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Review of A Canadian Information Resource Sharing Strategy
Final Report

May 25, 2001
Carrol Lunau
National and International Programs
National Library of Canada

Is a Canadian information resource sharing strategy a necessity for national planning or an anachronism in the 21st century?


The National Library of Canada (NLC) has worked in partnership with the Canadian library community for many years to develop and implement a technical, service and policy infrastructure for resource sharing on a national level. These efforts have resulted in one of the best library systems in the world - one that meets the information needs of individual Canadians through co-operative and collaborative activities based on resource-sharing principles.

It was decided in 1998 that A Canadian Information Resource Sharing Strategy, developed by a national working group in 1993/94, needed to be revisited and updated to take into account the rapid changes in technology that had occurred in the intervening six years. The review was undertaken with the following objectives:

  • To identify the changes in the technological, organizational, service and economic environment that had occurred since 1994 and to realign the Strategy to reflect these changes.

  • To reaffirm (or adjust, as appropriate) the role of the National Library in supporting the national strategy and framework for resource sharing in Canada

  • To establish an agreed upon definition of a virtual Canadian union catalogue and develop a plan for its development/implementation


In 1998, the National Librarian (Marianne Scott) approached all major library organizations and asked them to appoint a representative to work with the National Library on this review. The National and International Programs Branch of the NLC chaired the review group and representatives were selected from Acquisitions and Bibliographic Services and Research and Information Services to represent the National Library's various resource-sharing services. Between March 1999 and February 2000, the review group met four times, either via teleconference or face-to-face.

A Web site and a Listserv were created to facilitate communication with the Working Group and with the wider community. Additionally, numerous presentations were made at library conferences, and the members of the review group gathered input from their colleagues.

In order to assess the changes that had occurred, the Canadian library community was surveyed. Questions were asked about resource-sharing activities and trends that were influencing libraries' ability to serve their clients. A literature search was used to identify other trends and to supplement the survey results (see National Library News, vol. 31, no. 11, November 1999). Compilation of the survey results was contracted to R.M. Ferris Research Consultants Limited. Reports summarizing the trends and the environment were posted on the Working Group's web site and presentations were given at a number of library conferences during 1999, including both CLA and ASTED. These presentations were aimed at acquiring input and feedback from the wider library community.

A brainstorming session of Working Group members was held in Ottawa for two days in February 2000 to identify strengths and weaknesses, threats and opportunities, and priorities of Canadian resource sharing. These priorities formed the basis of the draft document Canada's Strategic Library Plan for Information Resource Sharing 2000-2003. The Plan was posted on the web in May and Working Group members used it as the basis for consultations with their various constituencies throughout the Spring-Summer-Fall meetings of the groups.

Results of the Review

The survey produced data that provided a picture of Canadian libraries at the close of the 20th century. This data supported analysis by type of library as well as by region. These analyses are now available to all at www.collectionscanada.ca/8/3/r3-646-e.html.

The members of the Working Group acquired a better understanding of the issues and priorities of their colleagues who work in various library environments or who work in another region. The issues facing a medical library in Halifax are quite different from the issues facing a research library in Ottawa.

The library community frequently meets to discuss issues within a region or group of libraries but there are not many forums for discussing issues that cross geographic boundaries or involve different types of libraries. Some Working Group members felt that the establishment of this forum for cross-sector discussion was an important outcome of the review process.

A three-year strategic plan was written, and the NLC has implemented some components of the plan. Concrete actions have been taken on the following:

Goal 1: Provide seamless access to information for all Canadians

  • NLC is providing hands-on assistance, via workshops, analysis of Z39.50 issues, participation on working groups, etc., to consortia that are implementing virtual catalogues.

  • NLC has continued to develop the Bath Profile and to participate in the development of the U.S. national profile to encourage seamless searching between Canadian and American library catalogues.

  • The Canadian Library Gateway and the vCuc have become operational services of the Interlibrary Loan Division and continue to be developed as resources permit.

  • The National Library has succeeded in offering free access to the AMICUS database.

Goal 2: Create an attractive comprehensive listing of all materials held by Canadian libraries

Progress on this goal has been slow as NLC corporate priorities have changed, resulting in the redeployment of critical operational and systems resources into activities such as the new government-wide classification system and task force activities. Preliminary progress has been made nonetheless:

  • A study of best practices is being conducted.

  • Preparatory work is being done in anticipation of systems resources perhaps becoming available in 2001/2002.

  • Resource-sharing activities identified in the strategic plan will be incorporated into the National Library's Government Online initiatives, as appropriate.

Goal 3: Develop resource-sharing policies and leadership to support universal access to information for all Canadians.

A proposal for a Canadian Library Card and a Statement of the Rights of Individuals to Library Service & Responsibilities of Publicly-Funded Canadian Libraries were written. Working Group members consulted with their constituencies on the documents. While some groups were interested in the concepts reflected in these documents, the consensus was that they should not be pursued at this time. Several provinces and groups are initiating "one library card" projects and discussion of a national program should await results from these regional initiatives.


The process of reviewing the Strategy was successful although the result is not necessarily what was anticipated at the outset. While the review was underway, the environment within the National Library changed quite radically with the arrival of a new National Librarian and the establishment of task forces for Government Online and Canada's Digital Library. These new priorities had an inevitable impact on the systems resources available for resource-sharing activities in 1999/2000 within NLC.

The Government Online initiative within the federal government calls for a reassessment of how service is provided to Citizens within a citizen-centric service environment. The National Library's major resource-sharing services, such as ILL and union catalogue, will need to be reassessed in light of this initiative.

The library community continues to look to the NLC for leadership in resource-sharing and cooperative service development; however, the needs of different sectors and types of library are so diverse that it is not possible to create a generalized resource-sharing strategy that will satisfy all participants. Also, as noted earlier, the concept of resource sharing is fundamental to providing the majority of library services, making a specified resource-sharing strategic plan an anachronism in today's dynamic, interactive environment. The community is looking for concrete, practical actions and cooperative initiatives that address the needs of Canadians for access to information. Only with free and unfettered access to information and knowledge will Canadians be able to continue to play an active role in the global knowledge economy. The National Library of Canada is committed to putting knowledge within reach and to playing a vital role in developing specific initiatives as the need arises.