On the Occasion of an Appearance of the Deputy Head and Librarian and Archivist of Canada before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage

Ottawa, Ontario
December 6, 2011
 
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Good day, Mr. Chairman and honourable members of the committee.
Let me begin by saying thank you for giving me the opportunity to be here today. I am here in my capacity as Deputy Head and Librarian and Archivist of Canada, to share with you my observations and comments about Library and Archives Canada’s role in Canada’s 150th anniversary to be celebrated in 2017.
 
The celebration of the country's centenary in 1967 had a great impact on our sense of pride and identity. I would like to recall that on this occasion a new building to house the National Library of Canada was inaugurated. That gift to Canadians was in keeping with the times. A monument built to honour Canada’s documentary heritage became the ideal place to preserve a collection of works that Canadians could access easily in their National Capital.  From this moment on, an important part of Canada’s documentary heritage was found under the same roof, secure in a physical space.
 
It was also during Expo 67 that we were also astounded by rapidly evolving technologies.  Who doesn’t remember the very popular “Telephone Pavilion”, where for the first time a film was projected upon a screen of 360 degrees with technology that surpassed even that of Disney Studios.  Since then, we haven’t stopped to be amazed, surprised, and even transformed by technology.  Among other things, the evolution of information and communications technology has had a profound effect upon the manner in which Canadians create, archive, and access their documentary heritage.  Since these celebrations, times have changed considerably.
Beginning with my appointment in 2009, as witnessed by my intervention during the Canada 150 event at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, I have worked to ready Library and Archives Canada for the celebrations in 2017 in two ways. First, I believe that LAC’s contribution to the nation’s 150th anniversary should be focused around greater access for all Canadians to the body of their documentary heritage no matter where they live.  To this end, we work on two fronts.  The first is to put into place multiple partnerships with organizations throughout the country.  This avenue allows for a gradual connection of more Canadian communities to their documentary heritage.  The second front in which we work is the optimal utilization of digital technology.  This path permits not only to digitize and render accessible each day more documentary heritage via the Web, but also to treat digitally-born documentary production in real time.  As well, the other fundamental contribution that the institution should make is to prepare to become in time an institution capable of working in a digital environment: acquiring, preserving, and making accessible the production of Canadian documentation that has been largely digital for twenty years already.
 
These two foundations are for me the most attractive and the most pertinent contributions to the celebrations in 2017.  Indeed, Canadians have adapted very well to the arrival of the Internet and have learned to make good use of the great many communications tools that are now available. As in other developed countries, we have flocked in great numbers to social media websites and exchange in ever-increasing volumes our own thoughts, stories, opinions, reactions, photos, and videos, and circulate within our networks those items we find of interest.
 
No longer are Canadians simple consumers of information. More than ever, an important number of Canadians are also creators and even curators of cultural content. This development has fundamentally changed the manner in which Library and Archives Canada must execute its mandate. 
 
Forty or fifty years ago, it was relatively easy to identify the sources of documentary production of historical value and then to acquire and preserve what was produced.  It was sufficient to simply acquire the physical document, the object: newspapers, films, photos, books, maps, government records, and so forth.  The extended life cycle of analogue materials combined with a relatively modest level of production and the slow pace in which they were released made it possible to think that we could somehow capture a large part of it and then distill it into an almost comprehensive collection to be made available to Canadians.
 
This is no longer the case.  2017 has thus become a year of celebrations for Library and Archives Canada, but 2017 also represents a milestone in the modernization of the institution.  The exponential growth in the number of information resource producers, and the subsequent astronomical increase in the level of production make it impossible to acquire all the documentary production.  Like never before, the majority of Canadians are now actively participating in the process of telling their stories and documenting their lives. Library and Archives Canada must adapt and consider the new sources of documentary production and their widespread, democratic distribution.  Our mandate offers us all the necessary flexibility to meet this adjustment that will permit us to become an institution of the 21st century of which Canada could be proud. Identify, acquire, preserve and make accessible the best possible representation of Canada’s documentary production in all formats from all sources.  As well, thanks to digital age technology, we can gradually transcend our historic geographic challenges by making this heritage accessible to all Canadians. In fact, in 2017, we will permit all Canadians, here in Canada and around the world, to access a quantity without precedent of their rich documentary heritage, past and present, anytime.
 
Nowadays, the privileged place of consultation for Canadians to access their documentary heritage is less and less a physical place like a library or an archive.  If there remains a place of consultation, these are found among other connected places and become more and more places of animation and interpretation.  For more and more Canadians, it is on the Web that they expect to find their documentary heritage. Moreover, the current documentary production of Canadians is increasingly, if not exclusively, created in digital format and stored in digital repositories somewhere and then downloaded from the information cloud. 
 
