Halifax Consultations

On November 8 and 9 four members of the panel, Judith Hare, Ernie Ingles, Ken Roberts, and Patricia Demers, met with participants at Dalhousie University and at the Alderney Gate Branch of the Halifax Public Library in Dartmouth. Our discussions with individual presenters and large groups were richly informative and full of encouragement for our work. We were especially pleased to meet participants from across Atlantic Canada–from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Representatives of the Council of Nova Scotia Archives (CNSA) told us of the range of services offered by this 91-member professional association, including individual site visits and such well-attended education programs as the Core Curriculum certificate and the Introduction to Archives course. The Provincial Archival Development Program provides essential support to bring cultural assets together and to promote the visibility of the archival community. The Co-operative Acquisition policy allows the CNSA to de-accession certain material to the communities where they originated and where, after careful investigation, the Council is convinced they can be best kept, used, and preserved.

However, the prospects within the archival community are not uniformly positive. Archival searches are fundamental elements of many research programs, and yet the budget lines in SSHRC grant applications do not allow for the recognition and compensation of the vital archival labour to prepare, document, and guide archival searches. We heard forceful arguments in favour of de-accessioning to permit local communities themselves to house their own history and artefacts. The closure or non-availability of archival material at LAC as well as the disappearance of specialist archivists was a repeated cause of concern. Students in archival studies pointed to the disconnect between their Management classes in which they are taught to be “savvy” and the absence of a big vision in national leadership. Participants with special interests in Canadian publishing, past and present, reminded us of the preciousness of the book as a material object, the warnings against digital utopianism, and the need for new models in an ecosystem that is out of balance.

On Saturday morning we met with a member of the Canadian Historical Association, who expressed colleagues’ concerns about blocked access to archives, “the Mecca for historians,” at LAC. Historians would like more information about the processes and criteria for digitization of Canadian records within the “whole of society” theme and about a possible transition strategy concerning Inter-Library Loans. The AMICUS site impresses historians as belonging to the age of the buggy. Although periods of transition are a constant condition of academic work, the current moment at LAC is especially problematic in light of the decreased number of acquisitions, the devaluing of hard-won expertise and consequent lowering of morale, the lack of clarity about decentralization and how it will affect or benefit scholarship, and the need to address the preservation of born-digital material.

The afternoon session at the Alderney Gate Library in Dartmouth allowed us to hear from librarians, archivists, and readers across the Maritimes. The librarians were ardent champions of de-mystification, seeing themselves not as “crypt keepers” but as “shepherds” who oversee and enable twenty-first-century third spaces and gathering spaces. We learned of the creative innovation of librarians dealing with a $40K shortfall in the budget of an institution serving as the hub of literacy and lifelong learning, and the point of first entry in a widespread, non-affluent demographic. Opinions were varied about the feasibility and success of public school libraries. In one instance, it was the challenge of fulfilling two mandates, allowing for different hours of operation and supplying adequate security. By contrast, the 26 public libraries in PEI, all located either in schools or community buildings, demonstrate that such collaborative models can and do work. We heard compelling defences of bookmobiles and of the importance of vibrant community archives.

In our Halifax consultations we were exceptionally happy at the number of participants (on a holiday weekend!) and heartened by their passionate commitment to libraries and archives.

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