Vancouver Consultations

P1050873On September 19-21, 2013, following upon our most successful visit to Yellowknife, NWT, the consultation travel itinerary found representatives of the Expert Panel in Vancouver, B.C. Here we hosted five interactive sessions, including faculty, librarians, and archivists at Simon Fraser University; faculty, librarians, archivists and students (primarily from the ISchool) at the University of British Columbia; the assembled directors at the Fall Meeting of the Association of British Columbia Public Library Directors; and finally, librarians, library trustees and members of the general public at the Vancouver Public Library. In all of this we were again most appreciative of the welcome we received, and to those who facilitated the venues where our consultations were held, we are particularly and forever grateful.

While the participants in each of the sessions were different, it was instructive to hear the common threads that were evident from session to session, and indeed were similar to those voiced earlier at the Yellowknife venues. In no particular order, and extracted from multiple transcripts from both public and academic audiences, descriptors of libraries/archives (and their services) were such as: “drivers of social sustainability”; “upholders of democracy”; “places where people connect”; “community knowledge repositories”; a “place to learn about learning”; “institutions with only positive benefits and ‘good news’ stories to tell”. “Welcoming environments” where you can “search and explore without fear of reprisals,” libraries were “the best places because nobody is trying to sell you anything.”P1050857

And in different ways, the participants while diverse were generally aligned in their visions of the institutions within a broad social construct.

Public library directors, for example, saw their institutions as core within the communities served, and aspired to extend their services even further into those communities. They wished to enhance the “creative” and “maker” spaces which already flourished in many of their institutions and to create such spaces where they did not. They saw the potential of serving as partnering hubs for the organizations (business, not-for-profit agencies, early literacy groups, secondary and post-secondary educational institutions) in hamlets, towns and cities charged with the provision of community information, including information best characterized as ‘life-long learning’. The provision of services to a significantly ageing population, for whom this learning is a life-line, was a particular concern. But at the same time, participants recognized the necessity of taking their established or new services out into the community—that is, taking services “. . . to the places people go” more aggressively than in the past. In this regard, there was a dialogue as to the role of the public library as contributor and catalyst in the campaign to close the innovation gap prevalent within the Canadian context generally.  While these libraries had always been reactive to the needs of business and other organizations maybe it was time for them to be more proactive, embedding professional expertise, in those organizations as had been identified as being innovative, outside the walls of the library. As well as building a sense of a learning community, the positioning of professional librarians within non-profits and various sectors could be a smart way of driving innovation and growth. Of course, resourcing was identified as an inhibiter, but not solely so. It was contended that attitudes and approaches also must change.

P1050863Our academic audiences voiced similar sentiments. They indicated that outreach needed to be nurtured, both within the academic community but also in partnership with agencies outside of the academy. Inside the academy more could be done to take services into the classroom or the laboratory. Nonetheless, collections remained at the core. Libraries, it was contended, had a crucial connection to the topic of flexible learning within post-secondary education. There was considerable discussion at both academic venues with regard to the analog/digital resource spectrum. In the case of the analog there were expressed concerns from academics that the focus on digital within the library context was having a harmful impact on the more traditional collecting of print materials. One Humanities commentator said there was concern that “. . . . the analog might be forgotten as the push to digital is stronger”. Another Humanities colleague remarked: “Today I got four emails announcing new databases. There’s so much out there, I’d almost rather just go to the library and to the shelf.”  A scientist in the audience responded that he did not “. . . sense that libraries and archives [were] managing this (referring to the analog/digital transition) very well because they [were] caught in the speed of technological change”.   P1050876

However, academics, librarians, and archivists were united in one regard. Whether at the institutional level or nationally or internationally the organization and preservation of research data created as both product and by-product of the research enterprise, was not being adequately addressed. It was acknowledged that, by way of pilot projects, both the research library and archival communities had made great strides in identifying the policy frameworks and the necessary workflow processes to deal with the issues. The volumes, however, were daunting. Complicating factors included deferred maintenance, successful and unsuccessful shared storage approaches, and the particular space concerns of digital memory with audio-visual collections. The need of advocacy for vulnerable community archives and the disappearance of field-specific archival experts was forcefully expressed.

In the collecting and preserving of print or digital files it was agreed that national and even international strategies, built upon cooperative endeavour, were essential. With regard to print there were references to adequately resourced last copy repositories for print collections, and the need to work collaboratively to aggregate and preserve vulnerable collections. In terms of digital preservation, it was unanimous that at least within the Canadian context a national strategy was essential. It was not clear, however, if such a strategy would necessitate a federal intervention.

P1050894This latter discussion led to the role of federal agencies, most particularly Library and Archives Canada. Discussions were far-ranging and included: the need to revisit the amalgamation of the two founding agencies and their governing/administrative constructs; the adequacy of AMICUS as a tool for resource sharing; the quality of the LAC-BAC website; the disbanding of the granting program to provincial and territorial councils; the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s troubled relationship with LAC-BAC, and generally, the view that Canada was not presenting a positive face to the international library and archival communities.P1050928

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