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Librarian and Archivist of Canada
Ian E. Wilson


CCA Roundtable. Ottawa. 25 Sept. 2004

Looking to the Future

Good morning, pleased to be with you again. I want to thank each of you for your clear commitment to the archival system, eloquently shown by your being here early on a beautiful Saturday morning. The organizers of this Roundtable kindly invited LAC to make a presentation hopefully to inform your discussions. I wanted to be here to share my thoughts on the future of the archives system and to encourage you to be creative and visionary.

At the first meeting of the CCA General Assembly, I was invited to talk about the challenges ahead. I brought a message from Archive, Sask (only community in Canada so named in 1985 a few buildings forelorn and falling into the prairie). The challenge to CCA then as it remains now is how best to assist archives development in such communities. Nearly two decades later I saw the response to this challenge when Sister Perpetua showed me the Presentation Congregation Archives in St. John's. The various programs and initiatives of the CCA and the provincial council have come together there -archives advisor, training, CCI preservation, conservation, plus peer support and volunteers-resulting in a vital and vibrant archives, an asset in St John's and for the country. Interestingly this Congregation has had to go through profound change following the government's decision to have a non-denominational education system. One of their initiatives for their future was to establish an archives.

As the archival community of Canada, we have reason to be proud of the achievements of the past twenty-five years. Following the Symons (1976) and SSHRCC (1980) reports, general community consensus led to a remarkable flowering across the full range of professional and institutional activities…some building on initiatives already in progress: graduate programs in archival studies; ARCHIVARIA & ARCHIVES respected internationally, providing the intellectual basis of the discipline; growth of AAQ & ACA and continued lively meetings & programs; international reputation - ICA Montreal 1992, President ICA, CITRA, francophone portal, Canadian archival consultants in demand internationally; CCA & prov councils, accessing millions for archival development; RAD, which in turn enabled CAIN and Archives Canada; new combined approach to conservation; archives advisors, helping and leading to volunteers, training; new archives in many places; and new buildings & legislation.

There were also great acquisitions: Hudsons Bay Co, Winkworth for example.

We implemented FOI, ATIP, and started addressing the challenge of e-records; there were new approaches to the discipline; macroappraisal, Interpares; and development of the role of archives in human rights, particularly the demanding role on church archives of the residential schools issue.

This has been an extraordinary and productive agenda, putting in place the essential infrastructure of a profession and of coordinated archival service, accessible to Canadians. Many who were responsible for these are here today.

My point is not to glory in past achievements, though they have been many and significant, but to recall that the Canadian archival system is a complex entity, with many players -institutional and individual-who together and collectively have done accomplished more than they dared plan. A shared vision, a willingness to debate and to try new approaches and habits of cooperation enabled this to happen.

I have great hopes that the next 25 years will be just as energetic and productive. The potential to build on these foundations is real and significant. It will not be done, though, by sitting on our laurels. (I've always found sitting on laurels most uncomfortable).

Canadian society is evolving at a fast pace. As innumerable conference speakers have told us technology, the public demand for information, changing demographics with an aging population with leisure time for research and new immigration, issues around human rights, all present both challenges and opportunities for our profession. It is most appropriate that the CCA holding this roundtable to consider its vision and establish its priorities in coming years.

As a community we have to assess continually and critically the results we've achieved, to be aware of new needs of the Canadian public and set new goals for the future. If we fail to evaluate and to change, the archival community will not have the same range of successes in the future and will fail to grow the public support it needs to ensure a healthy archival system. The lesson from the private sector is clear: survival is not of the largest or of the richest but of those who respond to change…The secret is to focus on key goal and values while adapting the means used to achieve the goal.

The creation of a Canadian archival network was a major achievement. It is an infrastructure that many countries would envy. And it is not just technology but a complex network of individuals, and institutions each in their own way contributing. Having the network permits us to continue to develop, to collaborate toward common goals and collectively contribute to the development of Canadian society.

The Canadian Council of Archives (CCA) is a pivotal part of the network whose work LAC continues to support. The community needs a dynamic CCA that provides leadership, fosters sustainability, builds capacity and effectively administers a range of programmes that benefit archives and their users. To play this role, the CCA needs to find ways to meet emerging challenges and, like all of us, to attract new partners and funding.

As Librarian and Archivist of Canada, I see a number of major issues facing my institution: How to manage digital information? How to meet new user expectations? How to be relevant to a vibrant information society? How to address the diversity of Canada? How to understand Canadians' needs better? How to be visibly accessible to Canadians? How to overcome budget limitations? But these challenges are not mine alone: they are ours.

At LAC, Roch Carrier and I concluded that only serious rethinking of our structure and how we do business could successfully address these challenges. We asked staff to re-think priorities, building on professional principles but questioning those things we do merely from habit because it was always done that way. LAC must innovate, change some of its work processes, understand the new needs of Canadians and find new ways to serve them. This is not mere rhetoric but it is real and immediate.

