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Multicultural Initiatives, Strategic Office
Library and Archives Canada
Telephone Interviews, November 2004
Library and Archives Canada recognizes that its mandate cannot be fulfilled without the support and collaboration of its numerous partners and networks across Canada. As part of this theme, LAC supports the development of one national collection, the notion that the collection (tangible and virtual, local and national) extends from coast to coast to coast through a variety of partner institutions and collaborative endeavours:
"The new institution brings together a wealth of networks and partnerships that we can build upon to deliver our mandate. Our effort to connect Canadians with their documentary heritage should extend through Canada's 3600 public library service points, its 800 archives, its strong network of academic libraries, its school libraries, and other cultural institutions across the country."6
Links with Canadian service providers are integral to the development of such networks. The professionals who work for organizations such as libraries, archives and other cultural institutions operate on service frontlines and are well positioned to understand the needs and interests of their clients. Consultations with these service providers are a means of reinforcing networks and securing the input of those with expertise and experience in the field.
The professionals who participated in this phase of consultation volunteered their time and energy to this process and in so doing demonstrated an obvious commitment to the communities they serve.
In November, 2004, ten telephone interviews (each approximately one hour in length) were conducted with a variety of service providers from archival and library communities across Canada. The purpose of these interviews was to sample perspectives about the status of multicultural and multilingual collections and services in these areas. Participants included individuals from diverse backgrounds (from municipal archivists to community services librarians) with responsibilities for overseeing and supporting the development of multicultural and multilingual collections and services. The format of these consultations was open-ended to enable respondents to participate in an informal way.
To begin each session, a description of Library and Archives Canada and of the consultation process was provided by Multicultural Initiatives' staff. Both contextual and targeted questions were then posed to all respondents. Participants were asked to describe their respective organizations, the relative demographics of a given service area, and the programs and services currently provided to cultural and linguistic communities within respondent organizations, including those targeted to newcomers. They were also asked to speak to any perceived service gaps, outstanding needs, and service goals.
A second portion of the discussion focused on the interviewee or organization's relationship with Library and Archives Canada to date, including: which LAC services are utilized, how LAC might foster better communication and be more responsive to the regions, and ultimately, the means by which LAC might best achieve its national role for Canadians.
The majority of service provider participants expressed support for the consultation process. A number of individuals said that they appreciated the opportunity to be heard as well as Library and Archives Canada's efforts to seek input from communities. One participant felt that institutions such as hers had been asked for feedback time and again and wondered about the value of such process given the time and energy required to respond.
Service provider feedback indicates a firm recognition within the archival and library communities in Canada of the importance of serving multicultural and multilingual populations. This may be especially true of regions that welcome the largest numbers of new immigrants and that support the most diverse populations. Still, even where recognition is strong, human and financial resources may not be available to support active collections or community outreach/services on the scale and in the areas required.
3.2.1 Library Collections
While a majority of public libraries have maintained heritage language materials that reflect European immigration in the 1950s, many of these resources are no longer actively collected by respondent libraries. Some of the existing materials were simply inherited following the dismantling of the National Library's Multilingual Biblioservice program in 1994.7
In recent years, the focus has shifted to highlight the needs of newcomers to Canada. A number of urban librarians reported that materials in languages such as Chinese, Hindi, and Arabic are now in greatest demand within their metropolitan service areas. Participants noted that many of their clients now visit the library in order to access Internet and other communications technologies, settlement resources, citizenship materials and audio-visual materials to support second language learning. Service development (not simply collection development) is therefore a key priority.
Large library systems now strive to provide access to resources (electronic and otherwise) in the client's language of choice; where resources permit, outreach is designed to let cultural communities know what services are available to them by way of the public library system. Some communities appear to be more aware than others of the roles the public library plays.
While there has been recent growth and interest in principal collection areas and preliminary patterns might be noted, individual collections are based on client needs and available resources; thus, holdings can differ vastly from region to region and library to library.
