Update on situation for archives in Canada

As you  may know if you’re on the A&A listerv or following along on Twitter or Facebook, a lot has been happening with public funding for archives in Canada, and I’m afraid almost all of it is not good. A few weeks ago I asked if any Canadians wanted to write a summary of the situation for the blog and two people rose to the task. Below is a post from Amanda Hill, documenting her perspective on the situation from about two weeks ago; you can read an update on her blog here. Following Amanda’s post is a more recent one from Myron Groover. You can read more from Myron on his blog here and follow him on Twitter (@bibliocracy). If you have updated information to share or more ideas of what those outside Canada can do to help, please share in the comments.

Note that our own Society of American Archivists has also protested the budgets cuts, via on letter to the Honourable James Moore sent on May 11.

This is a long post, but one I hope you’ll read with care. Thanks to Amanda and Myron for their contributions.

Amanda Hill

The Canadian archival community has been shaken in recent weeks by the unexpected cancellation of a financial assistance program which supported archives across the nation. The National Archival Development Program (NADP) [http://www.cdncouncilarchives.ca/NADP.html] has been running for six years. It was administered by the Canadian Council of Archives on behalf of Library and Archives Canada with the aim of increasing the capacity of Canadian archives to preserve and make accessible materials about Canada and Canadians. It was the only source of federal funding available to every archival repository in Canada

Monies from the NADP ($1.7 million in total) were distributed to provincial and territorial archives councils and associations, divided up according to the size of the archival community in each province. Ontario’s funding limit was  $168,000, for example, while Prince Edward Island’s was $41,000. Much of the funding was used to provide a network of archives and preservation advisors across the country, with the remaining funds made available to individual repositories for preservation or description projects. All funds applied for through the program had to be matched with funds or in-kind contributions from the applicants.

Projects funded by the program had to meet one or more of the following objectives:

  • Increasing access to Canada’s archival heritage through the national catalogue
  • Increasing awareness and broadening use of Canada’s archives
  • Increasing the representation of Aboriginal peoples and under-represented ethnocultural groups
  • Increasing capacity of archival networks to undertake strategic and development activities
  • Increasing the capacity of archival institutions to preserve Canada’s archival heritage

In 2010-2011 the program’s achievements were:

  • 590.66m of records described and made accessible to Canadians
  • 89 projects completed
  • 378,878 items digitized
  • 142 individuals employed
  • 70 institutions directly supported
  • 60 workshops given to 1,264 participants
  • Archives advisors and conservators answered 5,636 expertise requests and made 186 site visits

A Library and Archives Canada evaluation of the program in November 2010 [http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/obj/012014/f2/012014-297-e.pdf] assessed the program in terms of its “relevance, performance, and cost-effectiveness”.

Some highlights from the evaluation:

The evaluation found that the program is consistent with LAC’s mandate and priorities, and with the objectives of its recent Modernization Initiative.

The management and administration processes associated with the NADP are clear to stakeholders, and roles and responsibilities have been well communicated. Program recipients were very satisfied with the support received from CCA and Provincial/Territorial councils.

Performance data suggests good results under each of the NADP objectives.

The first recommendation of the summative evaluation was:

The findings of this Summative evaluation support the findings and recommendations of previous evaluation reports and confirm the need to continue the National Archival Development Program (NADP). It is the recommendation of this evaluation report that the funds of the program be increased in order to cover the expected inflation rate and in order to support initiatives in coping with the digital environment. The NADP continues to be the main source of finance, sometimes the only program of formal funding, while provincial, regional and municipal governments as well as universities and other varied sources make contributions to match the funds, as required by LAC and CCA.

There had been no warning that NADP funding was likely to be withdrawn and, as usual, by the end of 2011 institutions and archives councils across Canada had put together their funding applications for the 2011/2012 financial year, which began in April. As far as everyone knew, their applications were going ahead.

Until April 30, when the news broke that the program had been eliminated by Library and Archives Canada. No notice period, no warning. The mainstay of funding for archives advisors across Canada had gone, eliminating or greatly reducing the jobs of 13 people. Careful planning and preparation for archival projects which would employ recent graduates of archives studies programs in the summer was wasted.

This is why Canadian archivists are angry and mobilizing. On May 28th, a protest was staged in Ottawa. The brainchild of Braden Cannon, this took the form of a funeral march past the Houses of Parliament, ending at Library and Archives Canada. Archivists have appeared on radio programs and in the press, speaking up for our lost program and for the lack of concern for Canada’s past that is being demonstrated by this cut and by drastic reductions in staff and services at Library and Archives Canada. You can read more about the advocacy on the CCA’s site [http://www.cdncouncilarchives.ca/action2012.html]  and also on the Archivists’ On To Otttawa Trek [http://archiviststrek2012.tumblr.com/archive].