One immediate challenge is for LAC to renew its authorities for its grants and contributions programme supporting the development of archives in Canada. That programme has been important because it has helped the archival community achieve a number of goals. I recognize, however, that of far great importance has been the work that individuals and institutions have contributed to further common projects and archival system development. Their energy, talent and common commitment have given life and meaning to these projects. Federal grants and contributions funding have played a role in assisting archives, but our collective work towards common goals is what has brought us so far. We all understand that the LAC grants and contributions programme cannot address all the ongoing needs of archives across Canada. What it is meant to do is to stimulate cooperation in addressing common issues such as standards, training and to support the achievement of national goals.

I have taken to heart the renewal of LAC grants and contributions programme. I need your active participation in this process. The CCA has already provided LAC with strategic advice regarding funding programmes for the archival community. Now LAC has launched a consultation process with archivists in all thirteen provinces and territories.

Let me say something about the renewal of the LAC grant and contribution programme. As Canadian taxpayers are rightly demanding, accountability is now at the heart of grants and contributions programmes. There are strict rules to define and report on measurable outcomes and these must be built into any proposal. Audits and evaluations to verify programme success and sound management practices will be a permanent feature in the future.

Library and Archives Canada, and its minister, are accountable for the grants and contributions programme. This means that LAC must define national goals, set criteria, identify measurable results and evaluate what is achieved. LAC cannot delegate this responsibility. What can be delegated is part of the delivery of the programme, according to the guidelines established. Is this different from what was in place 20 years ago when the programme was established? Of course it is. But these are the rules now.

I am very well aware of how limited archives resources are and how much there is to do with them. It is therefore very important that the national goals identified for the grant and contribution programme also make a significant contribution to the overall development of local archives while meeting national objectives and the evolving needs of Canadians.

Let me reassure you that I do not envisage a future where the federal government dictates local archival priorities. Neither LAC nor CCA can micro manage but there must be broad national objectives and specific strategies to achieve these objectives. We all need to work continuously to define those priorities for collaboration together.

There is no question that some traditional activities of archives have their place in the grants and contribution programme. But it also needs to support capacity building in the community and enable the archival community to find new ways to serve Canadians, broaden the use that is made of archives, and, I trust, broaden the resource base for these archives. The Canadian public is not as aware as we would like of the usefulness of archives. We need to find ways of demonstrating this to them. More public use of archives may sound overwhelming if your researcher services are already over-burdened. Our challenge is going to be to balance greater use of archives with programmes that support the capacity of archives to undertake this work.

Some key words are "capacity building" and "sustainability". Local archives need resources, training and encouragement; that is clear but what is the best way to do this? Remember the old observation that to give a person a fish feeds him for a day; teaching a person to fish feeds him for a lifetime. How do we use federal funds to leverage other resources, engage other sponsors, build public support for the archival endeavour? How do we reach out to Aboriginal communities and the diverse cultural communities? What initiatives, studies, programs can we devise that might impact many institutions or sponsors? We must think strategically and make the best use of inevitably limited resources.

The Library and Archives Canada grants and contributions programme cannot stay the same as it has been over the past twenty years. The original programme is no longer the type of programme that will win support from federal ministers and it is not the programme that I will recommend.

Work on the renewal of the programme is in progress. We are not yet far enough along to know exactly which activities will be recommended and in what proportion. Library and Archives Canada is working on a policy document to serve as a framework for renewal and more generally resourcing the archival community for the achievement of national objectives. It will draw on the advice received from the CCA and the results of the consultations with the community.

Some of you may be skeptical about the need for change. Let me assure you that any proposal for renewed authority for transfer payments must clearly demonstrate that it rigorously meets the new Treasury Board rules. Moreover, demonstrating need of the community and the excellent achievements of the past will not be enough to win the support of ministers. The new programme must demonstrate that it is turned resolutely towards the future and that it will enable archives to meet the changing needs of Canada.

Library and Archives Canada and the Canadian Council on Archives have different roles and responsibilities. LAC is fully accountable for setting programme goals and criteria and for monitoring the achievement of results. The CCA was created to achieve broad strategic objectives that go well beyond any grants and contributions programme. It is the forum for the leadership of the archival system to meet, plan strategy, coordinate, undertake joint initiatives, and to build awareness, resources and the system. This is no small task. What do we want the archival system to look like 20 years from now? What are the roles of the different players and sponsors? We need to be all focused on the development of the Canadian archival system and wrestling with the central question of how to respect the very real needs of archives across the country with current realities within the Government of Canada.

The archival community has a variety of needs and objectives. Certain objectives are based on institutional, local or provincial priorities and funding for them must also be sought at those levels. Library and Archives Canada will support goals that seek to respond to issues that are national in scope and that archives face in all jurisdictions. All of us are underfunded for what we are trying to accomplish, and the real challenge that faces us is how to demonstrate our value to the widest range of funding institutions.

The archival community had great dreams twenty or thirty years ago and we have accomplished a great deal for Canadians. My expectation is that we can collectively show the same leadership, collaboration, foresight and courage in renewing our vision and our approaches for the decades to come.

As some here will recall, one of my predecessors, Dr. Wilfred Smith, was fond of telling the anecdote that when he was on his way to visit NARA in Washington, he asked a taxi driver what he thought the words above the main portico meant: What is past is prologue. The driver's instant response: "You ain't seen nothing yet." Let's make it happen.

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