It was reported that many library and archival organizations lack the resources (both human and financial) to develop in the areas for which there is demand, including those mentioned above. To illustrate the point, one librarian in charge of multicultural programming and collections in a public library with a service population of more than 30,000, recently reported that she has a total multicultural budget of $1500 with which to develop all related collections and services. This reality circumscribes her ability to develop in the directions she feels are necessary.
A lack of financial and human resources was cited as the primary stumbling block to the development of multicultural and multilingual initiatives within library organizations. The implications of this resource shortfall vary with the size and scope of a given organization. For instance, while many larger institutions continue to develop their programs and services (consider employment assistance for foreign-trained professionals, advanced English language skills courses, assisted volunteer opportunities), many smaller institutions struggle to support a multicultural/multilingual focus in any capacity. Collections may not be duplicated across locations and so the proximity of other libraries in a given system may also limit a branch's ability to directly collect multicultural materials.
A lack of available tools to support collection development and particularly to assist with the selection of diverse language materials was a primary concern for many organizations. The difficulty of sourcing reliable suppliers of multilingual materials was described as a "big issue" and one for which service providers seek support (e.g. lists of publishers/distributors of multilingual materials).
With the development of varied language collections comes mounting pressure for organizations to supply a corresponding level of bibliographic control and resource description. Even where materials suppliers offer preliminary cataloguing with their commercial resources, the level of description is often basic and requires development based on the unique needs of the host institution. Within libraries, cataloguing in original languages is often possible only where resources (both financial and human) are available. Cataloguing in non-roman scripts is rarely supported. Sizeable library systems often cope informally by relying on staff members to lend their diverse language expertise. A majority of participants in this category said that where cataloguing and services in languages other than French and English are offered, this practice is dependent upon the availability of staff members with proficiency in the required language(s).
A number of the institutions surveyed maintain staff directories that highlight particular language skills, but limited staff resources often make access problematic. This can be an imperfect system which does not always support consistency or rigour in description. An additional challenge is that within libraries, multilingual and multicultural collections may not be described at all which makes resource discovery difficult and resource sharing impossible.
Competing priorities present their own challenges; as one interviewee noted, "at one time we are trying to accommodate a lot of different people." Many diverse language groups in a given community may require resources and it is not always possible to address each of these.
Limited resources also imply that already underserved populations may never be addressed; without outreach, many potential patrons will not find their way to the services and collections targeted for them. Some communities are difficult to engage even where outreach is feasible. As one professional noted, "it is hard to convince some communities that the library offers anything beyond what the community itself provides."
For Canadian newcomers from regions in which public libraries are not a reality or are the unique domain of scholars and elites, the concept of public library services can be a new one. Without dedicated marketing resources, service organizations may lack the ability to connect with their communities in a consistent and effective manner.
A number of factors clearly influence the availability of multicultural/multilingual collections in Canadian libraries, including: the relative size of the institution, the level of priority ascribed (generally, based on the demographics of a given service area and competing priorities), availability of resources, the prevalence of networks (which may allow for cost-sharing and/or mutual outreach), and resource-sharing alternatives. While most librarians may agree in principle with statements that underscore the need for multicultural resources and services, such as those developed by organizations like the Canadian Library Association,8 such "best intentions" must be measured against the particular needs of individual libraries in conjunction with the communities they serve. In turn, these must be weighed against available funding. Consultation interviewees suggest more support (financial and otherwise) is required to address current needs, as Canada becomes more diverse than ever before.
Archival institutions face similar challenges to those noted above. A lack of financial resources for dedicated outreach makes it a challenge for archival organizations to solicit new materials and donations. One interviewee underscored the difference between large, institutionalized archives and community archives, and stressed that support programs must "be scaleable with ways for different types of archives to hook into them."
When it comes to provincial/municipal archives, a mandate to serve the historical records of government is often a priority; cultural representation is typically a by-product of this business function and local demographics. Where communities endeavour to develop their own cultural or community archives they may have to rely on grants and volunteers to subsist. For this reason, even well-established cultural communities may lack formal archival representation. In both municipal and cultural community archives, collection activity is often described as "reactive" rather than "proactive."
Whether a part of formal or informal organizations, many interviewees seek the capacity to describe materials at a more detailed level and to make their resources known to the public; digitization is considered a key opportunity in this regard. Resources to assist preservation and conservation are also needed.
