canada.
This last part of the Winkworth collection comes from the armoires, cabinets, mantles and walls of the now-sold Kensington mansion that Peter Winkworth occupied for 50 years.
The artwork offers a tantalizing glimpse into Pre-Confederation and 19th-century life in Canada. It also expands our understanding of subjects related to the First Nations and Arctic exploration.
And just last month we purchased four watercolours by Robert Hood, a British officer who was part of an Arctic overland expedition to map the Coppermine River as part of the search for the Northwest Passage.
They offer a unique backdrop and historical context for the expeditions into the Arctic led by the famous British explorer Sir John Franklin.
For the bibliophiles in the audience, I am delighted to tell you that we recently added texts, videos, audio-materials, photos and electronic items from novelist and essayist Nancy Huston, one of Canada’s best-selling and most internationally acclaimed authors.
Nancy Huston’s work truly overlaps the anglophone and francophone realities of Canada, and we are pleased to have it preserved in optimal conditions.
There is much, much more. Photographs from Malak Karsh, maps of Rupert’s Land, comic strips, the list is fascinating.
In terms of acquisition, working with the archivists within the National, Provincial and Territorial Archivists Conference (NPTAC), we are in the first stages of developing a National Collaborative Acquisition Approach.
The idea is to foster greater collaboration in the acquisition of our documentary heritage, and to openly share best practices.
We will soon launch a collaborative acquisitions portal.
Through our discussions with NPTAC, we have identified the need to develop guidelines on finding the “best fit” to house various acquisitions and to share information on existing collaborative models.
We have asked ourselves a number of questions. Who should preserve what? What is the best location for an archival fonds?
What is of national importance, or of regional importance? Or of local importance? What is the optimum way of respecting territoriality?
I am very excited about developments like this, because they signal new models for our future.
Models that make the best use of our collective expertise and shared experiences.
It’s one of the reasons I will be asking for your help in developing a National Heritage Digitization Strategy.
As you know, we have created a Stakeholders Forum to discuss our direction and our projects upstream, with all our key partners, including the Association of Canadian Archivists, the Canadian Council of Archives, the Association des archivistes du Québec, and the Council of Provincial and Territorial Archivists.
At the last meeting of the Stakeholders Forum, on April 28, we looked at some international models of Digitization Strategies.
Let me mention just a couple to whet your appetite.
The Netherlands has created the National Program for the Preservation of Paper Heritage, called Metamorfoze.
This program sets the objective that 90 percent of all books, relevant magazines and newspapers published in the Netherlands before 1940 will be digitized by 2018.
In Sweden, the National Archives has established Digisam, a Secretariat for the Digitization of Cultural Heritage.
Digisam has developed guidelines for the Swedish government and the private sector, and it serves as the Secretariat for digitization, digital preservation and digital access.
The recent report of the Council of Canadian Academies clearly showed that although Canada used to be ahead in terms of the digital world, we are now lagging behind as a country.
I don’t know about you, but lagging behind is not a position I want to be in.
So I look forward to continued discussions about how to proceed, and how we make content of great interest known, discoverable and easy to access.
If we are to provide state-of-the-art services to Canadians in a digital world, then we will need to reach out, both to our traditional partners and to some new ones, including the private sector.
These partnerships come in as many shapes and sizes as the organizations they represent.
We rely on partnerships to put our clients and our content within easy reach of each other.
For example, thanks to the partnership between LAC and Canadiana.org, 34.5 million images were digitized from over 20,000 microfilm reels.
Canadians now have greater access to immigration and land records, documents related to our Aboriginal history, papers from prominent Canadians, and historical documents from the Government of Canada.
Our partnership with Ancestry.ca has meant that eight of our collections, approximately seven hundred thousand images, have been digitized and made available on the Ancestry.ca website, including the 1921 census records, records of those killed in action during the Second World War, and Homestead Grant registers.
To meet the needs of Canadians, we have also put a great deal of effort into providing access to government documents, and in fact, we have developed a new approach in the context of the open government initiative.
It represents one of our most tangible and visible contributions to open government.
Our new directive establishes that, with a few exceptions, government records will be open for consultation from the time they are transferred to LAC.
We call this approach, “open by default.”
That is, free of access restrictions, while respecting policy and legal requirements.
That means that departments will have to obtain the necessary authorizations for disclosure before transfer.
The majority of the Government of Canada’s documentary heritage already at LAC will also be made available to Canadians more automatically.
For example, most documents that are more than 110 years old will be available for consultation immediately and, in the case of documents less than 110 years old, we will continue our block review efforts.
LAC has been using a risk-based approach in reviewing “blocks” of our existing holdings to decide whether the records can be made accessible to the public under the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act.
Another thing I am proud of is the fact that as a cultural institution, we partner with other archives and libraries, and with museums, universities, and galleries.
Public programming is an excellent way for archives and libraries to showcase what they do, and what they have.
There is a unique emotion to seeing the original, which frankly, digital copies just can’t duplicate.
Some of you will recall the days when 395 Wellington was a vibrant presence in the heart of Ottawa. Well, it is my aim to restore that presence.
We have already had a modest beginning.
