Final report: Summit on the value of libraries, archives and museums in a changing world

December 5-6, 2016

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Message from the Librarian and Archivist of Canada and the Executive Director of the Canadian Museums AssociationFootnote 1

In the digital era, when memory itself may seem obsolete, what use are memory institutions like galleries, libraries, archives and museums (GLAMs)? Aren't Google, Amazon, Wikipedia, Facebook and Twitter, and the mind-blowing speed of their algorithms, good enough for "remembering"?

From time to time, the same seemingly-logical questions come up in the media… Is it still appropriate to build new libraries? Wouldn't it be better to reduce the number of libraries given the increased popularity of borrowing e-books? Aren't virtual museums the best response to the need to democratize culture, and make it accessible to people across the country and around the world? And the same questions hold true for archives. Aren't their holdings all digitized and accessible on either their own platforms, or on those of Ancestry or Findmypast?

Yet, in fact, the patronage of memory institutions is increasing. The number of visits to public libraries in the United States increased by 4% in the past year . The new Halifax Public Library received double the expected number of visitors in its first year (i.e., 1.9 million compared with the 900,000 expected) and Canadian museums attract 62 million visitors per year, up 10% from 2013.

This counter-intuitive data led a recent British Library report to conclude:

Guy Berthiaume, Librarian and Archivist of Canada

At a time when the provision of knowledge and culture is increasingly digital and screen-based, the value and importance of high-quality physical spaces and experiences is growing, not diminishing. The more screen-based our lives, it seems, the greater the perceived value of real human encounters and physical artefacts: activity in each realm feeds interest in the other.

So it was with this paradox in mind that the Canadian Museums Association and Library and Archives Canada hosted the Summit on the Value of Libraries, Archives and Museums on December 5 and 6, 2016, an event organized under the aegis of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO. The Summit brought together nearly 300 people in Ottawa, including GLAM specialists and representatives of government and civil society.

The objective of the Summit was to present the current state of research on the social and economic value of memory institutions, and to highlight examples of innovation – much of which has been made possible by new technologies, of which GLAMs have been and continue to be early adopters. In this regard, the Ottawa Summit was an indisputable success. Some 30 speakers, a quarter of whom were international, gathered to highlight key points about memory institutions in the early twenty-first century:

  • Technology is a source of both challenges and opportunities for development. First, in terms of challenges, there is the need to find the financial resources necessary to acquire these technologies, and the corresponding need to secure the human resources capable of imagining how to get the most out of them. And in terms of opportunities, there is of course the formidable democratization of knowledge and culture that is the result of GLAMs reaching citizens in their homes thanks to digital technology. There is also an increased use of GLAM spaces, which follows these virtual visits. Thanks to the paradox described above, increased consultation of resources on the Web is increasing the appetite of the public to visit reading rooms and exhibition spaces;
  • Memory institutions are playing new roles – welcoming newcomers, providing much needed access to high speed internet for the less fortunate, making available advanced technology for artists and creators, providing an introduction to financial literacy, delivering mental health initiatives and multiple gateways to the cultural world;
  • And finally, the position of memory institutions in the creative ecosystem cannot be reduced to the functions of collecting and preserving works. GLAMs are also present at the beginning of the creative chain, providing inspiration and material to artists of all disciplines – not just authors and poets, but also digital artists, musicians, painters, directors , etc.

But beyond sharing knowledge, the Ottawa Summit also revealed a unity among memory institutions, which had previously tended to focus on what makes them unique rather than look for common denominators. In practice, taxonomic distinctions have been fading for a number of years: all major museums host archives, and even libraries – from the Glenbow Museum in Calgary with its rich archival collection, to the Centre Pompidou whose Bibliothèque publique d'information is the busiest library in France.

And so it was with this conviction, the participants of the December 5-6, 2016 Summit adopted the Ottawa Declaration, as an expression of their commitment to increase collaboration between them, develop opportunities to engage citizens in their activities, and expand access to their collections in order to contribute to the public good. A new day has risen for Canadian memory institutions!


Library and Archives Canada and the Canadian Museums Association would like to thank its various collaborators, without whom the Summit would not have been possible: the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, Carr McLean, OpenText, and Systemscope.

