«A Report for Library and Archives Canada Prepared by: Sean F. Berrigan Newgrange Strategies and Conversations Ottawa, Ontario March 31, 2014 LAC ...»
Reframing the Canadian Archival System
A Report for Library and Archives Canada
Sean F. Berrigan
Newgrange Strategies and Conversations
March 31, 2014
LAC Contract Number: 5Z011-14-0487
Financial Code: 10-6400-7100-0310 54258E
With the objective of capitalizing on discussions during the January 17, 2014
Canadian Archives Summit, “Towards a New Blueprint for Canada's Recorded
Memory,” Library and Archives Canada (LAC) recently sought to further explore several important issues raised in this context.
The resulting reports were submitted to LAC in March 2014, by the Canadian Council of Archives and Newgrange Strategies and Conversations respectively. LAC received these reports, and has had the opportunity through them to learn more about the range of discussions being engaged in by members across Canada's archival system.
LAC is sharing these reports with the broader community to continue dialogue initiated during the Summit. Please note that these reports include recommendations and opinions which have been provided by third party contractors to the Government of Canada. The reports are not approved LAC strategies and should not be treated as such. These were meant to stimulate and encourage ongoing discussions.
Note that public notice of these two contracts will be divulged under Proactive Disclosure, as per Government of Canada policy (see http://www.baclac.gc.ca/eng/transparency/proactive-disclosure/Pages/proactive-disclosure.aspx).
The Functioning of the Canadian Archival System.
“The most successful strategies are visions, not plans.”i Henry Mintzberg Introduction The Canadian Archival System (CAS) constitutes the unpublished documentary heritage of the country. It comprises our collective social, cultural, political and economic memory.
Through the archival records the system holds, it documents our individual and collective successes and failures; it documents the strengths and weaknesses of our society; it provides the background to current issues and assists in gaining insight into the continuing realities of Canada. It enables us to celebrate our past and permits us to commemorate and to better understand the events, people and places which have helped shape us. Without this documentary memory, we would be faced with social and cultural amnesia.
The Canadian archival system has evolved and adapted over time establishing a network of over 800 institutions, which taken in a systemic and holistic way constitutes a key element of Canada's collective documentary heritage.
The challenges facing the Canadian archival community in 2014 are significant, complex, and far-reaching, and addressing them will require a concerted effort by all components of the system to ensure the archival system’s future.
At the outset, it is important to define what is meant by a “ system “ and how it is used in this report. A simple definition from the Oxford English Dictionary defines “system” as: “Complex whole; set of connected things or parts; organized body of things.” Another definition is drawn from organizational change theory and
methodology and what is termed “systems thinking”:
“A system is a collection of objects bound together to achieve some purpose. The way in which the objects are bound together form the organization’s characteristics”.ii A recent background paper prepared for the Canadian Archives Summit by the Canadian Council of Archives (CCA) described the Canadian Archival System and its
interrelationships in the following way:
“Regarding our Canadian archival system, we are a complex whole, with shared functions; we share a set of principles. What affects one part affects the whole. The Canadian archival system is the whole of our archival institutions, human resources, programs and repositories in the country concerned with the preservation of the archival record––and to work as a complex whole the system requires coordination.”iii The Canadian Archival System, which for reasons of brevity will be referred to as the CAS, consists of the two professional associations: the Association of Canadian Archivists (ACA) and the Association des archivists du Quebec (AAQ), the Canadian Council of Archives (CCA), which is the coordinating body for the System and which represents the provincial and territorial archival councils and institutions, the Council of Provincial and Territorial Archivists (CPTA) which represents the provincial and territorial government archival institutional heads and the Library and Archives of Canada (LAC). There is no de facto leader in this “system”, rather it functions as a web or network with the “system” at its head.
