The Senate and Library and Archives Canada

Thanks to Wallace J. McLean for pointing this item out on Arcan-l.

The ongoing controversy over Library and Archives Canada's decision to cut service hours made it to the Senate yesterday during Question Period.

Library and Archives Canada - Hours of Operation

Hon. Lorna Milne: Honourable senators, Treasury Board documents reveal that when the National Archives and the National Library merged to form Library and Archives Canada in 2002, the transformation was not in any way supposed to reduce the quality of service delivered by the new institution. Both institutions viewed the move as a strategic opportunity to expand their mandates and to serve Canadians better. However, as of September 1, service hours at the National Library have been reduced from 47.5 hours per week to 30 hours per week.

In addition, reading rooms that were accessible to researchers between eight o'clock in the morning and eleven o'clock at night, seven days a week, are now open only until 8 p.m., and are closed on the weekend.

My question for the Leader of the Government in the Senate today is: What message is this government sending to Canadians when it starves the archives for money so these changes needed to be made? Is it okay to be interested in our own history but only during business hours?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government and Secretary of State (Seniors)): Honourable senators, I do not know what circumstances prevailed in establishing new hours of operation for the Library and Archives Canada so I will take the question as notice.

Senator Milne: Honourable senators, I thank the leader for that answer. I look forward to the response. Researchers from all over Ottawa and Canada converge on Ottawa to get their hands on the tangible documents that depict and explain Canada's history. While I can appreciate the mandated need of Library and Archives Canada to now cut costs, I do not believe it should result in a tangible reduction to the quality of the service delivered to Canadians.

The argument that more research occurs online is true and it is good, but only 1 per cent of the collection is presently online. Therefore, I would like the Leader of the Government in the Senate to inform honourable senators how much money these changes will save Library and Archives Canada, how many people have been taken off digitizing the present collection to keep the open hours, and how many positions will be completely lost because of these changes?

Is this government comfortable in knowing it is restricting all Canadians from accessing their own history for the sake of a few GST dollars that will amount to about one cent on each cup of coffee that Canadians drink?

Senator LeBreton: Honourable senators, this government, probably for the first time in some time, is concerned about our history, our heritage and the fact that we have a great history and a great heritage. Unfortunately, our Canadian youth, perhaps, are not as aware.

I am deliberately not looking at Senator Milne because I am sure she is going through one of her song and dance routines again.

Senator Milne's question was long and detailed. The government, of course, would not want in any way to restrict access to valid information that would help Canadians to better educate themselves, to know our history and to share a sense of pride in the country.

I shall take Senator Milne's question as notice — because to be perfectly honest, I had not heard that Library and Archives Canada had changed its hours. I know I am responsible for answering all questions on behalf of the government, but the opening and closing hours of Library and Archives Canada has not crossed my desk.

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