Democracy Gone Astray

Democracy, being a human construct, needs to be thought of as directionality rather than an object. As such, to understand it requires not so much a description of existing structures and/or other related phenomena but a declaration of intentionality.
This blog aims at creating labeled lists of published infringements of such intentionality, of points in time where democracy strays from its intended directionality. In addition to outright infringements, this blog also collects important contemporary information and/or discussions that impact our socio-political landscape.

All the posts here were published in the electronic media – main-stream as well as fringe, and maintain links to the original texts.

[NOTE: Due to changes I haven't caught on time in the blogging software, all of the 'Original Article' links were nullified between September 11, 2012 and December 11, 2012. My apologies.]

Monday, June 18, 2012

Library and Archives Canada laments deterioration of heritage record keeping

The $9.6-million in cuts to Library and Archives Canada announced in the 2012 budget will only make a bad situation worse, say critics, who add that years of bad policy decisions and underfunding have contributed to the deterioration of Canada’s heritage-keeping organization. 

“It goes beyond the current cuts. There have been ongoing cuts to LAC, and as well the current Library and Archivist of Canada has introduced policies and directions that are making the situation far worse,” said James Turk, the executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, the union behind the campaign Save Library and Archives Canada.

Mr. Turk said he first heard of problems at Library and Archives about a year-and-a-half ago from academics in his union who were using the archives to do research.

He said that changes, including from the hours the library is open, to how it acquires and handles material, and to programs, made as part of a modernization initiative started in 2010, have pre-dated the budget cuts and have meant the institution has taken a turn for the worse.

“I don’t think it’s primarily a funding problem, I think it’s a problem of not respecting and appreciating the importance of the traditional role of a public archive,” he said.

Librarian and Archivist of Canada Daniel Caron said that the organization has evaluated itself and is trying to respond to “difficult and fundamental questions” faced by archives everywhere that stem from both patrons and documents moving online.

He said that the 2012 cuts mean “all that we’ve built as a new organization will be just a bit smaller.”

The budget commits Library and Archives to cutting $9.6-million from its budget by 2014-2015. In 2012-2013, LAC’s budget, pre-budget cuts, is $117.7-million, according to its 2012-2013 Report on Plans and Priorities. Due to the cut, as well as another $1-million cut from a past spending review and the end of a number of spending commitments, its budget will be less than $95-million in 2014-2015.

Its staff will go from 1,065 workers to 860 in that time, according to Mr. Turk.

“They’re getting rid of 50 per cent of their circulation staff, and despite the fact that they’re talking about digitization they’re cutting 13 per cent of their digitizing staff. They’re not replacing specialist archivists who are leaving. They are getting rid of a third of the archivists and archival assistants who deal with non-governmental records,” he explained.

As a result of the modernization plans, as well as the cuts, Library and Archives has cut the National Archival Development Program, a $1.7-million fund that aided local and regional archive and preservation groups. It will stop its program to loan materials to other institutions across Canada in February 2013. It will close six of its nine regional branches by 2015 and is curtailing its hours and access to experts at its main branch on Wellington Street in Ottawa.

Members of the library, academic and archive community converged on Ottawa in a protest May 28 to voice their displeasure with the measures.

Doug Marshall, president of the Union of National Workers, which represents 540 of the staff at Library and Archives, said the National Archival Development Program supported over 800 local archives over the past 26 years.

Liberal heritage critic Scott Simms (Bonavista-Gander-Grand Falls-Windsor, Nfld.) said the cut hurts the “very core of the community.”

“That program gave small to medium-sized grants to communities, church groups, aboriginal groups, ethnocultural communities within larger cities, to allow them to tell their story,” he said.

Mr. Caron said that while “we’re not criticizing the NADP,” its work could be accomplished through the Pan-Canadian Documentary Heritage Network. The network is still under development, and while it’s meant to connect the Canadian library and archives community, its function is still unclear.

NDP heritage critic Pierre Nantel (Longueuil-Pierre Boucher, Que.) said that the NADP’s main asset was its ability to get communities involved in documenting their history.

“With each dollar invested by the federal government, people managed to interest private partners in the community so that they could organize local exhibitions and enhance local archives,” he said in the House of Commons June 5.

The NDP introduced an opposition day motion calling on the government to reverse cuts to federal knowledge-based institutions, including Statistics Canada and the Library, June 5. It was defeated.

Mr. Caron said that the decision to stop its interlibrary loan service next year, as well as the reduction in hours, is in response to a decline in demand for those services.

Loans of materials to other institutions “has decreased tremendously” he said, noting that demand is a quarter of what it used to be in the 1990s.

“We have to be responsible and say, ‘Okay, we cannot spend as much as we used to,’ ” he said.

Another Library and Archives policy that is causing controversy among academics and in the community is the move towards decentralizing the collection.

Material that Library and Archives does not consider to be of direct national interest could be given to other collections across Canada, explained Mr. Caron, who added that the policy is still in the planning stages.

