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Community Consultations: Report of Activities and Outcomes

Multicultural Initiatives, Strategic Office
Library and Archives Canada
August 2006

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8. Black Anglophone Community Consultation, Montréal, QC

8.1 Black Anglophone Community in Montréal

Efforts to describe the Anglophone Black community were summarized as "complex" at best. The Black community in Montréal was described as "issues based"; while individuals may rally behind a particular initiative, the notion that the community is uniform or in any way homogenous is a facile one. Even the terminology, 'Black community' (singular) has its limitations; at times, 'Black communities' is employed to reference its diverse and pluralistic nature. One participant underscored the following: "You cannot just talk about black communities in a specific place; you must consider the history of Blacks in the world (Africa, Caribbean); all of these histories are reflected in what it means to be part of that society."

Where there are histories in common (the Middle Passage, slavery) there are also a great many differences within communities. Attempts to identify sub-divisions within the Black community are often problematic. It was noted that regardless of an individual's particular experience, "the history of Blacks is not part of the Canadian psyche from the halls of power, all the way down."

Participants said that they fail to see themselves reflected in literature, history, politics, and other facets of Canadian life. Participants stressed that "Black history is Canadian history." One participant noted that Canada "is not the most welcoming place" despite prevalent mythologies that insist it is an open, accepting, and diverse nation.

Guests noted that the English-speaking community in Montréal has been in transition for some time (political, linguistic) and that within the city, language is integral to identity. There was consensus that the experience of being Black and Canadian is unique for each successive generation; those age 25 and under "identify themselves differently"; "the young ones coming up are the issue -- kids need a sense of purpose," one participant said. Another underscored the need to recognize women in the community.

Participants called for "truth telling" in the realms of education, politics and history: "History as it is taught [currently] does not have the ability to create change." Participants suggested that organizations such as Library and Archives Canada might play a significant role in helping to establish and re-establish the history of the Black community and other communities in Canada.

As an annual event, Black History month, for some, has become so commonplace as to become "inactive"; something more is desired. Members of the Black community would like the Canadian government to recognize that they are Canadians and to acknowledge past wrongs ("we did have slavery in this country").

As a response, the government might put resources into mapping Black history and underlining the message that "we [Blacks] contribute and we are Canadians."

8.2 Perspectives on Libraries and Archives

8.2.1 Libraries

Participants commented that their views on the role of libraries/archives are likely atypical; most of those who attended this consultation session suggested they had an existing interest in libraries/archives and research and that they represent some of the most avid users/supporters of these organizations. They noted that this interest is not reflected in the lives of a majority of community members and that "most people don't take children to libraries."

The importance of mobile libraries and their ability to take collections and services to people was noted and said to be especially significant for those residing in outlying communities. Still, community members said that libraries are often regarded as "dead places," and "inactive" environments, especially by youth. Libraries are seen to lack strong outreach programs that might encourage latent interest. Students tend to use libraries only when they are told to do so; this often results in negative associations. Libraries must become more interactive if they are to engage.

Within the community, literacy is an issue for some. It was noted that where this is the case, even youth who appear to be able to read do not always derive meaning from resources. For this reason, struggles with literacy can be difficult to detect. It was noted that parents do not always encourage their children to read. Children also lack information literacy skills such as the ability to evaluate Web resources. There is a recognized need to reach children very early; "once kids enter their youth, it may be too late."

Participants also recommended that references to Blacks be extended in many venues. Black experiences need to be reflected in text books and curriculum; it was suggested, for example, that the history of the underground railway might be incorporated in educational materials. This kind of recognition would go some way to addressing the invisibility of Blacks in these resources to date.

According to participants, existing library materials and collections often exhibit a lack of sensitivity. As one participant noted, "It is a myth that materials don't have colour." While it was thought that there are many materials available that reflect the Black community in Canada, it was said to be more of a challenge to find materials that deal with diversity and multiculturalism as topics.

