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Section title: What's New

News Articles

What's New

The Hill Times, July 26th, 2004

By Kady O'Malley
National Library and National Archives were recently merged

Newly-named the Library and Archives of Canada, the institution is trying to modernize and more

Although it may be too subtle to be noted by anyone but for the most fastidious of researchers, a wave of organizational revolution is sweeping through the papers, maps, photographs and other material that document the history of Canada and its people. Against the backdrop of a sleepy post-electoral Ottawa summer, collections are being unearthed from storage, dusted off and made available to anyone with a computer and an internet connection.

A web page dedicated to the battle of Vimy Ridge links daily war diaries from each Canadian unit to service records, maps and photographs. Just a click of a mouse away, another site celebrates Expo 67 with a page designed as it might have appeared had the World Wide Web existed at the time, complete with a scanned image of Maurice Richard's Expo passport. Yet another page offers the complete text of the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, with extensive links to the original source material.

None of this would have been possible 10 years ago, and the dazzling potential of what new technology could do that was one of the motivating factors behind a piece of legislation passed, without much fanfare, earlier this year that merged the National Library of Canada and the National Archives into one organization, with the ambitious goal of bringing the heritage of Canada, and Canadians, together in a way that had never been done before.

Heading up the new institution, known as the Library and Archives of Canada, is Ian Wilson, formerly the Chief Archivist of Canada, the first to hold the position of Librarian and Archivist of Canada. He says that the catalyst to merge the two organizations grew out of discussions that he had with former National Librarian Roch Carrier, after a Speech from the Throne from former prime minister Jean Chrétien that championed an agenda of learning and knowledge.

"We had two great institutions, well-known internationally, with some extraordinary collections, but also the realization that many of these collections were not well-known to Canadians. We had been great at working with researchers, and the academic community, but we haven't taken these collections out to all Canadians," Mr. Wilson says in an interview with The Hill Times.

Discussions began between Mr. Wilson and Roch Carrier, then the National Librarian.

"We started talking," recalls Mr. Wilson. "We got to know the two institutions, and we came to the conclusion that it was time for the Library and Archives to come together as a resource for Canada and Canadians."

When representatives of the institutions went out to history fairs, he says, they saw how students were accessing the holdings.

"They didn't care if it came from the Library or the Archives. We looked at the visions of both institutions, and they were the same."

On an organizational level, he notes, questions were also beginning to come up as to which institution would take charge of new materials, particularly electronic collections.

"We would look at maps -- were they appropriate for the Library, or the Archives? What about electronic material, like websites -- Library or Archives? We realized that we could argue for a while over which was which, or we could bring the two institutions together, and say that we have a mandate to archive materials that have been collecting for years. Really, the whole initiative came out of the discussions that Roch Carrier and I had been holding, and the recognition of the mutual interests."

It didn't take long for the idea to begin to take legislative shape.

"We found great receptivity at the political levels for this as a key initiative, and have driven it along since, to the point that the legislation was proclaimed in May," Mr. Wilson says.

Now that the vision of one institution has become a reality, the transformation is underway -- and heading up the practical side of bringing together not only the collections, but also the workers that have been looking after the material on behalf of their respective institution.

Appointed as Assistant Deputy Minister for Transformation in November 2002, Andrée Delagrave says that when she first arrived, she was surprised at how little contact there was between employees of the two institutions.

"There was some interaction in areas of preservation, but generally speaking, they were working as two separate organizations," says Ms. Delagrave.

Realizing the wealth of expertise that she had in the highly-specialized workforces, she resolved to involve the staff of both institutions from the beginning.

"I wanted to lead a great number of working groups, and to define with the staff what kind of institution this would be, and how it could be more relevant to Canadians. They worked intensely for 18 months, defining the direction as well as how we could best define ourselves," Ms. Delagrave says.

Because of the degree to which the staffs of both organizations were involved in the planning process, she says, when the structure was announced, "it wasn't a shock to anyone. It was what they, collectively, thought would make sense, and would make happen the potential of the new institution."

That approach, she notes, is both entirely new, and "totally integrated" with the mandate of the new, unified institution.

"It is very closely-aligned with the three pillars of our legislative mandate, which are to ensure effective stewardship of the documentary heritage, and the document collection; ensure that this heritage is known and used by Canadians, and those with an interest, and to facilitate information management in government departments and institutions," says Ms. Delagrave.

If the task sounds daunting, it is with good reason.

"We're in the process of creating those new teams, which are made up of 1,200 jobs, so there is a lot of administrative work that goes with it, but it has been going well, since we involved the staff from day one."

Within the new organizational structure, she says, are people who were originally from the Library side and those from the Archival side, who are working in integrated teams.

"Because of the way that we have structured organization is in line with our new legislative mandate, there is perfect alignment and transparency for how we use resources," says Ms. Delagrave.

Setting up the new structure has also provided an opportunity to look for new ways to accomplish the goals of the institution.

"We want to look, and see if we could not do things in a more effective way."

Ms. Delagrave credits the staff of the new institution for developing the direction that she hopes will be taken for the new organization.

"Thee were two great institutions, and the people who worked there are just passionate about what they do. When they were put together, and asked the questions, they came up with extraordinarily good answers on how to become a truly national institution. They came up with great, great ideas, and there is a deep resonance for the mission of the new institution ... being a permanent source of knowledge accessible to all, and contributing to the economic and social development of Canada. That has resonance for all the employees."

Also to be considered, she notes, are the logistics of bringing together the collections and the workforce into the institutions new, shared physical facilities.

"We're moving a large part of our activities to a new facility in the Gatineau, and that is a major undertaking. The public services and programs will stay at 395 Wellington, but a lot of our facilities, whether corporate or collection-based, will be at a new facility, right next to the preservation centre."

Given the scale of the project, and the ambitious mandate set out for the new institution, it is no surprise that the merger is generating a lot of interest in the international community.

"I just answered a letter from Norway wondering what we're doing and why," notes Mr. Wilson. "We've also had a number of delegations visit, to see what we're doing, and see our preservation centre in Gatineau, which is a state of the art facility."

There is a lot of interest, he says, particularly in newer and developing countries that don't have established institutions such as those that can be found in older countries like the United Kingdom and the United States.

"What we're doing is bringing together information professionals from various disciplines as a critical mass, to preserve the country's documentary heritage, as well as work within government to help develop its informational capacity. We really offer a new service, in terms of accessing the memory of the country, and the authoritative information about the country, and really encourage the use of this as an active resource."

For years, he says, the two institutions struggled with the difficulties of getting the collection out to Canadians.

"There was inter-library loan, microfilming the papers of past Prime Ministers and sending them out. With the new technology -- the Library and Archives and the World Wide Web are made for each other. We have the documentary source material, the motion pictures, the sound recordings, all of which can be put online," Mr. Wilson says.

His challenge today, he says, is to go out and explain how much is available to Canadians in the now merged collections of the new institution.

"We see people get new insights out of old material that we thought had been thoroughly mined. Canada is a dialogue between the past, present and future, and what we've done is establish a new national cultural institution, built on two great traditions, but hopefully going into areas that neither institution could reach in the past."

The Hill Times

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)