Letter to the Minister of Canadian Heritage about cuts to Library and Archives Canada (LAC)

Librarians of the Concordia University Faculty Association
c/o Vince Graziano
Interim Chair, CUFA Librarians’ Assembly
Webster Library, LB-285-3
Concordia University
1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. West
Montréal, Québec H3G 1M8

The Hon. James Moore, PC, MP
Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages
15 Eddy Street
Gatineau, Québec K1A 0M5

December 19, 2012

Dear Minister,

The librarian members of the Concordia University Faculty Association (CUFA) are deeply concerned by cuts to Library and Archives Canada (LAC) announced as part of the 2012 budget. We are also concerned that LAC’s so-called modernization program is being planned and delivered within a vacuum, largely without consultation from professionals, scholars, and users. We believe that the budget cuts and modernization program severely threaten LAC’s responsibility to collect, preserve, and make available Canada’s documentary heritage, as well as its responsibility to provide services utilized by researchers and librarians across the country.

Library and Archives Canada management contend that the cuts to jobs, services, and programs are being implemented to help LAC meet its mandate in the digital age. These claims do not stand up to much scrutiny when the organization’s professional staff has been reduced by 20%. Additional claims that digitization will increase access to collections are dubious when it is known that staff in the digitization section has or will be reduced by up to 50%. Digitization is a worthy but long-term and expensive goal. Identifying it as the ultimate goal of any modernization program does not mean that services and access to analog collections can be reduced in the interim. Moreover, what is the schedule for digitization? What percentage of LAC’s collections has already been digitized? In what order are materials to be digitized in the future? On what platforms will these materials be made available?

We join the numerous national professional organizations and scholarly societies like the Association of Canadian Archivists, the Canadian Association of University Teachers, the Canadian Historical Association, and the Bibliographical Society of Canada in expressing concern that LAC modernization is taking place without adequate consultation and without an infrastructure to support proposed new models of service delivery and access to collections. The elimination of the National Archival Development Program (which had the very modest budget of $1.7 million, almost $2.5 million less than the cost of ads the Government of Canada ran to promote its environmental action plan) is particularly troubling. As we hope you know, the termination of this cost-effective program has prompted professional groups including the Association of Provincial and Territorial Archivists of Canada, the Association of Canadian Archivists, and the University and College Archivists of Canada to withdraw from LAC Stakeholder Forums.

There are many other issues of concern:

  • Interlibrary loan lending service will close this month, with little effort having been made to communicate with librarians or scholars on how to access materials unique to LAC’s collection.
  • Collection development at LAC over the past several years has been passive, meaning that a number of unique items documenting our history and heritage have been lost. This has also shifted the responsibility to collect important items from LAC, Canada’s national repository, to other libraries and archives across the country, which may not have the budgets, staff, or facilities to properly curate these materials. Without a proactive acquisitions program at LAC, there is a distinct and real risk that valuable items and collections connected to our Canadian heritage will not be acquired by Canadian institutions.
  • Onsite reference hours at LAC have been cut and important specialist librarian and archivist positions have gone unfilled for years, depriving researchers of a skilled professional’s help in finding and accessing materials.
  • In October 2012 LAC announced that it is no longer collecting provincial and territorial government publications and will engage in de-selection of duplicate copies already in its collection.
  • The Depository Services program recently announced that it would end the distribution of print government publications to libraries by March 2014. There have been no further plans announced for the development of a stable, online archive for long-term preservation of Canadian federal documents.
  • As of December 4, 2012, the New Book Service web site, which provides important data on new and forthcoming Canadian books, has not been updated since February 2012.

Meanwhile, many national libraries and archives, including those in the United States, Great Britain, France, China, and Australia, are expanding access to services and digital and analog collections and are assuming exciting leadership roles in the creation and promotion of digital collections infrastructure. Why should Canadians expect less?

We have repeatedly heard that all government departments must “do their part” to help reduce the deficit; in drastically reducing the effectiveness and capacity of LAC, we as Canadians are abdicating our role as a nation that honours its own cultural and intellectual production. Library and Archives Canada has a legislated mandate to acquire, preserve, and curate Canada’s documentary heritage and to manage and protect the records of the Government of Canada. Its collections tell the story of our country’s development from early days to the present and represent our shared Canadian experience. Cuts to its budget, services, and staff, as well as a poorly planned and executed modernization strategy, threaten our ability to learn about our past and preserve our stories for future generations.

Yours sincerely,

Vince Graziano

On behalf of CUFA librarians

cc:
Pierre Nantel, MP Official Opposition Heritage Critic
Scott Simms, MP Liberal Party Heritage Critic
Daniel Caron, Deputy Head and Librarian and Archivist of Canada
Daniel Jean, Deputy Minister of Canadian Heritage

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