Jean-François D’Aoust

Bringing life and some laughs to social media. What happens when you let a comedian play in Canada's documentary heritage?

Photograph: Jean-François D'Aoust and Sarah Hatton

Photograph: Personal collection of Jean-François

Jean-François D'Aoust started in social media at a comedy festival in Montréal. He had a free hand to do whatever he wanted with their accounts.

He joined Library and Archives Canada (LAC) in 2015, where things are not quite as simple. Finding stories that will connect with audiences amid 22 million books and 250 km of archival records is challenging, but the crew at LAC social media is up for the challenge.

“We have a great team,” said D'Aoust. “We all have artistic backgrounds, and we try to think outside the box.”

When D'Aoust comes up with a concept that he knows followers will respond to, he feels exhilarated. Sometime the idea involves passive-aggressive otters, and at other times hockey players who are slashing at one another's heads.

“My favourite post was a hockey video: the 1935 playoffs between the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers, who were also playing each other in the 2017 playoffs. People say hockey was less violent years ago, but this video was super violent!”

He added, “This shows why people need LAC. History was sometimes good, sometimes bad, sometimes disgusting, sometimes funny, but we are here to show them what happened.”

The social media team frequently uses pop-culture references such as Star Wars, Wolverine or Harry Potter when highlighting the collection. “We do it because we can link our collection to what people already love; we can show off the work of our colleagues in a new light.”

LAC social media is trying to engage more with the audience and likes it when Canadians share their experiences with LAC and other followers online.

One person on Facebook recently described a successful experience using the Canadian Expeditionary Force files to locate several ancestors. In a typically Canadian way, one was French, one was English, one was Métis, and they all fought on the last day of the First World War.

D'Aoust remarked, “I would love it if people would interact more with us. When they share their stories, our job becomes more meaningful.”

He recognizes that given the volume of followers on social media, the engagement may not always be a direct conversation. “It takes time to respond and make sure everything we say is factual and that we don't take sides.”

An overly bureaucratic author kept D'Aoust's humour in check during the creation of this article! Luckily, you can engage directly with him or his colleagues through LAC's Twitter or Facebook presence.

Those interested in getting a (mostly) unfiltered experience with D'Aoust might also consider a visit to the Preservation Centre in Gatineau. He is training to be a tour guide and guarantees that he will share several great stories (feel free to ask him about those otters).

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