Monday, 11 June 2012

The Canadian archive crisis

Quite a few people here were a tad annoyed when the National Archives at Kew announced revised opening hours a good few months back, and closed the premises on Mondays. A few were miffed when the National Archives of Scotland merged with the General Register Office for Scotland, and closed West Register House in Edinburgh to the public. In the Republic of Ireland, plans to merge the National Library of Ireland with the National Archives of Ireland are causing equally massive ripples also.

But folks if you think we have problems, take a look at what is happening over the water in Canada.

Library and Archives Canada ( is the main archival agency for Canada, known to many on this side of the pond as the partner body with the National Archives of Ireland a couple of years past in making accessible online the digitised 1901 and 1911 Irish censuses. Due to government cuts the institution and others across the country are now undergoing a massive crisis - 21 LAC archivists out of 61 are to lose their jobs, opening hours reduced to 6 hours a day on weekdays only, interlibrary loans eliminated, no new archival purchases for 10 months (at least), 11 out of 13 territorial archive councils in the country expected to collapse through withdrawn funding within 6 months, and more. Much, much, much more. A summary is available at

To say that the country's archivists and librarians are furious would be an understatement - there exists a growing state of outright hostility now between the political overlords forcing through the changes, and those who actually know and give a damn about the nation's archival heritage and record. I've been monitoring the events from this side of the Atlantic for a couple of weeks now, in the main via John Reid's excellent Anglo-Celtic Connections blog. The following are some of John's more recent posts on the subject:

LAC Developments (2 June)

The future of interlibrary loan in Canada (5 June)

Archivists react to changes at LAC (9 June)

For another perspective, read this post today from Christine Woodcock of the Scottish Genealogy Tips Tricks & Tidbits blog, entitled The Death of Library and Archives Canada and the Complacency of Canadian Genealogists - see

Our various national archives in the UK and in the Republic of Ireland have had to endure cuts, mergers and more, in tough times of austerity - but at least we still have them. The danger in Canada appears to be that what will remain after the process being unleashed at present will be barely fit for purpose or able to fulfil its remit in recording the nation's national record.

I'm not a hundred per cent sure what support can be shown from this side of the Atlantic, other than to say that from an outsider's point of view, this genealogist is fairly aghast at what he is reading about, and to wish Canada's archivists the best of luck in trying to reverse what appears to be nothing short of senseless archival armageddon.

UPDATE: A letter from Library and Archives Canada's head, Daniel Carron, is on John's site now at


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1 comment:

  1. What is so diabolical about this is that the LAC and NADP issues are getting buried in the news. The government has introduced an Omnibus Bill that is some 400 pages and makes important changes to some 70 laws. These include gutting environmental protection and oversight, eliminating the position of the Inspector General of our spy agency, hammering seasonal workers especially in natural resource industries, and, scarily, eliminating charitable tax status for groups that disagree with government policy.

    This last one should make genie societies tremble. Most societies are run on a shoestring and, although it is not much in the scheme of things, they depend on that tax status for a leg up. Any loss of funds is devastating. If societies are reluctant to speak up it could be because this bully-boy tactic is threatening them. The chill is palpable.

    It could also be because individual members are involved (as I am) with such issues as the environment, social justice, and keeping body and soul together.

    Meanwhile, I thank you from the bottom of heart for publicizing this issue. Getting it into the international mainstream press would probably help. If Canada's image looks awful because of it, well, this government brought it on themselves.