Memory Institutions in the Digital Age

From: Library and Archives Canada


Guy Berthiaume, Librarian and Archivist of Canada

December 5, 2018, 3:30 pm

395 Wellington Street, Alfred Pellan Room, Ottawa, Ontario

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Let me begin by acknowledging that we are gathered on the traditional land of the Algonquin Nation. We recognize them as the caretakers of this territory.

I want to thank my friend and colleague, Chad Gaffield, for taking the initiative to hold this Summit as part of the G7 Research Summits.

Chad developed the idea for this summit on May 30, 2018, while we were at the airport in Regina with Ursula Gobel from the SSHRC, waiting for our flight home to Ottawa from the Learned Societies Conference.

It was an opportunity for me to see Chad at his best. As we waited in line, we were able to determine the topic of the summit, develop the outlines of the program, and set the time and place.

And our Air Canada flight was not even delayed, which is just as incredible!

I was very open to the idea of talking about Memory Institutions in the Digital Age since the two reports that are its backbone – the Royal Society of Canada (RSC) report published in November 2014 and the Council of Canadian Academies report released in February 2015 – have been constant companions throughout my time at Library and Archives Canada since I arrived, in June 2014.

These reports have guided my work over the past four years because of the structural issues they raise, which demand fundamental solutions that will affect not only us but also the entire Canadian community, in the short, medium and long terms.

My colleague Robert McIntosh will review more systematically how LAC has responded to the recommendations in the two reports, particularly those dealing with our digital future.

For my part, I simply want to go over these recommendations to illustrate how they have had a profound effect on LAC.

In the case of the Royal Society, I will concentrate on the six recommendations outlined in the section of the report that focused exclusively on LAC.

The first of the six recommendations was that LAC should develop a five-year strategic plan in consultation with all relevant stakeholders.

We worked throughout 2015–2016 to develop such a plan, a three-year plan rather than a five-year plan because our world is changing so fast that it seemed overly ambitious to plan for five years.

We consulted not only our stakeholders, but also our users and our employees, through numerous town hall sessions, meetings and a user survey.

In late March 2016, we released our three-year plan for 2016–2019.

As a footnote, we resumed our consultation process this year, with an even wider scope, holding sessions in Halifax, Winnipeg and Vancouver, in addition to the nation’s capital, and we will publish the results in March 2019 in our 2019–2022 Three-Year Plan.

The Royal Society’s second recommendation was for LAC to participate actively in Canada’s associations of archivists and librarians, and to develop a regular schedule for working with these organizations.

This recommendation echoed one of my major concerns about LAC’s structure. Indeed, as a Government of Canada agency, not a Crown corporation, we have no board of directors. This means that if LAC is not careful, we could completely lose touch with our communities and become isolated inside a bureaucratic bubble.

We have therefore created or reinstated a number of advisory committees.

The first is the Stakeholders’ Forum, a group that comprises our 12 main partners, representing all types of stakeholders of the documentary community: librarians, archivists, museum professionals and historians.

We also set up three advisory committees, one to advise us on our services, another on our acquisitions, and a third on our public programming.

And we recently created an Indigenous Advisory Circle to help us implement our programs in a way that respects the cultural values of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.

And we didn’t just listen to what our partners were telling us. We took action too.

For example, after listening just a little while, it became obvious that the documentary community desperately needed an assistance program so it could grow and play its role fully.

We therefore created the Documentary Heritage Communities Program (DHCP), funded through our own budget without any extra allocations.

Through a collective effort, LAC has managed to put $1.5 million a year into the program and absorb all of the management costs.

Since its launch in 2015, the DHCP has provided $6 million in funding to 130 local documentary heritage organizations in support of 170 projects. This will continue on an ongoing basis in the future.

The Royal Society’s third recommendation was that LAC should address the problem of employee morale.

We sent a strong signal to employees from the outset that their professional expertise was valued and that we would invest in developing it further.

Librarians and archivists returned to national and international conferences and seminars, we developed a series of internal presentations that allow our colleagues to share their knowledge with one another, and we increased the number of round tables and conferences at our location at 395 Wellington Street, so as many employees as possible could stay informed about the latest developments in their fields.

Over the last few years, the workplace at LAC has improved significantly, which has resulted in increased employee engagement.

The 2017 Public Service Employee Survey results showed that 75% of respondents would recommend LAC as a great place to work compared to 58% in 2014. Our results for 2017 are above the average for the public service.

The fourth recommendation was that LAC should focus its efforts toward harmonizing library and archival cultures.

We made a commitment to respect the integrity of our professional, library and archival disciplines.

Let’s remember that in 2004, LAC was the first Western institution to be created by merging a national library and a national archives.

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