Earlier this month, a controversy erupted over a proposed deal between Library and Archives Canada (LAC) and Canadiana.org, a not-for-profit partnership of major research libraries in Canada, to digitize the LAC’s vast collections of print and photographic material and make it available to the public via a new online portal.
The so-called Héritage Project, a 10-year initiative, involves the digitization of approximately 60 million pages of primary-source documents from the 1600s to the mid-1900s and will include making digital copies of such material as: immigration records, church records, land records, family histories and papers, voters’ lists; documents relating to Canada’s First Nations, Métis and Inuit; key early documents from core departments such as Indian Affairs, Immigration, Health, Agriculture, Railways and Canals, Fisheries and Natural Resources; military history records; and papers from prominent Canadians, such as Prime Ministers, Governors General, premiers, cabinet ministers, explorers, scientists, entrepreneurs, writers and artists.
During the recent controversy, there were fears expressed that Canadiana.org would be granted a 10-year exclusive license to sell access to many of the materials that are part of Canada’s heritage. There were reports that Canadian material already belonging to Canadian citizens and paid for through tax dollars could be hidden behind a “paywall'”.
A number of library associations have jumped to the defense of Canadiana.org and the project, arguing that certain media reports got it wrong. They argue that all raw digitized material (the actual page images) will be made available free of charge to the public as soon as it is processed. Research organizations that contribute financially to the project would have access through an optional premium site (for a fee) to some of the richer metadata needed for in-depth research, but that metadata will be gradually rolled out to the public over the 10-year period.
There have been many contradictory statements about Canadiana.org’s deal with LAC. The American publication Library Journal has compiled a Roundup of Press and Public Statements: Library and Archives Canada Heritage Digitization Plan.
This debate or controversy has me thinking 2 things:
1) we are finely starting to undertake large-scale digitization projects in this country. A few months ago, I posted about another Canadiana.org project (with the Library of Parliament this time) that many legal researchers have been dreaming of for a long long while: the digitization of all federal Hansards.
2) and, on a more frustrating note, why do I have to go to an American journal for a roundup of a major debate about a national Canadian institution?