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Multicultural Initiatives, Strategic Office
Library and Archives Canada
Multicultural Initiatives' community consultation sessions revealed a great deal about the unique needs, interests, and perspectives of each of the communities involved. Sessions 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. Dialogue revealed that public libraries tend to be valued by the cultural communities consulted (though actual usage can vary by community). Formal archives are not well recognized or utilized by communities, though participants expressed a great deal of interest in identifying, preserving, and making accessible their 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.
A pronounced focus on the needs of youth was evident in each of the sessions and participants suggested that stronger links be made between education and libraries/archives. Participants advised the latter institutions to expand their outreach efforts.
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. Consultation was welcomed and viewed as a positive step, but regular, ongoing opportunities for exchange are sought between communities and organizations such as LAC. Regional participants wish to be reflected in Canadian institutions at all levels and desire a voice at the national table. The model of LAC as a central repository for archival community materials was often rejected; many communities would prefer to maintain resources (archival or otherwise) at the local level with support from central bodies.
Participants were interested to learn more about Library and Archives Canada and asked that the organization do a better job of promoting its collections and services, especially those with relevance for individual communities. Communication channels appropriate for each community should be employed to disseminate this kind of information. Participants were hopeful that LAC expertise might be gained to assist development of community resources and looked forward to enhanced collaborative relationships in future. Many guests expressed their readiness to participate in this way.
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. To draw on a library example mentioned earlier in this report, where large urban library systems have moved to offer ever more developed services to Canadian newcomers, small regional libraries may struggle to support even basic cultural or linguistic collections.
Within the consultation context, many library service providers noted particular institutional needs in the areas of 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 are seeking access to information in a digital form.
Many archivists and librarians stressed the importance of professional networks. These networks were described as essential for disseminating best practices, fostering learning opportunities, and developing collaborative initiatives. A majority of respondents encouraged the exchange of ideas between professionals in Canada and beyond, and felt that more could be done to facilitate these relationships.
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/or 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 from LAC. In addition, Library and Archives Canada was urged to further its advocacy role within government.
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:
11.3.1 Mediated Access to Canadians
Since very few public library/archival patrons were aware of LAC and its holdings and services, service providers felt it specious to say that LAC had regional reach to serve clients directly, especially given LAC's finite human and financial resources and concentrated physical presence in Ottawa.
As evidenced in this report, regional librarians, archivists and para-professionals overwhelmingly expressed the view that LAC should pursue indirect support to client information access through the vehicles of regional public libraries, archives and similar cultural organizations. This model allows for those with experience and expertise in local issues/communities to serve regional clients and in this, represents the greatest value for Canadians.
However, service providers were willing to see LAC as a potential facilitator, enabler, and partner that could enhance their ability to serve Canadians. They hope to benefit from LAC's capacity to coordinate pan-Canadian networks and partnerships, to connect service providers with one another, (as a means to disseminate best practices, and exchange information and resources), and to develop its professional advocacy role, particularly in the federal government context. Participants desired to know more about the programs and services offered by LAC and encouraged further outreach in this regard.
11.3.2 Empowering Communities
The model of LAC as a central repository located chiefly in Ottawa was unpalatable to many of those consulted, whether service providers or community members. Communities seek to guide the development of their archival legacies in local contexts, with arms-length assistance from national organizations that support this development through appropriate resources and expertise. Collaborative initiatives that capitalize on the strengths of both parties are welcomed and many communities expressed a desire to initiate and further partnership discussions.
11.3.3 Enhancing Diversity in LAC Programs, Collections and Services
Consultation outcomes do not negate LAC's need to continue to develop cultural diversity in its collections, programs and services, particularly in the form of digital resources that enhance accessibility across geography. Even where community capacity building was described as the priority for Canadian cultural communities, LAC was encouraged to embrace its mandate to serve all Canadians and to provide access to documentary heritage in all of its forms. LAC must endeavour to become ever more inclusive of cultural communities, from established heritage groups to newcomer communities who have lacked representation in Canadian institutions to date.
11.3.4 Strategic Challenges for LAC
It is important to note that much of the feedback received during the consultation process is in line with the guiding vision and principles outlined for LAC in the foundational document Directions for Change. The latter document echoes similar commitments to prioritize clients and to serve Canadians where and how it makes the most sense to them. This approach means, for example, understanding clients enough to know that those in cultural communities across Canada are not always looking to access LAC services directly. Nevertheless, they may appreciate being reflected in LAC public programming, including Web content.
Still, consultation outcomes challenge Library and Archives Canada to respond to some critical strategic questions: What types and levels of support are required by library, archival and community partners to best serve the needs of cultural communities? What specific approaches are likely to have the greatest impact for LAC and diverse cultural communities in Canada? For instance, is a funding program required to serve libraries (similar to that of National Archival Development Program in the archival domain),19 or is an entirely different approach necessary here? How can LAC ensure that regional organizations gain equitable participation at the national level and that balance is achieved in the partnership process?
Feedback from this round of consultations will be closely examined to help guide LAC in fulfilling its mandate as an inclusive, innovative knowledge institution.
19. For a description of this program, see: www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/archives/042-200-e.html