The majority of service provider participants noted that they had only limited and irregular contact with Library and Archives Canada. Those who had contact did so by way of the LAC website, with visits most often initiated to accomplish specific tasks (e.g. to access genealogical resources on behalf of clients, rules for archival description and preservation, and copyright information). Resource discovery was at times described as haphazard or "accidental" and LAC was deemed in places to be "distant from our day-to-day lives and the ways we serve our communities." The term "remote" was used in many instances to describe LAC.
However, most service providers acknowledged that LAC offers resources of potential interest to them and several expressed regret that they were not more familiar with these 'national' resources. Almost all interviewees said that their clients had little or no contact with or understanding of LAC and its related products and services.
It was noted that professional support offered by Library and Archives Canada might be more important to those who work in small organizations; in larger systems, professionals may be more likely to exchange information and best practices with immediate colleagues.
Several participants cited the importance of developing key contacts within LAC, and appreciated direct access to those who might be approached for support, advice, and assistance in navigating the organization and its resources. A number of interviewees suggested that they had already formed these kinds of fruitful relationships. In-person visits by service providers to Library and Archives Canada (395 Wellington Street, Ottawa) were described as formative and integral for suggesting the value of LAC products and services (even a single visit was deemed effective in this regard).
Archivists expressed some concern about the coming together of the former National Library of Canada and National Archives of Canada and the implications for the existing archival grants and contributions program. Where archives are concerned, a recommendation was made that Library and Archives Canada liaise with organizations that represent archives rather than deal directly with any single archives. Several interviewees suggested there is a lack of understanding on the part of LAC when it comes to regional issues. The comment was made that "we [archival professionals] understand our own needs; provide us a way to do what we need to do."
One professional noted the importance of having Library and Archives Canada involved in policy issues alongside the professional archival community, in a collaborative rather than leadership role. In this regard, LAC might see itself as a "partner" working with professional bodies to lobby for and address relevant policy issues. A persistent question emerged here as elsewhere: "How can regional institutions maximize their position so as to have some influence at the national level?"
One of the consistent and overwhelming themes to emerge from service provider interviews was the notion that Library and Archives Canada must first and foremost demonstrate its relevance to Canadian service providers (librarians, archivists and others working in cultural institutions) as a precursor to stressing its relevance to the Canadian public. It was deemed the role of the service provider organizations in turn to articulate their value to Canadians. This sentiment was often vehemently expressed. The goal according to many was for LAC to act as an enabler, supporting the work of professionals: "Help to us [service providers] helps us to serve clients in the community."
The question of roles that Library and Archives Canada might play in support of service providers generated a range of specific input. Participants said that they would like mechanisms for ongoing feedback and exchange with LAC; consultations were regarded as worthwhile, but regular contact is desired. Interviewees seek permanent opportunities for participation at the national level.
In addition to LAC to service provider contact, interviewees were extremely interested in service provider to service provider communication. Library and Archives Canada's potential role in facilitating communication between service providers (and fostering the development of knowledge pools/communities of practice) was mentioned time and again in the interviews. Exchange within both Canadian and international circles was encouraged. In this way, Library and Archives Canada might help to disseminate creative ideas and best practices in support of professional learning.
LAC was also encouraged to support digitization and preservation for digital projects ("digitization equals access and accountability") and the development of authoritative, publicly available, preservation guides. The institution was recognized for its lobby and advocacy role within the Government of Canada and was urged to continue this work.
A number of librarians called for the establishment of a service similar to LAC's former Multilingual Biblioservice, this time with support for new, hard to acquire language groups including those that target immigrants and aboriginal populations. The Biblioservice is remembered as an essential resource for librarians who lacked budgets to support collections of any size.
Library and archival service providers encouraged Library and Archives Canada to:
Interviewees agreed that Library and Archives Canada could do more to make archivists and librarians aware of its presence. LAC was urged to explore the following marketing avenues:
6. Directions for Library and Archives Canada (2004), available at:
7. For a description of this service, see: www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/multicultural/005007-220-e.html#a-3