Setting the Course for Information Resources:
“We have already set out in consultation with other stakeholders to consider the creation of a Pan-Canadian Documentary Heritage Network. As with the creation of any network of this type, we begin with preliminary talks concerning existing holdings, mandates, capacities, and interests to see where there are areas of possible collaboration. […]This is a recognition that the new environment is totally decentralized and our monopoly as stewards of the national documentary heritage is over.”
Daniel J. Caron,
Library and Archives Canada
In an increasingly connected world, it often seems that networks spring up overnight, fully formed and functional. Yet most networks shape themselves over time, reflecting the changing needs of their members and a broader understanding of what they want the network to achieve. Setting a new course for information resources will mean the development of a network that we design together in response to an ongoing identification of needs. This construction phase will revise and ultimately push our concept of a network even further. The network can be both an enabler and a living, workable entity that reflects the collaboration that produced it. In this spirit, the backgrounder you are receiving today reflects a story that we are writing together!
“Innovation happens at the intersections. People positioned correctly in a network can’t help but get more ideas than someone who isn’t positioned there. Positioned correctly means being at the intersection of ideas.”
David Weinberger, Everything is Miscellaneous:
The Power of the New Digital Disorder
A network of networks
The debut Stakeholders Forum, which was convened to discuss the idea of a pan-Canadian network, was held on October 21, 2010. There was agreement that collaboration itself was driven by the complexity of the new information environment, one that combined an increasing volume of information with dwindling resources, as well as the growing demand for access to content. A key outcome was identified as the creation of a national capacity for the acquisition, preservation and discovery of content, along with clear roles and responsibilities for all the players involved. As far as what a network might look like, it was envisioned then as a “network of existing networks,” with pan-Canadian governance, and flexible enough to accommodate varying levels of involvement and co-operation among associations and institutions. Participants agreed to hold a second meeting in six months’ time, and they also suggested that the network should begin with collaborative projects that had realistic goals, and build on those successes.
Casting the net
The day after the Stakeholders Forum, the National, Provincial and Territorial Archivists Conference brought together the representatives of major government archive agencies from across Canada. The meeting offered a good opportunity to discuss the state of documentary heritage in Canada, as well as the idea of a Pan-Canadian Documentary Heritage Network (PCDHN). The conference passed a resolution in support of a pan-Canadian strategy involving the larger heritage community, as well as a strengthened pan-Canadian network.
The Stakeholders Forum of May 17, 2011 proposed the following possible goals for the network: the collaborative acquisition, management, preservation and access to relevant, coherent and sustainable documentary heritage resources; the transformation of processes to effectively carry out shared or common functions; and a more effective and efficient capacity to build Canada’s documentary heritage. The network was seen as a mechanism that would enable consensus and collaboration among documentary heritage stakeholders.
“True collaboration…devises a new vision for a new way of doing things. It inevitably and fundamentally involves change. Collaboration is transformational, and the elements, institutions and individuals involved in collaboration must change.”
Ken Soehner, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The May forum also introduced a set of five initiatives designed to build on the success envisaged at the first forum. It brought a new concept into the mix: the Agora, a kind of shared acquisitions marketplace. Along with the Agora, the May forum launched four other initiatives: the improved management of analogue holdings; a network of Trusted Digital Repositories; a pilot project on metadata and resource discovery; and last but not least, a pan-Canadian network. Next steps were outlined, including the formation of working groups that would meet over the summer in readiness for a third forum in the fall. There was also consensus on the need for some kind of virtual platform that would support ongoing communication and the sharing of ideas and best practices.
Over the summer, the working groups made considerable progress, and at the same time certain preliminary concepts and ideas were being refined. One of these was the Agora, which was now seen as the title of the virtual platform for collaboration, and as a result the Acquisitions Agora became the Acquisitions Marketplace. The Agora is now used to describe not the network itself, but rather the common hub and tool for the network’s activities.
“No one knows everything, everyone knows something, all knowledge resides in networks.”
Pierre Lévy, University of Ottawa
By the time there was talk of a third forum, there was broad consensus on the need to work collaboratively. Momentum was building. Numerous participants indicated their willingness to get involved in a focused working group that would develop a vision and a roadmap that would allow the network to emerge from the collaborative work taking place.
During the past year LAC also held two Academic Forums with major universities and university associations, which focused on curriculum and educational issues emerging from the current information environment. While a pan-Canadian network was not on the agenda of either forum, the need to bring these groups into the discussion had become clear.
In organizing the third forum, LAC has proposed an integrated meeting of stakeholders to discuss the PCDHN, including participants in previous stakeholder forums, academic forums, the Federal, Provincial and Territorial Records Council, and the National, Provincial and Territorial Archivists Conference. Working sessions will cover the five initiatives introduced at the second forum, including the PCDHN, but also in the wider context of that network. Participants will receive progress reports from the working groups and other background information before the meeting.
“The free exchange of ideas and information and the opportunity for people to connect with each other lie at the heart of a civil society.”
Paul LeClerc, New York Public Library
Like any meaningful network, the PCDHN must remain fluid and flexible, open to change. The network is not so much a structure as it is a series of relationships, a configuration of ideas and initiatives. LAC will be acting as a facilitator to guide the process, but the network itself will be built on the combined efforts of all participants. This is part of the challenge.
The development of the network represents a profound shift in LAC’s relationships with stakeholders, from a service leader in traditional library and archival activities to an innovative national facilitator, coordinator and key collaborator in a broad national network. It may take some time for this shift to be fully understood, so communication will be the key to making the networked approach work. What the future holds for the PCDHN is still in flux, but there is no doubt that it is a new paradigm in the documentary heritage community, one that can take full advantage of the connections, resources and expertise of a wide variety of organizations and individuals with an interest in Canadian heritage.