If this worries you too, then please sign the petition and consider writing to the Minister for Canadian Heritage, the Honourable James Moore (“The promotion of our culture…is at the heart of what I do every day”).


Myron Groover

The ongoing cuts and changes to service delivery at Library and Archives Canada (LAC)[1] continue to be a source of consternation for Canada’s archival community and to the users of Canada’s documentary heritage.  Here’s  a brief summary of the proposed changes themselves and the controversy surrounding them.
First, a brief refresher on LAC’s mandate:

“The objects of the Library and Archives of Canada are (a) to acquire and preserve the documentary heritage; (b) to make that heritage known to Canadians and to anyone with an interest in Canada and to facilitate access to it; (c) to be the permanent repository of publications of the Government of Canada and of government and ministerial records that are of historical or archival value; (d) to facilitate the management of information by government institutions; (e) to coordinate the library services of government institutions; and (f) to support the development of the library and archival communities.
Next let’s look at the broader organisational changes which affect the whole institution (much of this information is courtesy of Save LAC):

  • The Librarian and Archivist of Canada was replaced by a political appointee who is neither an archivist nor a librarian (his background is in “applied human sciences”) and who prefers instead to refer to himself as “Deputy Head” of LAC.
  • Hours and services for reference are being cut to 6 hours a day (weekdays only); reference services will no longer be available without a formal appointment
  • 450 staff have been presented with “affected” notices announcing they will effectively need to re-apply for their own positions; of these, 215 will be eliminated. This amounts to around 1/5 of LAC’s total workforce. These cuts include:
    • 21 of 61 archivists dealing with non-governmental records will be eliminated
    • 50% of digitization staff will be eliminated
    • 50% of circulation staff for analog holdings will be eliminated
    • 30% of cataloguing librarians will be eliminated
    • 30% of library technicians working in collection development will be eliminated
    • The professionals previously responsible for Loans and Exhibitions, Microfilm Preservation and Imaging, Digital Preservation, Preservation Registry, Textual and Visual Conservation, Multicultural Publications, and Rare/Out-of-Print Publications will be fired: the archivist positions responsible for Cartography, Moving Images and Sound, Aboriginal Treaties and Affairs, Art and Photo Archives, and the Multicultural portfolio are already vacant
    • Staff dealing with preservation and conservation of documents will see “significant” reduction
    • All interlibrary loans will be eliminated completely by February 2013
    • A new “whole of society model” will be used to guide and partly automate accessions. This is one of the more controversial (but less publicized) changes; this is supposed to be an objective framework which accurately maps the whole shape of society and the entire human experience of the people living in it. There are serious questions to be asked about the ethical implications of such a model, which to some seems uncomfortably redolent of 19th– and 20th century social engineering. The fact that it is being developed completely in secret and that LAC is so reluctant to share any information on it only heightens these concerns. References to the model can be found here and here.
    • An official 10-month moratorium on purchased accessions announced in March 209 has extended, unofficially, into a 3-year lapse on accessions – dozens of historical documents now leave Canada each day
    • Online archival descriptions at fonds level will be reduced from 25 information fields to 10
    • The National Archival Development Program, which serves to support the archival enterprise across Canada, is being eliminated
    • Virtually all funding is being withdrawn from the Canadian Council on Archives, the national body which is responsible for Canada’s standards on arrangement and description (RAD) and for administering the NADP

Now let’s look in a little more detail at the latter two items, since the impact of the NADP cut will be most keenly felt by archivists and the people who use the records we care for (information courtesy of the CCA’s memorandum on the subject):

  • 11 of 13 provincial and territorial archives councils are projected to collapse within 6 months without additional financial support
  • 90 fully approved projects for the 2012-2013 year have been retroactively cancelled
  • 17 archival professionals will lose their jobs:
    • 6 staff at the CCA Secretariat
  • 11 Archives Advisors and Conservators. These had previously been stationed in every province to provide cooperative extension services in support of small institutions around the country; without them many institutions now have access to no professional expertise
  • The participation of Canada in the National Archival Appraisal Board, the North American Archival Network, and the International Council on Archives is seriously threatened
  • The imminent launch of ArchivesCanada.ca 2.0, a revolutionary national-level hub for all archival descriptions in Canada, is threatened

I will take only a few moments to discuss the rationale behind these decisions, as the specifics of that rationale tend to change from day to day depending on who the management of LAC is talking to. Generally speaking, there has been no admission on behalf of LAC that these organisational changes will be detrimental to Canada’s ability to preserve and disseminate its cultural heritage; any challenges will be addressed by private industry and by a renewed focus on ‘digitization’ and ‘decentralization’. For more in this vein, see LAC’s “report on plans and priorities” for 2012-2013, which seems to contain some counter-intuitive assertions about staffing levels in fact remaining stable in the coming years. A partial analysis of these misleading claims can be found on John Reid’s blog.

