Library and Archives Canada
In its March 2012 Budget, the Harper government cut the operating budgets of federal departments and agencies by $9.67 million as part of its deficit reduction action plan. The budget of Library and Archives Canada (LAC) was reduced by $9.6 million over three years, an amount equal to about 10% of LAC’s total planned spending for 2012-13. On April 30, 2012, LAC sent notices to about 20% of its employees advising them that their positions could be eliminated and that they could be laid off.
In addition, in response to the cuts announced in the Budget and the results of recent strategic review exercises, the libraries in at least a dozen federal government departments are now being closed, or their staffs and services are being significantly reduced.
This includes the libraries at Agriculture Canada, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Environment Canada, Health Canada, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, Industry Canada, Transport Canada, the National Capital Commission, National Defence, Natural Resources Canada, Parks Canada, the Public Service Commission of Canada and Public Works and Government Services Canada.
The libraries in federal departments and agencies gather and preserve highly specialized information related to the mandates of their organizations which is often not available elsewhere. They identify information sources, assess their credibility and relevance and provide access to sources in multiple formats for their clients. In so doing, they help ensure that decisions made by public service employees who are undertaking scientific research, delivering programs to Canadians or providing policy advice, are grounded in timely, authoritative information.
Many federal libraries provide services to members of the public as well, such as academics seeking access to specialized information for research purposes, journalists and professional writers, teachers, students and Canadians investigating their family genealogy.
Through their information management roles, federal libraries and LAC play a fundamental role in supporting government accountability to Canadians and ensuring that information is as accessible and useful as possible. There is growing awareness of the need to shift the focus from the quantity of information to its usability. No matter how plentiful, information that is not organized or not known about is not useable - and access to useable information is at the heart of a knowledge-based economy and society, as well as a neutral, professional public service and a transparent, accountable government.
As LAC itself notes in its Report on Plans and Priorities for 2012-13, the cuts are taking place in an already challenging environment. Digital technologies are fuelling an explosive growth in information and Canadians have heightened expectations about access to information resources in both digital and more traditional formats.
Members of the public will feel the effects of closures of libraries and reductions in services and opening hours both directly in terms of access and indirectly in terms of the quality of government decision making.
Indeed as part of its Modernization initiative and digitalization of archives, LAC’s “New Approach to Service-Delivery”, which took effect in February 2012, reduces in-person access to the archives and libraries. Moreover, the 20% of LAC’s employees that will be laid off includes 50% of the staff involved in digitization. This will have an obvious and inevitable impact for LAC in its ability to provide access to the archives in digital and traditional formats.
In addition, the National Archival Development Program (NADP) will be eliminated as part of the cuts. This program was administered by the Canadian Council of Archives (CCA) which had to close its office as a result. It oversees Archives Canada, a database which makes the material located in small archives across provinces and territories of the country accessible to the public. These smaller and local archives often do not have the capacity to function on their own and rely on grants from NADP, and are an important part of recording material of archival value at the local level and making it available to local communities.
For public servants, the cuts mean reductions in library services and in access to information resources they require to perform their jobs. Moreover, there are few prospects for accessing this information from other sources. Public servants may be able to use Inter-Library Loans, the system by which materials can be borrowed free of charge from government, university and public libraries across Canada, but the costs of processing and delivering materials borrowed by inter-library loan are borne mainly by local lending libraries. In addition, LAC recently announced that the current system will end in February 2013.
A troubling implication is the likely wide-scale disposal of valuable, specialized information resources currently housed in federal libraries. Disposal is governed by the Library and Archives Canada Act and related policies and directives, including the Directive on Recordkeeping. According to these directives, information resources and other records that are determined to “no longer have operational value” may, at the discretion of the Librarian and Archivist of Canada, be disposed of by destruction, by transfer to LAC or by “alienation from the control of the Government of Canada”.
In practical terms, physical collections are the most expensive to manage and, in the digital age, will be the first candidates for disposal.
Given this, and while some degree of regular disposal is good library practice, significant destruction and “alienation” should be expected, especially given the inadequacies of the federal disposition and recordkeeping program, which are reflected in LAC’s plans to review the program over the next few years so that it can “more effectively deliver on its responsibilities toward disposition.”
