Edmonton Consultations

The panel held two consultations in Edmonton, at the University of Alberta in the School of Library and Information Studies (SLIS) on October 28 and at the Provincial Archives of Alberta (PAA) on October 29. Chief Librarian and Vice-Provost Gerald Beasley co-hosted the consultation at SLIS. Both events echoed salient themes: “the richness of the information ecology we have,” a focus on the service orientation of libraries and archives, spirited calls and campaigns for advocacy, and laments for the disappeared services at LAC.

The complex layers of knowledge, information, and data, it was argued, require a “holistic perspective.” Although standards, collections development, legal deposit, and an authoritative international reputation all need and presume a federal presence, many participants expressed disappointment and scepticism about the current situation at LAC, citing the disappearance of specialist archivists, the refusal of requests, and the message that a book published in Canada in 2012 would not be available to a researcher working at LAC until 2015. “There’s very little to be proud of here.” In the discussion of the designation “information manager,” some participants judged the label “technocratic and reductive,” while others suggested that the title could be understood as “marketing library schools to young people.”

The interrelated issues of diversified services and advocacy sparked many exchanges. “In library school, it is valuable to remind students that we are all about customer service.” Gerald Beasley mentioned the example of Quebec; when he arrived in the province in the nineties, “there was a complete turnaround to the commitment to public information.” He noted, “The Grande Bibliothèque was the first expression of the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ), the first public institution to be called national within Quebec.” One participant challenged us to become “ambassadors for the library” through events, exhibits, and collections. Rather than making the library invisible by being proud of not having to enter it because of online facilities, library users and patrons continue to enact specific and unique ways of learning, which the new and evolving spaces of libraries are accommodating. “The library exists and does work.”

Although not every feature of its intellectual, cultural, economic, social, and political impact can be measured, some aspects of loss can be documented. The widespread elimination of the teacher-librarian position means that “we have generations of kids with a complete alienation to library services” and the resultant loss of “critical literacies.”

At the PAA the following evening, issues of advocacy, education, and physical space were paramount. Although the abrupt cancellation of the NADP has meant that the Archives Society of Alberta has lost “one of its legs,” collaborative campaigns to build public awareness and political support continue unabated. Examples of “creativity on a shoestring” include renting stalls at farmers’ markets, publishing an archives calendar, and mounting a fashion show at City Hall. Public awareness of the value of such institutions as archives starts at an early age with an inculcation through example of the preciousness and uniqueness of objects, a hard sell in our throwaway culture. A related recognition involves the importance of “professionals to interpret things.” The “digital by default” mantra of the provincial Open Government program poses a genuine dilemma for archivists: “we need funding to digitize in order for people to have a historical perspective.” Although many small archives exist with “subpar facilities” and are “bursting at the seams,” even the ten-year-old, state-of-the-art “pinnacle” PAA is now full.

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