No one, especially at LAC, seems quite certain how this emphasis on digitisation is to be paid for or made possible, since (a) digitization is one of the most expensive streams of archival activity, (b) LAC plans to eliminate half its staff working in digitization, and (c) Canada has apparently abandoned a 2008 plan to develop a trusted digital repository (TDR) (recall that NARA seems to have spent around $1.5b on a TDR).

LAC has, however, proposed a Pan Canadian Documentary Heritage Forum in order to facilitate a dialogue about decentralizing the responsibility for Canada’s heritage: the Association of Canadian Archivists withdrew from the Forum last week among allegations that professional organizations were being asked to effectively act as a rubber stamp on decisions made without consultation by LAC management.

When presented with facts and figures like those listed above, LAC has instead tended to assure querents that everything is in hand and that asking for detailed cost analyses and projections for service provision is not reasonable. Very little transparency around any of these changes is in evidence.

The reaction to these cuts from the academy and from the professional communities of librarians and archivists has been uniformly negative – Canadian archivists even went so far as to organize an “Archivist’s Trek” to Ottawa where a mock funeral for the National Archival Development Program was held on the steps of LAC. Among organizations and individuals who have condemned the changes:

The political situation regarding the cuts within the library and heritage community is by no means stable, however. Emissaries from LAC have made highly controversial statements in defense of these changes at the conferences of Canada’s national archival and library associations. Response to these and other statements from LAC management from the associations themselves has not been uniform. On one hand, the CLA has decided further political opposition to these cuts is folly and has stated that “enhanced engagement with LAC management and with relevant federal Ministers and Members of Parliament is the best way for CLA to influence the impact of the budget reductions”, to which end they have fully endorsed the Pan Canadian Documentary Heritage Forum as the only way of moving forward. The ACA, meanwhile, finds LAC to be in legal contravention of its own statutory mandate and has elected to withdraw entirely from the Forum until it becomes more collaborative. The debate continues.

[1] For those who have never heard of LAC, imagine if the United States were to consolidate the Library of Congress (library of record, library of legal deposit, etc.) and the National Archives (government records oversight, national heritage institution) into one institution under the jurisdiction of one individual, the Librarian and Archivist of Canada.

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7 thoughts on “Update on situation for archives in Canada”

  1. Kate, thanks so much for takin the time to write about the situation in Canada and drawing our attention to the efforts of Canadian archivists affected both personally and professionally by these horrible cuts. We are very grateful for the support received from our American friends and colleagues.

    One picky point: the NADP ran for 26 years, not 6. This may not be your error, but simply a typo. I just wanted to make sure that your readers understand that this is a program that has been in place for quite some time.

    In fact, the history of the NADP and the CCA is an interesting story on its own. In the late 1970s, the Canada Council (a national funding body) appointed Ian Wilson (not yet the National Archivist of Canada) to assess the state of archival institutions across the country. This was done, in part, to respond to the increasing interest in Canadian Studies, which of course, uses archives to build new scholarship. The Wilson Committee found that archives were sorely lacking in funding and made several recommendations about how to best support these initiatives, both small and large. The NADP was established in response to the recommendations of Wilson and his Committee. The Canadian journal Archivaria published a summary of the Wilson Report in 1981 and it can be read here:


    The impact of the cuts, therefore, not only sends archivists out into the street with our caps in hand (and forces archives to compete with other heritage bodies for already limited funds), but dismisses more than 30 years of work by dedicated archivists to ensure that the material culture of Canada is preserved for future generations. It’s a blow not only to the financial security of Canadian archives, but also blow to our profession as a whole.

    Not a great time to be working in archives in Canada as the moment, but certainly an interesting time.

  2. Hi Rebecka

    Yes, you’re right to point out that federal funding began in 1986 – as I understand it the program has only been called NADP for the last six years, but this was a successor to the earlier funding programs and they were all administered through the Canadian Council of Archives.


  3. Clearly it is a difficult time for publically funded Archives globally at the moment as governments cut spending to try and tackle deficits and Canada is no exception. However, clearly the way it is being gone about in Canada seems very detrimental to Canadian archival heritage and I will sign the petition to oppose this funding withdrawal. Presently polls show Thomas Mulcair’s NDP now either ahead of the Harper government or depriving them of their majority with the Liberals so the situation may change somewhat after the next election!

  4. More bad new about Canada keeps arriving, quite what I expected in light of Stephen Harper’s government, but disappointing nonetheless. As a retired librarian and now an expatriate living in the U.S., I am beginning to see a disturbing pattern of Canada’s leaders becoming as illiterate and unscientific as those here. As history is lost, as more people can’t even read cursive (in which most original documents are written), and as decisions are made based on ignorance and political idealogy rather than on any kind of rational thinking, we are losing more and more knowledge. Losing the past also invalidates the future.

  5. Sad that these cuts are occurring, Going to be some severe cuts all over and the US will see this coming soon. Simply can’t have services without the funds to pay for them.

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