Progressive Librarians Guild Toronto Area Chapter

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The Progressive Librarians Guild Greater Toronto Area Chapter is made up of Toronto-area library workers who are concerned with social justice and equality issues, charged with the stewardship of knowledge, championing open access to information, and preserving common space. We are interested in issues of freedom of expression, attacks on Canadian heritage, freedom of information, privacy, censorship, copyright, equitable access to information, the fostering of critical information literacy, and the broad social implications of the commodification of information and increasing corporate influence on libraries. As library workers, we recognize that the increasing lack of job security, de-professionalization, and casualization of our profession threatens the “free public sphere which makes an independent democratic civil society possible.”[i] We are a new voice in the Canadian library community seeking to influence progressive dialogue and political action in our communities and associations.

Primary concerns regarding the administration of Library Archives Canada:

  1. The rhetoric of modernization used by LAC administration is a smoke screen for severe cuts to professional staff, while management positions have steadily increased since 2009.  It started with LAC in 2011 but similar patterns have been repeated in national museums, Parks Canada, the National Gallery, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy.  In addition, the digitization rhetoric emanating from LAC in no way reflects reality. Estimates of how much LAC material has been digitized are wildly inflated. As well, over fifty percent of digitization staff were laid off in mid-2012 so it is unclear who is continuing this digitization and to what standard of quality.[iia] It should be made clear that digitization is not a cure-all for existing access and dissemination challenges, and indeed introduces a host of additional challenges related to the preservation, authenticity and accessibility of records that have not been addressed by the administration at Library Archives Canada.[iiib]

  2. LAC should be in the business of providing access, ensuring government transparency in terms of records management, our shared documentary heritage and web preservation. Instead new policies are reducing public hours, reinforcing general trends in the federal government to limit access or insist on moderating information, and allowing government records to be deleted and online portals to be abandoned without sufficient notice.[iv]

  3. LAC administration has cancelled or allowed their institutional memberships to lapse in key Canadian and international organizations, including the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), the Association of Canadian Map Libraries and Archives, and others. As well, LAC’s new “code of conduct” essentially prevents LAC employees from volunteering or contributing to professional organizations such as the ACA, CLA and other provincial and territorial networks that support professional standards and skills development.  This movement towards increased isolation from the local and international community of professionals will erode Canada's reputation as a leader in archival theory and practice and over time, diminish their capacity to stay abreast of new technologies and approaches to preserving Canada’s heritage.

  4. From what little information we can glean, the majority of job cuts at LAC are in the specialist and professional positions, all in the name of austerity and budget cuts.[v]  However, several media reports confirm that managerial positions at LAC were not affected by the cuts, and in some cases, positions were adjusted to appear as if positions were eliminated, when in fact they were not.[vi] As well, reports indicate that LAC administration are not even aware of the rich institutional knowledge they have eliminated as they continue to call on experts in the areas of art and military history to respond to high profile donors only to be informed that such experts have been made redundant.[vii] M. Caron has publicly stated that finding people with skills to manage a digital archive is very difficult.[viii]  This is not true.  It is our contention that he can’t find good help because he is systematically shutting archivists and librarians out of decision-making. In fact, the most recent data available from COPS indicates that there are sufficient qualified professionals to accommodate job openings in this sector.[ix]  Job advertisements at LAC have been posted in recent months through third party recruitment services for positions that were cut in 2011-2012, but which now do not require any professional library or archival training.[x] These positions have not been advertised on established job portals maintained by Canadian programs of archival and library study. We demand to know why the LAC administration has not maintained levels of professional expertise and specialized subject knowledge by hiring trained archivists and librarians and why instead new job advertisements focus on educational training in the area of economics, sociology and statistics and are short-term contracts, rather than substantial, professional positions.

Additional concerns:

  1. While abdicating its legislated responsibilities, the administration at LAC has continued to speak publicly about the need for other large archival institutions to 'step forward and fill the gap'.[xi] However, even our largest provincial or academic institutions do not have the infrastructure to assume responsibility for the documentation and preservation of the country's heritage that now appears to fall outside LAC’s newly structured scope. Such federal to provincial downloading of costs and the burden of long-term custodianship must be openly acknowledged.

  1. Cutting the National Archival Development Program (NADP) has devastated the archival community.  Many archival institutions could only leverage additional funding from other provincial, municipal and private sources after receiving an NADP grant. NADP was an efficient, robust program that helped support a national network of archival institutions of all shapes and sizes.  By cutting NADP, Library Archives Canada has undermined the ability of archival institutions operating in already dire circumstances to establish beneficial relationships of mutual support and collaboration.  NADP was a sound investment; it accomplished a great deal with modest funding and supported a national network of archival institutions, organizations and projects that made documentary heritage available to wider public, both in-person and online.

