Genealogists and local historians are people who love heritage – that is an obvious statement, I think. Genealogists and local historians are also people who understand the value of heritage and of the documents and artifacts that constitute that heritage. Here at the Calgary Public Library we put requests in for documents that are sometimes arcane, sometimes bizarre, but always valuable in the pursuit of our history. We often request these items from our national “memory keeper” Library and Archives Canada.
Changes are taking place at Library and Archives Canada, though, and they may have an effect on how we are able to access those documents that are so important to our research. Proposals for trimming the budget include reducing hours of service in the Library and Archives itself and ending LAC’s role in the national interlibrary loan program. There are also changes being made to what LAC will acquire and hold and who will be responsible for protecting the documents in the care of the national repository. These changes may have far reaching effects on those of us who rely on our national library to have and hold the literary output of our country.
Anyone who works in a library and most of you who use our library are aware that the way libraries do what they do will have to change. Library and Archives Canada has been noticing a decrease in in-person visits, with a corresponding upsurge in the use of their website. And, to be fair, the changes proposed for Library and Archives Canada do include the potential for increased digitization of the holdings that are most accessed. What scares many of us genealogists is that we remember what happened with the last technological advance in document management, the evil microfilm. While we are glad that we have it (it is virtually indestructible) we are leery of what happens with the originals once the copy is made. In the case of census records and passenger lists, once the microfilming was completed, the originals were destroyed. For most of the collection that is fine but there are several dozen reels that are filmed very badly, are basically unreadable, and we have no recourse to the original. Now, I understand why destroying the census originals seemed like a good idea at the time. The books were large and hard to store, old paper requires special care and a special environment. Getting rid of these things might have seemed like a great cost-cutting measure. I’m not sure it was.
These changes are going to have effects in the future that we can’t even begin to foresee. While changes do need to be made in all libraries we need to consider the LAC as a special case. They are not just any other library and their role as the collector and protector of the country’s documentary heritage needs to be recognized as a pillar on which we can build the future. We will never maintain the greatness of this country by dismantling the past.
If you are interested in developments at Library and Archives Canada, you can visit our E-Library under Newspapers and read the papers in Newspaper Direct Press Display. You can read up on the cuts in a number of Canadian newspapers by entering a search in the text box at the top of the page.
World War I Attestation Paper from Library and Archives Canada Collection