“If there is material of general interest that is related to John A. Macdonald, for instance, but not necessarily papers from John A. [himself] we’re going to work with Queen’s University archives, who are very interested in this material,” he said.

Mr. Turk aid that decentralizing the archives poses a number of problems.

“If you’re studying, for example, the huge debate that occurred in this country about whether Canada should adopt its current flag, instead of the records being all in LAC, some are in Saskatchewan because they’re related to John Diefenbaker, and others are somewhere else,” he explained.

“It’s a way of diminishing the national archives, but it’s also offloading it on to already badly funded provincial and local archives,” he added.

Documents that LAC feels no do not fit into the scope of its mandate, and that don’t find a home in another archive, “could very well go to the furnace,” said David Cardinal, a Library and Archives worker and president of its Public Service Alliance of Canada local.

Mr. Cardinal has worked at LAC since 1994 as a custodial clerk, maintaining records and going to federal departments and to the homes of notable Canadians to acquire new archival material.

He said that documents from 1868 to around 1950 are vulnerable, and that an entire storage facility in the south of Ottawa is full of these papers.

“They’re going to be offered up to libraries across Canada, and if nobody takes them, they will go to destruction,” he said.

Mr. Simms said that the documents could be “fed through a shredder, as opposed to a filing system.”

Mr. Caron said that the notion that it’s an archive’s job to keep everything is false.

“There is a myth out there that we were keeping everything. We’ve never. Archivists and archives in general have always been in the business of triage. … The concept of total archives is a concept that has no foundation, even in theory because it’s just impossible, and with the web it’s even worse,” he said.

While Mr. Caron said that Library and Archives wants to expand its ties to regional archive institutions, Mr. Cardinal said that a number of organizations have cut their association with the federal organization due to its policies.

“There are many universities and libraries throughout Canada who have severed their ties with LAC because of the reductions of the acquisitions and the reductions of the actual holdings we have now,” he said.

Save Library and Archives Canada has accused Library and Archives of failing in its mandate to acquire historical documents for the past few years.

LAC did have a moratorium, mainly on buying rare books, in 2009 and 2010, said Mr. Caron, but it was temporary as it put more proactive guidelines for what to purchase in place.

“I think an institution like ours should let people know what we are interested in, and that’s what we’re building, and that’s where we want to be,” he said.

He said that the accusation is wrong and that the organization currently has 600 files on possible acquisitions open.

Mr. Turk disagreed.

“The fact is, and we checked widely, they’re simply not buying anything,” he said.

He cited the case of a Royal Proclamation from the War of 1812 that granted amnesty to Americans living along the border. He said the Library passed up the opportunity to buy the document, which he said was one-of-a-kind in North America, and now it’s in the hands of an American collector.

The Library’s modernization efforts centre on moving the collection online and making it accessible to all Canadians.

“It’s not everybody who has the privilege of being able to leave St. John’s, Nfld. or Victoria Island to come to do their research…we’re trying to democratize access this way,” said Mr. Caron.

Conservative MP Paul Calandra (Oak Ridges-Markham, Ont.) the Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Heritage James Moore (Port Moody-Westwood-Port Coquitlam, B.C.) told the House June 5 that Library and Archives has recently launched an online showcase of Canadian portraits, and will be adding 2,000 new portraits a month to the site. It will also be putting 73,000 new images of the War of 1812 online, and connecting researchers with Canadians via Skype.

“This is good for Canadians. They will be able to access historical content regardless of their interest, profession or location,” he said.

Mr. Turk that touting the availability of documents online is “disingenuous” and estimated that only two per cent of the Library’s about 1-billion documents have been digitized.

Mr. Caron said that the Library is currently inventorying its collection, and until then it is “impossible” to tell what proportion is available online.

Mr. Cardinal said that while going digital is good, it’s too soon to depend on it.

“I think it’s too premature to be reducing services,” he said, adding that some documents can’t be scanned or reproduced.

Admittedly, it will take years to get the collection online, said Mr. Caron, and the initiative faces technical challenges and would require extra funding.

Mr. Marshall said that it’s clear the cuts aren’t to “back office stuff” as the government claims.

“The government says Canadians won’t notice the difference in service. They absolutely will notice the difference in service,” he said.

He added that staff members who haven’t been cut outright but who have been told their job could be in jeopardy are deciding whether they want to decide to stay with the institution.

Among staff, morale is low at the institution, say Mr. Marshall and the heritage critics.

“The morale for a lot of people here was pretty low, and questioning which direction we were really going in as an institution who valued history,” added Mr. Cardinal.

Mr. Caron said that he would like people to focus their energies forward, to the future of the institution and the challenges it faces.

“We’ve always thought that what we’re doing is very important to protect democracy and literacy. … We need to look for results, not necessarily for things that were there,” he said.

Original Article
Source: hill times
Author:  Jessica Bruno

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