  1. Members of the PLG have noted a disturbing trend of LAC de-accessioning community records and returning them to donors (regardless of donor's ability to preserve records).  LAC has also been rejecting accruals to existing archives that have already been certified by CCPERB as being materials of "outstanding significance and national importance." This seems to run counter to the official line by LAC administration that acquisitions have been halted.

 


 

Appendix A:

Breakdown of positions lost since 2011/2012 within the ranks of archival staff dealing with private papers:

  • Documentary art archivists: 5

  • Photo archivists: 5

  • Map archivists: 3

  • Architectural archivist: 1

  • Film and broadcasting archivists: 3

  • Political archivists (prime ministers and senior cabinet ministers): 8

  • Business archivist: 1

  • Labour archivist: 1

  • Pre-confederation archivist: 1

  • Ancien regime (Nouvelle France) archivist: 1

  • Private records military archivist: 1

  • Governors-General, Supreme Court judges, diplomats etc.: 2

  • Aboriginal archivist: 1

  • Multicultural archivist: 1

  • Social activism and women’s movement archivist: 1

  • Scholarly and intellectual life archivist: 1

  • Literary and performing arts archivists: 4

  • Science and technology archivist: 1

  • Music archivists: 3

To the best of PLG’s knowledge twenty-one archival positions remain at Library Archives Canada. Thirteen positions were eliminated outright in 2012.  It appears that archivists classified as responsible for governmental records were not downsized.  All archival positions were reorganized to reflect a new approach to archival practice developed through a team of consultants and now reflects a silo-ed division based on functional activities (i.e. some positions only deal with donor relations, others just with arrangement and description, others only with the appraisal of records).

NOTES


[i] See Progressive Librarians Guild’s Statement of purpose: http://www.progressivelibrariansguild.org/content/purpose.shtml .

[ii] See Toronto Star article 13 March 2013 here: http://www.thestar.com/news/insight/2013/03/10/historical_letters_not_wanted_at_library_and_archives_canada_critics_say.html.

[iiia] For a detailed analysis of the digitization rhetoric of LAC administration see presentation given at recent conference by Sarah Allain and Kelli Babcock here: http://www.slideshare.net/sara_allain/the-impact-of-digitization-in-rhetoric-and-practice-a-review-of-budget-cuts-at-library-and-archives-canada.

[iiib] For a brief overview of the digitization projects supervised by Library Archives see: http://activehistory.ca/2012/05/the-smokescreen-of-modernization-at-library-and-archives-canada/ .

[iv] See for example articles published in the subject here: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/vincent-gogolek/harper-government-websites-access-to-information_b_2838916.html and here: https://www.itk.ca/front-page-story/aboriginal-canada-portal-will-be-shut-down .

[v] See appendix A for a breakdown of the full time professional archival positions eliminated outright, not filled and/or redefined since 2012. Titles and numbers derived from confidential source within LAC community. Twenty-one archival positions remain at Library Archives Canada but are now structured into silo-ed functional activities (i.e. some positions only deal with donor relations, others just with arrangement and description).

[vi] See article by Annie Dufour published in TVA Nouvelles on 27 November 2012 available here: http://tvanouvelles.ca/lcn/infos/national/archives/2012/11/20121127-210131.html .

[vii] As reported by confidential source within Library Archives Canada community.

[viii] As quoted in a Toronto Star Article published 10 March 2013: “Caron admits, however, that the experts needed for this web-based archiving have not yet been hired. And he does not know when they will be.’These competencies honestly are not easy to find on the market,’ he says.” See: http://www.thestar.com/news/insight/2013/03/10/historical_letters_not_wanted_at_library_and_archives_canada_critics_say.html.

[ix] See the recent COPS reports on the occupational area of librarians, archivists, conservators and curators here: http://www23.hrsdc.gc.ca/occupationsummarydetail.jsp?&tid=62 .

[x] For example job advertisement see here: http://pcr.taghr.com:8081/pcrbin/reg5.exe?db=CmMBX1%2ff4Wel0w%3d%3d&id=208064518143162 .

[xi] Several LAC administrators have admonished the archival and library communities at national conferences such as CLA and ACA to ‘step up’ and assume additional responsibilities in the preservation of documentary heritage and/or regional library collections. See Daniel Caron’s plenary speech at CLA 2012: http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/news/speeches/Pages/finding-our-place-on-the-digital-shelf.aspx .

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