A Way Forward

It’s been a difficult few weeks for libraries and archives in Canada. Cuts from Library and Archives Canada. Defensive keynote addresses at Canadian Library Association and Association of Canadian Archivists meetings. Blogs and tweets expressing outrage and frustration.

Unless we change the conversation, things are headed from bad to worse.

How are we going to do that?

Warning: Pollyanna alert

We need to talk to each other, openly, honestly, and with the best intentions. There is a chasm separating LAC & the library and archival community. We need to find common ground. Not an easy prescription but an essential one.

We are all under financial pressure. We are all wrestling with the impact of extraordinary technological change on our mandates and our capacities. We are all in this together.

The Association of Canadian Archivists and the Canadian Association of Research Libraries have been prompting something like the Pan-Canadian Documentary Heritage Network for a number of years. Why has something we all seem to endorse floundered so badly?

It is clear that the political policies under which LAC operates have changed; the library and archives community are going to have to accept this. Moving forward will require true engagement and real collaboration; LAC needs to accept and embrace this.

And all this (all the discussions, the debates, and the challenges) need to be conducted in a public, transparent manner. Backrooms and private deals are so 10 mins. ago. We need to stop playing at politics and start acting like leaders. In his CLA keynote Dr. Caron lauded the participatory power of ubiquitous networks and social media. Use that power. Create an engaged community. Build capacity. Innovate.

I suggest, as a starting point, a meeting to clear the air and to establish rules and principles for moving forward. Not solutions; but the foundation for solutions.

Such a meeting should include representatives of:

Association of Canadian Archivists
Canadian Council of Archives
Canadian Association of Research Libraries
Canadian Library Association
Canadian Urban Libraries Council
Library and Archives Canada

Not too many people but the right people: those who can speak authoritatively about the current situation; those motivated to find new directions; those who can bring resources (people, $$$, infrastructure, services) to the table; those who can make commitments (however tentative) on behalf of their organizations.

Engage an independent facilitator with a good background in libraries and/or archives. Trust this person to create a process which will lead to a positive outcome.

I would hope that each of these organizations would publicly commit to supporting such a meeting. Those would be important next steps.


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