Synopsis of the Summit

Taking it to The Streets, a Summit on the Value of Libraries, Archives and Museums in a Changing World brought together practitioners and experts to explore the social and economic value of galleries, libraries, archives and museums (GLAMs), to share research, and to discuss ideas for future collaboration, innovation and partnership. Participants hailed from a wide variety of backgrounds and included a Member of Parliament, Deputy Ministers, CEOs, Presidents, Executive Directors, librarians, curators, archivists, economists, artists, actors and many others – which added to the rich discussion and meaningful conversations on this vital subject.

The Summit, which took place over a day and a half on December 5 and 6, 2016, welcomed close to 300 participants. The event was also livestreamed and viewed by 330 participants.

Speakers, panellists and moderators came from six different federal organizations, eleven different public, private or independent organizations and four international organizations (from Great Britain, New Zealand, Switzerland and the United States).

The Summit was organized around three main panel sessions during which presenters discussed various elements with respect to the value of GLAMs, non-traditional partnerships, innovation, challenges and ways forward. The full list of speakers, panellists and moderators can be found in Annex A.

From left to right: Francesco Manganiello; Andrew Tessler, John McAvity; Marie Chapman; Paul Gilbert; Vickery Bowles; Guy Berthiaume; Patrice Landry; Victoria Dickenson; Robert McIntosh; Maureen Sawa; Liz White; Donna Bourne-Tyson; John Roberts; Paul Takala; Dara Price

Cross-Cutting Themes

Over the course of the Summit, a number of cross-cutting themes emerged. Representatives from GLAMs shared in their quest to find novel and innovative ways to meet new demands, face current challenges, identify future opportunities, and ultimately, make their collections known to Canadians.

Partnerships and Collaboration

"The objective is not to do more with less, it is to do more with more… more partnerships, more collaborations." – Maureen Sawa (Greater Victoria Public Library)

Throughout the Summit, it became apparent that to foster innovation and to meet the demands of today's clients, memory institutions can no longer go it alone. Partnership and collaboration, between memory institutions as well as with non-traditional partners, are keys to success. The example of the partnership between the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 and Halifax Stanfield Airport was inspiring. Two institutions, with different vocations, found common ground in welcoming Canada's newcomers. Partnerships not only provide a means to attain our goals more efficiently, but can also lead to unintended and promising synergies.

Indeed, several speakers emphasized how collaboration can generate serendipitous opportunities. The testimony of director Derek Kwan illustrated this: an initial collaboration through the Vancouver Public Library Innovation Lab allowed him to realize his documentary, which then led to future partnerships with film festivals and ultimately, with the CBC.

In a world that is constantly evolving, it was emphasized that memory institutions, like all public-facing institutions, should not wait for perfect circumstances. Rather, they should seize opportunities when they present themselves, before change is forced upon them.

Technology and the Digital World

"Digital literacy does not mean having a coffee with your IT department head. It does not refer to digitizing the collection, or even creating a new app. It is a fundamental shift in thinking about how to connect our content with the world." – Donna Livingstone (Glenbow Museum)

The interface between the digital world and galleries, libraries, archives, and museums was perhaps the most prevalent theme at the Summit, a theme that elicited some polarized views among participants. There was consensus however, around the idea that GLAMs are actively responding to digital demand and constantly seeking ways of being relevant and present in the digital world, and exploring how to further democratize knowledge.

Libraries in particular have demonstrated that they are at the leading edge of technology and a potential gateway for public engagement with other memory institutions. The Toronto Public Library, the most visited library in North America, is certainly an example of digital best practices. Some of these, presented by Vickery Bowles (Toronto Public Library), included the library's multiple hackathons, meet-ups, and workshops and seminars for small businesses to help them understand and manage disruptive technologies and new business models, or the implementation of their very own Digital Innovation Hubs. Pam Wright (United States National Archives and Records Administration) and Mark O'Neill (Canadian Museum of History) presented participants with some of the innovative digital practices in the realms of archives and museums, respectively.

With the ever-growing presence of GLAMs within the digital world, an interesting paradox has emerged: the increased popularity of a given memory institution online equates to a concomitant increase in its popularity onsite. Although it may seem somewhat counter-intuitive, it is becoming clear that as clients discover various collections online, they then want the physical experience of seeing or touching the genuine, original artefact. Mark O'Neill (Canadian Museum of History) underscored the power of the emotion inspired by the original artefact – emotion that the digital cannot quite transmit – through his display of the original tunic worn by Sir Isaac Brock at the Battle of Queenstown Heights.