In addition to this, another worrying consequence is that LAC and the libraries in departments and agencies may stop acquiring new material. The capacity of LAC to receive and provide access to materials, either physical or electronic, is already under tremendous stress, as witnessed by the years-long backlog in making archived government documents available through its collectionscanada.gc.ca initiative. In addition, LAC’s 10-month moratorium on purchasing new archival material, which expired in January 2010, has unofficially continued.
Processes of disposing of information resources and reducing or limiting new acquisitions are both a tremendous loss for recording past, current and future knowledge.
Responses from Canadians
On May 28 2012, about 150 Canadian archivists organized a mock funeral, called “Archivists’ On to Ottawa Trek,” to protest the sweeping changes to LAC included in the federal government’s Budget bill. Their statement can be found online.
In May 2012, a campaign spearheaded by the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) called Save Library & Archives Canada, which had been launched in November 2011 in response to funding cuts, was reintroduced in order to inform the public about the implications of the 2012 cuts and to coordinate petitions and citizen responses.
Several provincial associations of librarians and archivists have decried the federal cuts through press releases and open-letters.
LAC and federal libraries, as well as local and provincial archives and libraries, are key preservers of Canada’s documentary heritage; they are also gateways to the future. They are fundamental to both informed decision making and good governance. In the 21st century, the challenge is to prudently modernize them on behalf of Canadians, not dramatically dismantle them.
- 2004: Library & Archives Canada (LAC) is created.
- February 13, 2012: LAC embraces a modernization strategy and implements a “New Approach to Service-Delivery” which sees operation hours of in-person services widely reduced.
- March 2012: The federal government announces in its 2012 Budget cuts of $9.6 million over three years to LAC, as well as cuts to the operating budgets of other federal departments and agencies, many of which have libraries.
- April 4-June 2012: Libraries in federal government departments are closing or seeing their staff reduced.
- April 30, 2012: LAC issues notices to about 20% of its permanent staff advising them that their positions could be eliminated and they could be laid off and also announces that the National Archival Development Program (NADP) will be eliminated.
- May 7, 2012: LAC declares that the Inter-Library Loans service will end in February 2013 and has not yet confirmed what program could replace this service.
- May 28, 2012: Canadian archivists organize a mock funeral march to Ottawa.
Role or Position
Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is the federal government organization responsible for acquiring and preserving the documentary heritage of Canada, making this heritage known to Canadians and others with an interest in Canada and facilitating access to it. LAC is the permanent repository of federal government publications and records of historical or archival value and facilitates information management and the coordination of library services in federal government departments and agencies. LAC also supports, through grants and national programs, the development of library and archival communities across Canada.
There are libraries and library-like organizations in more than 60 federal departments and agencies.
Implications and Consequences
- Democracy: These developments constitute a double-sided attack on Canada’s documentary heritage, on the federal government’s capacity to deliver effective programmes and public policy for Canadians and on the ability of Parliament and Canadians to hold the federal government to account.
- Democracy: Effective democratic processes rely on informed decision-making. As a result of the cuts, some services will no longer be provided, leaving employees in departments and agencies without access to the information they need to do their jobs. This makes the government itself less effective and makes its policies not grounded in sound evidence.
- Democracy: Access to information is a key component of a healthy democracy and of citizens’ capacity to hold a government to account. With drastically reduced access to archives and libraries for researchers, journalists, public servants, and the broader Canadian public, access to information risks worsening. In addition, the disposition of material deemed unworthy and the reduced capacity of LAC for acquiring new documents considerably decreases the amount of publicly accessible information.
- Equality: Canadians will not be impacted equally by the cuts. According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), 20% of Canadian households do not have access to the internet, mainly because they are in rural or remote areas or for reasons of affordability. As LAC and other federal libraries accelerate their plans to digitalize their offerings to save money, many of these Canadians will be unable to access them directly, or use them in their research or studies or as part of their business or artistic endeavours. The situation will be worsened because the federal government has announced the end of the Community Access Program (CAP), a funding program designed to provide internet access and digital skills training at local public libraries and community agencies, which are the only point of broadband access for 1 in 4 Canadians according to the Ontario Library Association.
- Transparency: The cuts to LAC are just one of the various budgetary reductions contained in the 2012 federal budget. There have been complaints about the secrecy in which the government is undertaking such cuts and the lack of information about their impact. The case for more transparency has been made by the Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page, a non-partisan public servant who has faced considerable hurdles in obtaining information on the impact of cuts and especially of omnibus bills.
Date updated: 22 October 2012
Photo from Library and Archives Canada.