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Section title: What's New

News Release

What's New

The Hill Times, July 26th, 2004
FEATURE

By Ian E. Wilson

Throwing open our doors to all

OTTAWA, July 26, 2004 - Strolling down Wellington Street recently, you may have noticed some changes at 395 Wellington, the former home of both the National Library of Canada and the National Archives of Canada. The new banners outside reflect Canada's newest (and oldest) cultural institution, Library and Archives Canada (LAC), which officially came into existence on May 21, 2004. Set out in the preamble of our new Act is the overarching vision to preserve our documentary heritage in order to provide present and future Canadians with a source of enduring knowledge, accessible to all and contributing to the cultural, social and economic advancement of our democratic society.

Building on the strengths of the National Library of Canada and the National Archives of Canada (both venerable institutions with incredibly rich collections carefully developed over the past 132 years), Library and Archives Canada is a new type of knowledge institution designed to collect, preserve and provide Canadians with access to the documentary heritage of our nation. The expertise of our staff, combined with the diversity of our collections, offer Canadians remarkable insight to our country's heritage, knowledge and culture. Our goal is to increase the awareness of these collections, which include more than 19 million books, periodicals, newspapers and literary manuscripts; more than 21 million photographs and 350,000 works of art; film, sound and video recordings, over 156 km of unique textual records and much more; and to enhance their accessibility to all Canadians, no matter where they live.

Today, technology makes possible things that were not possible even a decade ago. The traditional distinction between published and unpublished information is no longer relevant in today's world. Canadians seek information in any and all forms, be it recorded on plastic, paper, and celluloid or existing only in the digital world. This thirst for discovery fuels innovation and progress while providing an interesting challenge to LAC to provide valuable and often unique information to all who seek it.

In order to meet this goal, LAC is counting on the synergy of skills of librarians, archivists and other professionals working together to acquire, preserve and make known the documentary heritage of Canada. A good example of this synergy is our New France project. This year marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival of French settlers on the shores of Canada. In conjunction with the Direction des Archives de France, LAC digitized all of the administrative documents pertaining to New France; 600,000 images were digitized over a two-year period, resulting in a Web site providing access to researchers of all levels and skills to the details of the administration of New France.

Previously, I was frequently frustrated by the difficulty of not being able to share with Canadians the magic and the power of our collections due to their fragile, unique and often irreplaceable nature. However, new technology is freeing us from that barrier. We can now put an increasing amount of content online, with the result that a growing number of Canadians are discovering for the first time that LAC allows them to trace not just the great stories of our country, but also to discover their own family histories in the evolution of this nation. Through records of the census, dating to 1666, in passenger lists of countless ships that arrived at Canada's ports, in city directories and newspapers, in military records and in published histories, individuals have place and identity in our nation's story. And not only stories of the past, Canadians are also discovering that LAC is the authoritative source of bibliographic information about books, periodicals and other published materials created in Canada.

Our hope is to make a significant investment in the systems and programs that facilitate access to our rich collections, in order to increase the quantity of this information and its availability. All Canadians, no matter where they are located geographically, can visit our nation's treasures at www.collectionscanada.ca

And of course our traditional services, sending over 75,000 (check number) items for use in local libraries each year and providing these libraries with the cataloguing data for all Canadian publications are part of the infrastructure of a learning society.

We are finding, however, that while the Web is good for research and provides a facsimile, this is only increasing demand for exhibitions of the original materials. We need to be able to bring the constitutional documents out of the vaults; we need to begin showing the portraits of a million Canadians, great and unknown in our stacks; we need to show the mastery of Yousuf Karsh and the creativity of Glenn Gould and Marie-Claire Blais, while the maps and photographs of Canada simply must be seen and our musical heritage heard. We need to encourage Canadians to explore the first hand stories and images of our past for themselves. The original words, the images and voices of generations of Canadian speak directly to us. They carry power and authority. These have been largely the exclusive preserve of specialists for too long. We want to open the vaults both online and by putting the originals on exhibit, here and across Canada.

However, LAC faces a fundamental challenge in its role as custodian of this fragile, irreplaceable collection. Earlier this year, the Auditor General noted in her report that Canada's documentary heritage is at risk. This risk must be addressed soon if we are to be able in the future to make accessible the information and records essential to defending personal and legal rights, as well as providing the authoritative sources essential for playwrights, broadcasters, and professional and amateur historians. As well, in the 21st century, another equally serious challenge faces us: how do we preserve and make accessible for generations to come the ever-increasing volume of broadcast and electronic records?

We believe that these challenges are best met as a single institution, hence the creation of Library and Archives Canada. Canada is the first country to fully integrate all of the services and programs of its national library and national archives. Our goal is to build a new type of knowledge institution that will provide Canadians with the documentary resources necessary to foster learning, innovation and growth. Around the world, libraries and archives are watching with great interest the advances being made by Canada. Earlier this year, Dr. Robert Martin, Director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services in America, congratulated the vision and foresight of Canada by saying, "I believe that you are blazing a path that all of us in the cultural heritage field around the world will ultimately follow."

I have the great privilege of being the first Librarian and Archivist of Canada, and I invite all Canadians from coast to coast to coast to visit and explore, in person or virtually, the richness of our documentary heritage.

Ian E. Wilson
Librarian and Archivist of Canada


For historical information visit:

List item Library and Archives Canada - What's New Archives (2005)
List item Library and Archives Canada - What's New Archives (2004)
List item National Archives of Canada - News & Events Archive (1999-2003)
List item National Library of Canada - What's New Archives (1999-2003)