VIEWPOINT: A fable about government libraries and OZ

When we were mere slips of librarians and even before - the Emerald City for the budding librarian acolyte was, of course, the National Library of Canada (NLC), now known as Library AND Archives Canada, aka LAC. (BAC for your franca-linguists in the crowd.)

It was the yellow brick road leading to the Emerald City of Canadian libraries - where the munchkins wanted to be - the leading library institution for the country, for the prestige, the honour - the crème de la crème of libraries. Cataloguing monographs for Canadiana, working at the research desk or taking care of those precious special collections and even the Glen Gould piano was a big deal. It was an honour.

Yes, was.

Somewhere along the line between our Miss Glinda, the doyenne and last professional librarian in charge of the place retiring, and the appointing of (gasp!) a writer and then - a Wizard archivist, the LAC is no longer enchanted. This once proud institution doesn't appear to be interested in being the gold standard of anything. The lovely former NLC is not really a formidable force in the world of libraries anywhere - no power, no recognition, not a whole lot of anything that makes one want to take a professional position in those not so hallowed halls. It's a tragic tale.

Why does the appointed Wizard (moribund and losing energy I am told) hide behind the curtain instead of facing the librarians and answering their many questions and listening to their point of view?

Now “managed” by bureaucratic boys in pretty suits and the one lone Good Witch MLIS ADM who is rumoured to be abandoning ship, LAC is no longer viewed by any young thing or seasoned thing, if truth be told, as the standard for anything except waffling, towing bureaucratic lines and being a-feared of speaking out on behalf of anything MLIS related. The boys in the corner offices who are busily climbing career ladders are none to happy and don't like being unsettled by rabble rousing government librarians, formerly known as "stake holders," who question their work on things like shutting down CBEC and CLF 2.0 and Amicus.

"Why can't they be more like those jolly records managers/ IM munchkins who go along with anything we want?" wonder the pretty suited boys as they feed their flying monkeys.

At some point during "transformation" we lost our noble NLC. It is a lily-livered LAC we see. The librarian/information professional has lost ground to the seemingly sexier records file keeping bunch. Yes, LAC is really all about records these days. Filing is apparently the new big thing in our 21st century information overloaded world. Oh yes, but.. it’s ELECTRONIC filing.

We've been told even the archivists are jumping ship as the pretty suited boys talk a whole lot about IM policy, MIDAS and the Recordkeeping Directive. None of this advances or demonstrates leadership for government libraries and information centres, nor does it even really do much for records management.

Somewhere along the line, like the tinman and the scarecrow, the mighty NLC lost its heart and brains in taking action on what matters most and went for the 'the next big thing." Instead of supporting policy and decision making through sound library/information centre operations and getting the best information available, it is throwing all its eggs into managing only the e-records created by government in nice fancy filing cabinets called RDIMS.

Will e-records alone help the policy wonk who needs research on dying salmon fisheries in BC?

Will keeping records without any thought to finding them again help knowledge workers save three hours a day in needless hunting of information in databases and the invisible web?

Not likely.

The pretty boys in suits keep trying to throw water on us hoping we'll melt. It's not working. But what they don't realize is... we're NOT in Kansas any more, Toto. It will take more than three clicks of the ruby slippers to make the smart, mature and out spoken rabble rousing information professionals/librarians go away.

(The comments above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CASLIS Ottawa or the Canadian Library Association.)


Anonymous said...

Ah for the halcyon days of the NLC when librarians in hush puppies roamed the stacks at 395 Wellington. Now, it is actual work at the coal face in the far reaches of Gatineau. Too much change and no longer the centre of attention. Too bad, get with the program or leave.

Anonymous said...

ah... work and change is good... but WHAT programme are you talking about? Leave? Oh believe me, I left as have many others. Early retirement any one? Change of post? All works for me

GillianS said...


The lion has roared and we hear you! We admit we have lots of work to do in explaining recordkeeping, as it's quite a new concept and not finalized yet by Treasury Board. But I can assure you that it is here to stay and that librarians, and LAC, need to be in the thick of it. In fact, there are a number of librarians in Government Records Branch at LAC working enthusiastically on recordkeeping. I would welcome the chance to meet with you and your colleagues to discuss where our common concerns and interests lie. I think you may be surprised by how alive and well the philosophy of librarianship is here.
Looking forward to hearing from you,

Gillian Sullivan, MLS
Directrice / Director
Division de l'infrastructure, des Autochtones et des ressources naturelles / Infrastructure, Aboriginal and Natural Resources Division
Direction des documents gouvernementaux / Government Records Branch
Bibliothèque et Archives Canada / Library and Archives Canada
550, boul. de la Cité, Gatineau QC
Canada K1A 0N4
Téléphone/Telephone 819-934-7520
Télécopieur/Facsimile 819-934-7534
Gouvernement du Canada / Government of Canada