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Report on the Review of Acquisition Processes for Collections

December 2010

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Executive Summary

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has a mandate to preserve and make available the documentary heritage of Canada and to serve as the continuing memory of the federal government and its institutions.

The unprecedented volume of information has fuelled new hope among users seeking greater access to information and who share it with the government and society. New perspectives and approaches were needed to acquire the documentary heritage of Canada, preserve it, and make it accessible within the resources available to LAC. Making an acquisition entails finding the most important documentary heritage among increasing volumes of information. The purpose of reviewing management practices was to determine whether the governance structure, risk management and controls in place for various acquisition processes for the LAC collection was effective and consistent with the organization's strategic directions.

As part of its modernization initiative, LAC began developing a new acquisition management framework based on three pillars of documentary heritage: acquisition, preservation, and resource discovery. This framework will rely on the four guiding principles for determining the value of acquisitions: significance, sufficiency, sustainability and society. Essentially, making acquisitions means locating the most significant documents in an overabundance of information. Moreover, in the Results-based Management and Accountability Framework (RMAF) being prepared, developing the collection is an activity to be monitored in terms of performance.

However, at the time of our review, a management framework based on three documents prepared in 2005–06 nonetheless provided clear and specific guidelines for the branches responsible for collection development while providing appropriate oversight in the development of acquisition strategies based on LAC's key directions and priorities. However, the framework does not take financial and human resource limitations into account.

In addition to the management framework, LAC has a detailed and exhaustive Digital Collection Development Policy. The policy contains a strategic framework, an acquisition policy statement, guidelines on the selection and acquisition of websites, and establishes roles and responsibilities.

However, a policy on the development of collections overall would provide an opportunity to set out the requirements and terms of use for:

  • the acquisition of documents on Aboriginal and multicultural communities in a manner consistent with the key directions established in the Collection Development Framework;
  • accountability and gauging the results achieved based on the development of the collection;
  • oversight in major acquisitions;
  • incorporating risk management into the acquisition process.

A great deal of work has yet to be done to gauge the progress toward achieving budgetary targets and producing activity reports that contain financial results. LAC needs to develop and provide data-collection and accountability tools and mechanisms.

LAC has developed an initial risk profile and identified the key risk factors and uncertainties that could have an impact on operational planning and environments. One significant risk LAC faces in fulfilling its mandate and commitments is the lack of appropriate financial, human and technological resources, in the absence of reliable partnerships, to assure the preservation of digital and analogue documentary heritage. However, a risk management framework specific to acquisitions and collection development with mitigation measures has yet to be developed. Without a risk management framework, a risk-based acquisitions budget cannot be planned.

The Collection Development Committee (CDC) and the Major Acquisitions Committee (MAC) play an important role in the decision-making process for strategic collection development and in approving major acquisitions. Mandates need to be more specific with regard to sharing roles and responsibilities among managers, professionals, and CDC members, and in terms of the decision-making criteria on which the MAC relies to justify its decisions.

Directions for Change is a document that encourages the use of tools, such as the total cost of ownership methodology, to ensure effective heritage stewardship and risk management. We encourage LAC to adopt the total cost of ownership methodology in its acquisitions.

Given the significant observations made in this report, we cannot find that the governance structure, risk management and controls in place for various LAC collection acquisition processes were effective during the period reviewed, from 2006–07 to 2008–09, nor did they comply with the organization's strategic directions.

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