We brought in David Ferriero, the 10th Archivist of the United States, and David Fricker, the Director-General of the National Archives of Australia, as part of a public lecture series.
We also partnered with the Canada Science and Technology Museum to feature a joint exhibition on the Franklin expedition, in the lobby of our building.
And the Double Take exhibition, with its intriguing portraits of iconic Canadians, is now on at 395 Wellington.
As a matter of fact, we have exhibitions planned right up to October 2016.
I am looking forward to all of them, as they will showcase our comic book collection, the history of robotics, our collection of Métis heritage, and a tribute to our national pastime: hockey, not politics!
We also have an action-packed year coming up of loans to other organizations, making LAC more visible to a broader public and highlighting the value and the scope of our collections.
And this kind of collaboration is ramping up as we near the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017.
We’ve established a three-year partnership with the National Gallery of Canada to produce a series of six exhibitions exploring 19th-century photography in Canada.
We are also contributing to major initiatives at the Canadian Museum of History.
Over 50 items from our holdings will be featured in exhibitions leading up to 2017, including art, maps and textual material, and we will also have a major presence in the soon-to-be-renovated Canada Hall.
A number of high-profile documents from our collection were also loaned to the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg.
I suspect I have only scratched the surface of some of the new directions we are taking at LAC.
We want to be certain that we are on the right track. For example, we acted quickly on one of the key recommendations of the Royal Society’s Report. The Report, entitled: The Future Now: Canada’s Libraries, Archives and Public Memory came out last November.
The first recommendation of the Report was that LAC develop a five-year strategic plan in consultation with all relevant stakeholders.
In response, we pledged to develop our next three-year plan for 2016–2019 in close consultation with our staff, our clients and our stakeholders.
The consultation process has already started—with a Town Hall meeting held on June 1 with key academic users—and it will continue until the end of June.
Then, a discussion of the first draft of our plan with the Stakeholders Forum is scheduled for this fall.
But there is one item that doesn’t require any further consultation, that’s the need for a new program to support documentary heritage communities.
You will remember that when I arrived at LAC, the Minister of Canadian Heritage, the Honourable Shelly Glover, asked me to review LAC’s priorities to see if we could come up with a new program funded from within LAC’s existing budget.
This was a welcome idea and I began that review right away. I also discussed the parameters of the program with stakeholders in the library and archival communities.
The result is the Documentary Heritage Communities Program, which will ensure documentary heritage remains accessible locally thanks to the work of regional institutions.
As I said earlier, I firmly believe that a significant part of our documentary heritage should be preserved and showcased in locations where it is most valued, as close as possible to its potential users.
The new program will benefit archives, privately funded libraries, professional associations, historical societies, genealogical organizations and museums with archival components.
This program will allow LAC to award $1.5 million per year to eligible organizations, in the form of contributions.
I am extremely enthusiastic about what this program can do, and I see it as an important first step in recognizing both the value of documentary heritage in Canada and the variety of organizations responsible for that heritage.
The program also reflects the need for greater collaboration among all memory institutions which must work together to achieve their goals.
The Documentary Heritage Communities Program will support Canada’s local documentary heritage communities by:
- increasing awareness of, and access to, local documentary heritage institutions and holdings, and by
- helping local documentary heritage institutions to become more sustainable.
We will be accepting applications until September 4, but I would ask you to kindly wait until the presentation is over before rushing out the door to fill out your forms!
There will be one funding cycle per fiscal year. I expect the next funding cycle will start at the end of February.
The kinds of projects we are looking for are those that would fall in one or more of the following categories:
- digitization for access and preservation purposes;
- conservation and preservation treatment;
- digital preservation capacity;
- virtual and physical exhibitions, including travelling exhibitions;
- training and workshops on core competencies; and
- standards development.
We will also be encouraging applications submitted in partnership within the documentary heritage community, especially those where libraries and archives will be working together.
By allowing for third-party distribution of funds, larger institutions or organizations with more capacity will be able to undertake bigger projects that could be regional or national in scope.
An External Advisory Committee will be established, with members from all regions who represent the full spectrum of Canadian documentary heritage communities.
This committee will play a peer advisory role and provide me with recommendations on funding applications.
I know you are going to want more information, guidelines, and of course, the downloadable application form.
Everything you will need, aside from your own creativity, can be found on our website, at: www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/contributions. Brochures about the program are available at the back of the room.
One of the best things about the Documentary Heritage Communities Program is that it allows LAC to work closely with local institutions at the grassroots level.
Together we can ensure that Canada’s continuing memory is documented and accessible for current and future generations.
I’d like to take this opportunity to publicly thank and acknowledge the Honourable Shelly Glover for her constant and unwavering support during every stage of the creation of the new program.
Without her help, I would not be announcing this program today.
Technology expert Jeff Jarvis coined the following phrase:
“If you’re not searchable, you’ll never be found.”
It’s a catchy phrase, but nevertheless, it’s true.
As archives, we need to make sure that what we preserve and value can also be found.
And for that to happen, people need to know we are there.
The provision of broad access to our heritage starts with the idea of visibility—making sure our work is seen and understood.
I hope that I have inspired you today, by confirming the vital role of archives, both now and in the future, whatever that future will be made of.