Information produced by the government doesn’t escape this widespread societal tendency.  Presently, government records are produced in digital format.  Library and Archives Canada intends by 2017 to gather government records through the use of a digital portal and to preserve them with the help of a trusted digital repository that meets international standards.  In doing so, we will be playing our national role by making the transition to digital just in time to celebrate Confederation’s 150th anniversary.
 
Mr. Chairman, I would now like to underscore a number of more targeted initiatives that Library and Archives Canada is leading at present and that reflect , at the same time, not only our society’s transition from an analogue to a digital environment, but our readiness for and contribution to the 150th anniversary of our country.
 
First, modernization at LAC is going well and placing us in a better and better position to deal with the changes brought about by the digital environment. We have reviewed how we identify, acquire, preserve, describe and create access to our documentary heritage – all of these processes are now part of a framework for determining how well they reflect our society itself, what we call the “whole of society” approach. This new approach underlines the way we will be conducting all our main lines of business at LAC. To give you a quick example, given the environment in which Canadian society is evolving, we have widened our societal watch to better identify the documents we should acquire in order to reflect not only the documentary heritage that has been created but also to understand the context of how that heritage is created.  This is a transparent approach, one in which we are working collaboratively with a number of different players in Canadian society, taking into account the vast range of experience and expertise they offer. We hope that Canadians will be able to celebrate not only their 150th anniversary, but also their 200th, and their 300th, with ready access to the documentary heritage created today and in 20, 50, or 100 years. 
 
Next, and equally important, we are gradually making our holdings accessible to a greater number of Canadians. Our efforts in this area are targeted towards 2017 and beyond but with a view to celebrating 2017, we will of course be making the extra effort to validate our heritage. The Lest We Forget project was a beacon for us in terms of programming that was not restricted by geographic location and made excellent use of the entire network of public libraries across Canada. This great success demonstrated the importance of our military heritage using digital technology with both documents and a step-by-step teacher’s guide to related workshops easily available online. Through this program students are able to access more than 5000 military records from individual soldiers, doctors and nurses who served in the First World War or those who were killed in the field of battle during World War Two. 
 
In addition, the number of libraries who participated in the project doubled. The Lest We Forget workshops are now offered from one end of the country to the other. Over the last six months, more than 25,000 records have been downloaded from our web site. I think these kinds of results augur well for the future. For 2012, we are working on similar projects based on the themes of immigration, First Nations and transportation. And each year we intend to create and organize programming based on new themes. By 2017, Canadians will have enhanced access to a large part of the documentary heritage which has shaped their history.  
 
Other projects underway include the digitization of tens of thousands of portraits and photographs, which will be accessible online using new descriptive approaches which will make them easier to find. As well, Library and Archives Canada recently completed the digitization of the first maps of the Yukon, rendered in the late nineteenth century by the renowned surveyor William Ogilvie. Previously, these maps were not available at any library in the Yukon. A couple of weeks ago, I received a message of encouragement from a librarian in Whitehorse who congratulated us on the initiative and invited us to keep moving in that direction. 
 
I would also like to stress that we are moving further away from the concept of a traditional national institution, one that would serve as a stand-alone monolithic entity solely responsible for providing Canadians access to documentary heritage. To this end, we have actively participated in the emergence of a Pan-Canadian Documentary Heritage Network. Along with our provincial and territorial counterparts and partners in the academic and civic sectors, we are now working hard to unite our energies and exchange our knowledge and experience with the goal of offering more of our documentary heritage than we ever imagined, and with the widest possible access. These partnerships have already begun to bear fruit.  Beyond those I have already mentioned with library associations in the interest of making more of our documentary heritage known, we are also working to improve our practices. For example, we recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec that enables us to share bibliographic records of Quebec authors published in Quebec and Canadian authors published elsewhere in the country, thereby avoiding unnecessary duplication.
 
And finally, we are working with our colleagues at Parks Canada, the National Capital Commission, various museums and other federal partners to promote our documentary heritage. Our contribution to the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 is but one example. 
 
Mr. Chairman, the act of commemoration, as you know, is extremely important for Library and Archives Canada because it gives Canadians the opportunity to increase their knowledge of Canada's history and its institutions and an opportunity to foster a greater sense of attachment and engagement. 
 
Turning to the question of how Library and Archives Canada can best contribute to the celebration of the 150th anniversary of Confederation, I would suggest by providing the greatest possible access to Canada’s documentary heritage in the context of that time.  Fifty years after receiving the gift of a National Library in the nation’s capital, Canadians will receive a similarly wonderful gift in 2017, through a digital framework that will permit the construction of a truly modern documentary heritage institution.  This gift will, I sincerely hope, be appreciated not only by citizens from coast to coast, but also by future generations of Canadians who will gain a better understanding of how we adapted to the arrival of the Digital Information Age.
 
Thank you Mr. Chairman, that brings me to the end of my presentation.
 
I would now be happy to respond to any questions from Members of the Committee.