The organization and cataloguing of Black Canadian materials/collections was a prominent concern for many guests. Participants want to see Black materials cross-referenced within libraries so that they might be discovered in multiple locations by a variety of means (i.e. not merely because they are housed in a special 'Black Studies' section). Black Studies sections in libraries were described in terms of the ultimate Catch-22; while this domain may be necessary at times to facilitate resource discovery, it reinforces 'otherness', relegating the Black experience to a single place (and dimension) in a collection.

8.2.2 Archives

Participants felt that within the community, archives (described most often as 'personal papers') are viewed as relevant to an individual; they are rarely considered valuable interpretive tools for a wider community. Participants also said that the community evidences a lack of planning when it comes to identifying and protecting potential archival materials.14 Community members believe that this absence of strategy has often resulted in the loss of community information.

While guests expressed interest in developing such planning mechanisms, the idea of sending materials out of the immediate community for formal archiving is less appealing. It was agreed that it may not make sense to store community materials at a national institution such as Library and Archives Canada. Participants said that "Ottawa seems far away" and remote to their lives.

One participant noted that work must be done to "create a kind of interest" in the Black community rather than relying on those with particular interests (say researchers) to uncover this information. Participants said that they would like to see more people from within the Black community get involved in the library and archival sciences.

Within the Black Anglophone community in Montréal, those who operate in informal information roles desire advice and information when it comes to collection storage and preservation for which technical expertise may be lacking. These individuals often work with items they "are not equipped to handle, but that we don't want to send to Ottawa."

8.3 Relationship with LAC

Within the Black Anglophone community in Montréal, knowledge of Library and Archives Canada is described as atypical. Participants suggested that LAC needs to better inform the community about the institution and its services. The consultation process was described as a useful and necessary one. A number of participants agreed that they would like to be involved in "anything to support the effort to have Black Canadians seen as Canadians."

8.4 Roles for LAC

Participants suggested that an appropriate role for LAC is one of facilitator. Library and Archives Canada should ensure access to its resources on behalf of the Black community and wider society and develop opportunities for regional collaboration. This role must foster a balance between government and independent institutions-"not duality, but partnership." Individuals who perform information roles within the community (especially where they are not professional librarians and archivists) hope to benefit from LAC expertise. It was suggested that links (particularly virtual links) be made between organizations and institutions, as well as local libraries and universities. Participants expressed interest in seeing LAC align with other kinds of grassroots organizations such as local resource centres. They feel "the door is wide open" for such partnership possibilities.

8.5 Key Messages Emerging from the Black Anglophone Community Consultation

  • The Black Anglophone community in Montréal is extremely diverse; in moving forward, it is essential that a variety of input is solicited, from all demographics within the community (particularly youth)
  • Members of the community want to be viewed as contributing and valued Canadians; many participants referenced the relative invisibility of Blacks to date
  • Participants seek "truth telling" (current and retrospective) within Canadian institutions
  • Libraries must become active and engaging places to attract youth; outreach is essential in this regard
  • Support for literacy (both basic literacy and information literacy) is required within the community
  • Community experiences need to be reflected in educational resources and curriculum
  • Support is needed to help identify and develop community and archival collections
  • Local/regional archives may be preferred over centralized archival repositories
  • Non-professionals who occupy information roles seek support and advice, particularly as it pertains to archival principles and preservation
  • Partnerships and collaborative arrangements are desired both with LAC and other groups; community members expressed that they are open to such networks

8.6 Connecting with the Black Anglophone Community in Montréal

  • More might be done to create recognition of Library and Archives Canada and its various roles, particularly those with relevance to the Black community
  • Participants would welcome a media campaign to let their community know about LAC holdings that are relevant to the Black Canadian experience; it was deemed worthwhile to underscore that these resources are both well preserved and accessible
  • Public television, pamphlets, and even public transit surfaces ("paid for by Canadians") might be used as potential vehicles to disseminate this kind of information

14. Specific examples were offered to illustrate that valuable community history has been purged to date due to this lack of archival planning.

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