On October 18th through 21st, 2013, the panelists were in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Within the midst of the exquisite prairie autumn colours, we found ourselves in consultations: at the University of Manitoba in the Archives & Special Collections department within the Elizabeth Dafoe Library; at the St. Boniface Branch of the Winnipeg Public Library (WPL); and, in the central Millennium Library again of the WPL system. The participants mirrored those in other centres, including: faculty, librarians, archivists and administrators from the University of Manitoba, the University of Winnipeg and the Canadian Mennonite University, as well as students from the archival program at the University of Manitoba; library trustees from several points in the Province; provincial library leadership officers; and the general public. It is also relevant and appropriate to mention that the panelists delighted in a superb dinner meal, Friday evening, at the East India Company restaurant. While a most delicious meal in itself, it was significant in that when the transportation needs of fans attending the Winnipeg Jets vs St. Louis Blues hockey game outstripped the available taxis, the proprietor of the restaurant provided the panelists transportation in his luxury XJ Jaguar sedan. Our Panel’s Chair was most impressed at the personal service (and was most appreciative).
Each of the previous sessions was introduced by the Chair with the question: Why are libraries and archives important? Winnipeg similarly. Responses were also similar, including but not limited to such as: “. . . archives are critical for the transmission of knowledge”; “. . . without archives there would be no sources for either the preservation or the protection of human rights, the accountability and transparency of government, the integration of ethnic identity and the support of indigenous rights and identity”; “. . . libraries are a place where newcomers come to orient themselves within the community”; and, “. . . [libraries are] safe and neutral ground.”
The conversation at the University of Manitoba was the most wide-ranging, and reflected the diversity of the audience. Considerable attention was paid to the community orientation of both libraries and archives. Supporting evidence-based policy making at all levels of government was considered of particular importance. Libraries, it was suggested, were noteworthy for their silent underpinning of commerce, healthcare and other economic and social services of Canadian communities. Yet despite the centrality of support services, credit is rarely given to the libraries or archives by the vast majority of clients. There was opinion as to how better to promote the role and services of libraries and archives in terms of the value they provide but their inability to express that value to hosting agencies.
There was a compelling defense of the academic library, which included emotives such as: “. . . the library as a place for student conversations about the life of the mind—conversations which cultivate a sense of wonder and joy and cherishing of text, and cherishing the process of engagement with the text.” There ensued a dialogue as to the ongoing importance of the text, whether analog or digital.
Prompted by the Chair, the conversation turned to the issues associated with the LAC-BAC; most particularly there was discussion as to the issues and realities of convergence and particularly the issue of respect between professions—a culture of respect that appeared to have disappeared from this national institution. With regard to LAC-BAC leadership, the leadership structure was less important than the leader’s credentials (preferred were those relevant to libraries or archives), but the most important quality of the incumbent was the ability to respect the professional attributes of the contributing staff and the communities of practice they represented. A brief discussion ensued as to whether the LIS schools and the Archives programs should have more cross-disciplinary curricula, and more leadership programming within these curricula. Students in the audience were emphatic that more management and leadership courses were a necessity.
Common to other of the regional conversations, there was attention paid to the magnitude of the challenges, whether archival or library-based. National strategies were required, but there seemed to be lack of federal leadership. Various opinions were expressed, including that within the archival context the cancelled National Archival Development Program could have served as such a catalytic agency, particularly given the provincial Councils that were a product of the Program. Participants acknowledged that needs and issues were imperative and that the library and archival communities “. . . need to get political” because “there is a disconnect between the people in this room and the public.” As a final word, there was a strong sentiment expressed that it was all “. . . about relevancy . . . how as a community we can demonstrate to our clients and our sponsoring bodies that we matter.”
With a change of venue, came a change of focus. On our second day the Panel’s attentions were directed towards public libraries. The role of library trustees was explained and expressed in comprehensive and passionate terms. While the discussion was wide-ranging, in the end it was similar to that of the previous day. Trustees, it was admitted, needed to be better advocates. Finding ways and means to demonstrate the value was a particular challenge. It was acknowledged that the rural libraries stories in particular needed to be told. As the Province moves toward its next provincial election the Trustees Association hopes to have a more coherent advocacy program/toolkit in place, including finding external voices to tell the stories.
From Rick Walker, Manager of Library Services, Winnipeg Public Library, the Panel learned about the activities and aspirations of the Manitoba Library Consortium, and were interested in the decision to partner with the British Columbia Libraries Cooperative for the purpose of database licensing. Discussion ensued with regard to a provincial integrated library system, and the partnerships associated with Manitobia.ca. Attentions then turned to matters associated specifically with the Winnipeg Public Library including, but not limited to the WPL governance structure and their initiatives in support of the city’s aboriginal community.
The exchange at our public session, while from a smaller audience than that of the academic session, was nonetheless extensive in the topics addressed. For example, the Panel heard of the importance of community-based libraries as individuals reflected upon the unique properties of various branches within the WPL system. A former Trustee provided personal perspective on the challenges of advocacy, echoing some of the expressions heard earlier in the day from the Trustee Association. Again we heard (and we never weary of hearing) how “. . . people have pulled themselves up ‘out of ignorance’ to be able to have opportunity. . .” because of the public library. And using the University of Manitoba’s Hamilton Family fonds as an exemplar, there was a discussion of the financial, cultural and promotional benefits to the host communities of special collections in the country’s libraries and archives. Our day ended, as it had begun, with a discussion of public support for libraries and archives and how more public philanthropy could be advantageous for their development.
The third consultation was devoted to the perspectives of the Manitoba Public Library Advisory Board. The conversation was wide-ranging with discussion of the current realities of public library service in Manitoba, particularly focused on the municipal or rural library perspective. Participants speculated on the preferred attributes of these libraries if adequate resources were available, and similarly speculated about the nature of libraries in 2020 if these resources were to be maintained at a reasonable and consistent level. Above all, participants discussed whether in the short, intermediate or longer term they valued the attribute of ‘community centre’ as a key element in library service.
Connectivity remains a major issue in the Province, with significant areas (mainly in the north, but not necessarily so) devoid of Internet access, or suffering from limitations in bandwidth. It was recognized as a major hurdle in the development of services, particularly delivered services or electronic content. There were informative discussions: the issues and options relating to public library service to aboriginal populations; the status of literacy programs in the Province as well as nationally, and the interdependent nature of literacy programs with the future well-being of public libraries, with some focus on the lack of federal leadership most particularly from LAC-BAC. There was, also, very profitable discussion of the models of support for the print-disabled, and the need for a national strategy, with again a discussion as to the apparent abandonment of the issue by LAC-BAC. In this latter regard there was a provincial preference for a distributed solution versus an agency- specific solution. The conversation ended, in many ways as it began, with emphasis on the role of public libraries as community hubs, and the need for distinct library personnel to reflect the distinctiveness of the host community.