LAC Cuts and Government Library Closures: Part of a New Paradigm?

I’d hoped for a happier first post for my return to Slaw, but I do think it’s important to shine the light on the forthcoming reductions to Library and Archives Canada and any broader impact or mirroring of reality. The cuts to the LAC announced in last month’s budget received some media coverage and commentary from interested parties at that time. This coincides with LAC’s announcement of a phased-in shift in the manner in which reference services are handled, to provide service with reduced staff.

This week we learned more precisely the nature of the impact on LAC. According to reports in the Globe and Mail, 235 LAC workers received notice they are “affected” by the cuts, and, specifically, 105 positions are expected to be eliminated; the goal is to eliminate 215 positions. The cuts also reach departmental libraries and archives across the federal public service, some of which are closing altogether.

The Canadian Council of Archives will close its Ottawa office at the end of this week. The chair of the Council, Lara Wilson, who is also University Archivist here at UVic, noted the “impact on archives users, genealogists, scholars, writers across Canada,” in a news report published this morning.

Today, the Canadian Association of University Teachers voiced harsh criticism, saying the cuts “undermine the capacity of Library and Archives Canada to fulfill its legislated mandate to acquire, preserve and make accessible Canada’s history.” These concerns echo those the Canadian Association of Research Libraries voiced in its excellent committee submission in respect of Budget 2012 last August, in which it advocated that then-current funding levels be maintained.

Interesting to me about these measures, and the arguments recited in opposition to them, are the parallels we see in discussions about funding of other libraries: law firm, university, public. In particular, LAC will no longer take walk-in reference requests; these will be by appointment only, and there is a move toward “modernization” in the suggestion, for example, of videoconferencing.

What do others think of the cuts to LAC and departmental libraries and archives, and any possible parallels to libraries in other sectors? New paradigm? Modernization? Necessary austerity? Short-term solution?


  1. David Collier-Brown

    Hmmn, how about “denial of service attack on users of history?” Faintly reminiscent of “1984”, where history was rendered mutable.

    This makes it difficult to discover facts, effectively contradicting the normal dictum of “you can have your own opinions, but not your own facts”.

    [A “denial of service attack” is a computer-ism, describing a scheme whereby something is rendered so busy that it behaves as if it was turned off.]

  2. Indeed, David. To me, that’s the stark difference between, on the one hand, the LAC (and even many government departmental libraries) and, on the other, libraries in other sectors. The former contains historical record and our collective body of research, including material not otherwise accessible.

    The CARL submission linked in the post contains a few pointed paragraphs pointing out the indispensability (one would think) of the LAC for researchers and its essence as an account of our historical record.

    Michel-Adrien has a great post up about this, citing the CLA response. Postmedia also has a good report (apart from the unfortunate first few words, IMO) on these cuts, with reaction from CLA and CAUT.

  3. The archival community is currently in shock over the cuts and working together to combat them. In addition to potentially losing hundreds of staff at LAC the cuts posed a mortal blow to the Canadian Council of Archives, the National Archives Development Program (the main granting program in Canada for archives) and many of the provincial councils funded through NADP funds. Without this infrastructure and the specialists at LAC who will receive their pink slips, the Canadian archival community will lose its support structure.

    Help us fight the cuts by signing the petition that is going around, writing a letter to your MP or participating int he “On to Ottawa Trek” protest scheduled for May 28th. All of the information and links are available on our Facebook site:!/pages/Fight-the-Budget-Cuts-to-the-Library-and-Archives-of-Canada/290155287735722

    We need to count on our customers for support at this time.