Multicultural Initiatives, Strategic Office
Library and Archives Canada
Between October 2004 and February 2006, the Multicultural Initiatives unit of Library and Archives Canada (LAC) convened email, telephone, and in-person focus groups with members of specific cultural communities and organizations in Canada, as well as library and archival service providers who work with diverse cultural and linguistic communities. The purpose was to facilitate better understanding of the needs and interests of cultural communities and service providers and to use these findings as a guide in developing LAC to better serve all Canadians.
Direct input from the communities that Multicultural Initiatives attempts to engage and serve is essential in determining LAC program, service, and collection orientations. The consultation process is also necessary to assess the efficacy of current initiatives and most importantly, to identify those who could be addressed but who are currently underserved by Library and Archives Canada.
In this case, consultations identified: general attitudes towards archives and libraries, community needs, barriers to access, and the relative awareness of LAC as an institution within communities of interest. A description of consultation activity and outcomes follows.
Many of the participants involved in the consultation process, whether service providers or cultural community members, viewed both the creation of Library and Archives Canada and the consultation process as positive steps to be encouraged. Many hoped that this dialogue would translate into tangible next steps, partnership opportunities, and the expansion of LAC resources for cultural communities and service providers.
1.2.1 Cultural Communities
In-person consultations were convened with members of the South Asian Community (Vancouver), Chinese Community (Vancouver), Somali Community (Ottawa), Black Anglophone Community (Montréal), Haitian Community (Montréal), and Italian Community (Ottawa).
These sessions revealed a great deal about the unique perspectives of each of the communities involved. Sessions also underscored that the priorities of one community cannot be assumed to be the priorities of another, and that there can be no "one-size-fits all" program to meet individual and community needs and interests.
Nevertheless, focus group outcomes did suggest some common threads across participant groups. While public libraries tend to be valued by the cultural communities consulted, formal archives are not similarly recognized or utilized by communities, though participants expressed a great deal of interest in identifying, preserving and making accessible their own community resources over the long term. Communities demonstrated different degrees of awareness and participation in this process to date, and partnerships and collaborative undertakings are desired to further such development.
For the most part, Library and Archives Canada was not a recognized entity within any of the communities consulted and the organization was urged to do more in the areas of outreach and promotion. Communication channels appropriate for each community were recommended to disseminate this kind of information.
Regional participants wish to be reflected in Canadian institutions at all levels and desire a voice at the national table. For cultural communities looking to develop community archives, the model of LAC as a central repository was often rejected; many communities would prefer to maintain and develop resources (archival or otherwise) at the local level with support from central bodies. LACguidance is desired to assist in the identification, collection, and preservation of these materials.
1.2.2 Service Providers
Consultation outcomes suggest that within the professional archival and library communities in Canada there is a firm recognition of the importance of serving multicultural and multilingual populations. Still, both archival and library professionals face many challenges in their efforts to deliver high calibre collections and services to the diverse patrons in their regions. These challenges vary greatly with the size and scope of given service areas.
Many library service providers noted particular institutional hurdles when it comes to cataloguing in languages other than English and French, sourcing multilingual materials, and communicating with other professionals.
Archival professionals require comparable assistance to support resource description, community outreach, and preservation/digitization initiatives. Where community archives are concerned, organizations often have to rely on grants and volunteers to subsist; even well-established cultural communities may lack archives for this reason.
In both domains, the importance of digital initiatives and infrastructure was noted. Increasingly, community clients seek access to information in a digital form.
Most of the library and archival service providers consulted had only limited knowledge of Library and Archives Canada, its products or services, though many recognized that the institution offered resources of potential value to them. Across the board, these professionals said that their clients had little or no understanding of LAC and its potential relevance to them; any contact was typically mediated by way of these service providers. Many felt that this mediated relationship was the appropriate one. Archivists and librarians who provide services to diverse communities seek arm's-length support and resources that would enable them in turn to better serve cultural communities.
A preliminary review of the findings described in this report points to a need for Library and Archives Canada to strengthen its capacity in a number of key areas:
It remains for Library and Archives Canada to digest the consultation feedback carefully and determine how best to act on what was learned.
The full report of consultation activities and outcomes follows.