LAC-Lustre Leadership

I’ve been waiting for someone to point out how badly we Canadians are preserving our digital heritage. The Toronto Star finally got there this week, with the article, Canada’s bleeding digital heritage.

The article is right on the money – not only is the Library and Archives Canada not showing leadership on the government presence in social media, they can’t even assure us that they are maintaining a suitable archive of federal government websites.

The last time LAC harvested government web content was in 2008, and I recently learned they don’t plan to do it again any time soon. Perhaps never. And according to the Star article, they’ve absolved themselves of keeping paper records effective 2017. I hope this means that a brilliant, sweeping strategy is in the works.

I weep for the scholars of the future.


  1. I do know the last time I taught my social networking course in Ottawa, it was to a class of federal government records managers (this was probably a good 18 months ago or more now). They were certainly aware of the issues. They wanted answers, I mostly had questions. Talk about being on the hot seat!

    It doesn’t necessarily have to be the LAC harvesting content, it could be the individual departments, but having some central direction on policy might be a good thing. I’m sure everyone is reinventing the wheel, figuring out what to do with this thing.

  2. I agree- there are lots of libraries and archives who are already doing this work (the Ontario Legislative Library has a digital archive of 30,000+ documents, available through Our Ontario). What we need from LAC is coordination and leadership. It would be a huge waste of resources to discover that efforts are being duplicated. LAC would be an obvious place to share information about projects under way, collections available, etc.

    At a recent conference, I asked representatives from LAC (from the preservation and collections side) how they were planning to define “record” in a digital world. The example I used was a blog post on a sanctioned federal site. What is the reoord – the initial post? The post plus comments? Apparently there is no policy on this.

    I’m not asking them to do all of the work. I just want a coordinated, articulate set of guidelines to help us decide who is going to collect what, how it is stored and made available. Clearly, your students have the same concerns. This is such a natural role for LAC, it’s disheartening to see them miss out on the opportunity.

  3. A recent study ( found that >70% of twitter postings received no response or retweeting, and of those which elicited a response, 85% had only a single reply. So what exactly do you think you’re missing out on if these aren’t preserved?: A large chunk of text which was generally ignored when it was created, and which largely consists of shortened URLs which will be dead within a few months of the original posting.

    I imagine those federal government records managers were less interested in harvesting web content than figuring out how quickly they could delete it, or reassuring themselves that they could ignore it as outside their area of responsibility.

    LAC isn’t going to stop keeping paper in 2017: they’ll keep all the paper records they’ve already acquired. But since most records on paper now being created are simply copies of electronic records, it’s not a bad idea to stop acquiring them.

    You can read about LAC’s project to establish a repository for preserving digital content, here:

  4. To whom it may concern,

    I would like to add my voice to the list of people who are concerned about the lack of leadership that LAC are showing in regards to the archiving of government websites. We should be preserving our digital records in this country.

    It also bothers me that they plan to stop keeping paper records. This does not bode well for our future.

    Thank you for this opportunity.

  5. I’m thrilled to report that since I posted this rant, LAC has been publishing guidelines for its Trusted Digital Repository and aligned projects. See

    Let’s hope that they’re able to get the message out.

  6. Michael Geist weighs in via his Jan. 14 article in the Toronto Star–geist-ottawa-awol-but-others-busy-digitizing-canada-s-heritage

    I’d also like to point out that Our Ontario is a great source for Ontario government documents.