Just so we don’t leave the wrong impression here – during my recent visit to Library and Archives Canada the service that I received was, contrary to the building’s structure and use, outstanding.
Upon arriving I was immediately assigned someone to talk to about what I was after – together we identified various documents, and ordered them up – I’d see them in 48 hours. It was then recommended I talk to an official archivist, with whom we were able to book an appointment; I met her that same afternoon.
The service, then, is excellent.
The problem is the structure: both organizational – with its misplaced emphasis on digitization – and physical. About half of what I was interested in was located on the fifth floor of the building, where renovations scheduled to last for an undetermined duration are currently underway. Other material seemed to be in limbo – somewhere in the process of being catalogued…or something – despite the items being 50-some years old, and having been at the institution for much more than a decade.
Library and Archives Canada has just taken a 10 per cent cut to its budget thanks to Culture Minister James Moore and his boss Stephen Harper. Given that, save for the CBC, it’s one of the worst hit agencies in government, one can only surmise that the preservation of book knowledge – and use of and learning from original source documents – isn’t high on the Harper agenda. Sure, Moore may have saved the venerable, and essential, Canada Council and other national museums from major cuts, but he’s no friend of the bibliophile, or book scholar.
Perhaps this is an example of Harper’s small mindedness – he’s been the butt of Yann Martel’s condescending letter-campaign (one which drew him as a cagey, ill-read, unbred philistine), and target of a to-date less than successful Canadian Association of University Teachers effort to ‘Save Libarary and Archives Canada.’ Perhaps this is payback; a provocation that if responded to with any volume, can very simply be brushed aside with the simplistic line that ‘in these tough times,’ jobs and lives take precedence over old books and dusty documents.
This easy argument will play well with many Canadians. The sad thing is that for those of us who value the past and believe that it should be publicly celebrated and shared – it’s not true.
One of the roles of a minister is to champion the causes of his or her constituents. With Moore we have less champion, than