This paradox leads to added challenges for memory institutions because investing in technology does not equate to less investment in onsite operations. In other words, as GLAMs provide greater digital access and commit to a stronger digital presence, they must also continue to devote significant resources to meeting client expectations at in-person locations as well. Finally, with the increase in digital needs, new expertise and competencies are required within GLAMs to take full advantage of the potential of technology.

Financial Challenges and Valuing GLAMs

"You must learn to speak the language of policy-makers." – Andrew Tessler (Oxford Economics)

The challenge at the heart of the Summit – how to quantify and express the value of GLAMs in a global context – is a complex task. Competing for public funding with schools, hospitals, or key infrastructure projects requires memory institutions to show their worth on all fronts, to go beyond social return on investments and to grapple with the concept of economic value.

Recent economic impact studies commissioned by the British Library, the Toronto Public Library and the Ottawa Public Library have all determined that for every one dollar invested in libraries, there is a return on investment of approximately five dollars. While these results are encouraging, Summit participants were urged to continue exploring ways to advance and improve the methodologies used for these types of studies. Further, not only should GLAMs continue to analyze the economic impact of their discrete institutions and respective sub-sectors, but the broad community should consider actively working together to collect data and to carry out horizontal value studies.

From left to right: Robert McIntosh, Vickery Bowles, Paul Gilbert and John Roberts (Session 3 Panel)


Moreover, economic-impact analysis is but one piece of the value rationale. Libraries, for example, are a gateway to literacy and a critical resource for immigrants and marginal socioeconomic populations; archives are a source of the authoritative and authentic records that underpin our democracy; and museums are a public place not only for ideas to be expressed and discussed, but also for people to come into physical contact with the building blocks of their identity. As a community, GLAMs must find ways to demonstrate to governments and policy-makers the tangible, long-term social benefits of their sector.

GLAMs and a Creative Canadian Society

"In this wired, technology-saturated, 24/7 world, the library is becoming (actually has always been) a central catalyst in building smart cities." – Vickery Bowles (Toronto Public Library)

GLAMs play a fundamental role in the world of culture as they do not simply acquire the cultural outputs generated by Canadians, but are also a catalyst for creation. They are a source of inspiration, a place where connections can be made, where collaboration can take place, where history can be understood, and the future imagined.

Sarah Hatton's work Detachment, Eric Sze-Lang Chan's Chinese Folding Book and R.H. Thomson & Mike Wallace's World War I Memorial were some of the examples cited of memory institutions being a source of material for the creation of art.

GLAMs play a role at both ends of the creative spectrum, providing inspiration at one end and collecting and preserving work at the other. Memory institutions must therefore diversify their activities, their partnerships and their funding not only to ensure that the proper records and artefacts are acquired and preserved for future generations, but that they are also available and accessible to all, be it digital or analog.

Public Policy

"Our history has only got[ten] more interesting since [Expo 67], as Canada has become more complicated. But this means that the institutions that assess, collect, conserve and catalogue the records – be they literary, visual, government -- of each passing year are more important than ever." – Charlotte Gray (biographer and historian)

Challenges raised throughout the Summit included the various public policy issues which impact memory institutions, and the associated considerations for various levels of government. Copyright, intellectual property and related public policy issues have a significant impact on GLAMs. For artists, the difficulty of protecting their work in the digital world and consequently, of being appropriately remunerated is a constant struggle. At the other end of the spectrum, e-publication licensing rules is a deterrent for libraries in acquiring and lending these types of documents.

From left to right: Mark O'Neill; Sébastien Goupil; John McAvity; Randy Boissonnault; Donna Livingstone; Guy Berthiaume; Eric Sze-Lang Chan; Chris Kitzan

As more information becomes part of the digital world and is shared through partnerships and collaboration across GLAMs, memory institutions must be cautious with innovative practices that may raise privacy concerns.

A broader consideration is the cost of connecting to the Internet and its availability across Canada, especially in remote and rural regions. In a world where information, knowledge and services are offered online, inability to access the Internet is now an accrued disadvantage for low-income and rural Canadians.

Looking Forward

Taking it to the Streets was a launching pad for future collaboration that promises to strengthen the GLAM sector. To mark this new beginning, the Librarian and Archivist of Canada proposed the Ottawa Declaration, which was adopted unanimously by Summit participants:

The Ottawa Declaration (December 2016)

Gathered in Ottawa for the Taking it to the Streets Summit, members of the library, archival and museum communities commit to find new ways of working together to increase the visibility and impact of memory institutions.

By adopting this Declaration, we commit to continually adapt and reinvent our institutions, and to promote the full value of libraries, archives and museums to Canadians.

Together, we will:

  • Increase collaboration between our institutions and our networks at the local and national levels to catalyze new partnerships that spark creativity and enhance engagement;
  • Develop innovative programs and services, and adopt technologies that empower us to engage our publics; and
  • Enrich and expand access to our collections to ensure that our institutions contribute significantly to the public good and sustainable development.

It is now in the hands of all GLAMs across Canada to act upon this declaration and continue to support Canadians in understanding their past and shaping their future.

Annex A: List of Speakers, Panellists and Moderators

December 5, 2016

Opening Remarks

  • Guy Berthiaume, Librarian and Archivist of Canada, Library and Archives Canada (LAC)
  • John McAvity, Executive Director, Canadian Museums Association (CMA)

Keynote Address: Making History in 2017

  • Charlotte Gray, biographer and historian

Interactive session: Setting the context

  • Moderator: Graham Flack, Deputy Minister, Canadian Heritage
  • Mark O'Neill, President and CEO, Canadian Museum of History
  • Patrice Landry, État-major – Soutien à la direction, Département fédérale de l'intérieur, Office fédéral de la culture, Bibliothèque nationale suisse

Session 1 - Creating value through innovation and non-traditional partnerships: how LAMs are working with partners on projects and initiatives of mutual benefit

  • Moderator: Sébastien Goupil, Secretary General, Canadian Commission for UNESCO
  • Marie Chapman, CEO, Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21
  • Victoria Dickenson, independent consultant
  • Maureen Sawa, Chief Executive Officer, Greater Victoria Public Library
  • Liz White, Head of Strategy Development, The British Library

Closing remarks

  • Karen Bachmann, Vice President CMA, Director, Timmins Museum: NEC

December 6, 2016

Opening Remarks

  • Guy Berthiaume, Librarian and Archivist of Canada, LAC

Keynote Address: Transforming to Shape Our Future

  • Simon Brault, Director and CEO, Canada Council for the Arts

Keynote Address: A Wealth of Knowledge: Valuing Libraries, Archives and Museums in a Changing World

  • Andrew Tessler, Associate Director, Oxford Economics

Session 2 - Creativity, innovation and LAM collections: how LAMs are inspiring creativity among users

  • Moderator: Chris Kitzan, Director General, Canada Aviation and Space Museum
  • Derek Kwan, actor
  • Eric Sze-Lang Chan, digital graphic designer
  • Michael Wallace, Executive Director, Theatre Museum Canada
  • Pam Wright, Chief Innovation Officer, National Archives and Records Administration

Keynote Address: Taking it to the Streets. The Value of Libraries, Archives and Museums in a Changing World

  • Donna Livingstone, President and CEO, Glenbow Museum

Session 3 – Assessing the value of LAMs in Canada: progress to date and next steps

  • Moderator: Robert McIntosh, Director General, LAC
  • Vickery Bowles, City Librarian, Toronto Public Library
  • Paul Gilbert, Past Executive Director, The Bateman Foundation
  • John Roberts, Chief Privacy Officer and Archivist of Ontario, Archives of Ontario

Closing remarks

  • Guy Berthiaume, Librarian and Archivist of Canada, LAC

Annex B: Summit InfographicFootnote 2

Figure 1
Figure 1 - Text version

24 Speakers, Moderators & Panellists:

  • 6 Federal Institutions
  • 11 public, private or independent organizations
  • 220 in attendance
  • 330 Livestream participants
  • 4 international representatives

In Canada

  • 3,598 libraries
  • 430 archives
  • 67 combined library and archives
  • 2,600 museums
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