Organizational change specialists suggest that looking at a system from a holistic perspective and the way that the components in the system are positioned in relation to each other, influences its dynamics.iv It is assumed that there are no isolated events in systems, that everything connects with everything else. This interdependence influences roles, relationships and responsibilities within the system. A particularly important property of the system is that no component or subsystem can do what the system itself can do. The components are interrelated and interdependent. The CAS fits this description very well.
Whole system organizational methodology theory and techniques for influencing systems change suggest that in order for success, the entire community needs to be engaged in the work of planning its own future, that is to envision a new future, a new approach or a new system.v Given the interrelations and interdependence of the system, and in this case the CAS, discrete solutions affecting only one component cannot resolve complex system- wide problems. This is a particularly important factor in determining long-term solutions for system-wide problems.
Therefore, in order to change or reframevi a system, it is important to lead the system in a collective exercise of changing the current frame, or the understanding of a particular set of ideas that have been functioning long enough that it will require those ideas to be seen or understood in a different way.vii Overview Characteristics of the Canadian Archival System Sharing responsibilities for preserving Canada’s documentary heritage is a fundamental principle of the establishment of the Canadian Archival System. Each component has a responsibility for a part of the system. The various levels of government and institutions are responsible for developing and maintaining archives. The professional associations, the ACA and AAQ, are entrusted with representing the profession and its members and for the continuing professional development of archivists. The CCA is responsible for coordinating the system and representing archival councils and institutions through the thirteen provincial and territorial archival councils (P/T Councils). The Council of Provincial and Territorial Archivists (CPTA), represents the heads of the provincial and territorial archives.
Library and Archives Canada (LAC) represents the national institution and the Government of Canada. Together, they comprise the CCA and represent what is referred to as the CAS. (Annex 1) The CCA works by consensus through the General Assembly where each component has a vote and participates in directing the activities of the system. CCA Board members are elected from representatives of the system to oversee the system.
In order for the CAS to function smoothly, each component has to collaborate and cooperate in identifying and promoting common interests and in solving common problems. Progress in resolving issues in many ways depends on these interconnections, relationships and trust.
Total Archives Approach
Canada's archival heritage, like the federation itself, has been built on a unique duality: balancing and building on the foundation of both the public administrative and legal record and the societal and cultural role of documentary heritage. This foundation was predicated on a model of public responsibility and public funding for the Canadian documentary record in order to serve the public good.viii This unique role among Western nations of documenting Canada's collective memory from both public and private sources in all media is deemed by archival scholars as the” total archives” concept and practice.ix This concerted approach of documenting private and public spheres through the acquisition and preservation of both public records and historical information in all documentary media has been reflected in all Canadian political jurisdictions, federal, provincial/territorial and municipal and among community, public and university archival institutions from the 18th century. This dual role was first reflected in the mandate of the Public Archives of Canada (PAC) in 1872. While under considerable pressure from the ubiquity and pressures of the digital environment, this duality of public/private continues to function in most Canadian archival institutions today.
Archival scholar and consultant Laura Millar has argued that this concept of “total archives” was linked to the belief that the public sector had a direct responsibility for the preservation of Canada’s documentary heritage and was predicated on the belief that in order for Canada to thrive and survive in the 19th century, the national government had a central role to play in supporting and nurturing the culture of the
country.xThe concept was:
“…driven in large part by a fundamentally Canadian philosophy: that coordinated universally accessible, publicly funded initiatives are necessary in order to create a sense of national identity in a country with a huge geography and fierce regional allegiances.”xi This wide ranging mandate covering both public and private sources found its legislative confirmation and foundation in the Public Archives of Canada Act in
1912.xiiDuring this period, the archival activities of the provinces took on renewed vigor using the model of the PAC as a guide for their own mandates. The provincial archival institutions in Ontario, Québec, BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island were established building on the duality of private and public archives held within the same institution. Provincial archives working with local and regional historical societies and universities were critical elements in the developing network of the archival community in Canada. The establishment of the Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts Letters and Sciences, more commonly known as the Massey Commission, provided an important vehicle for the Canadian archival community to strengthen and build on the connections and networks required to weave together in an early embryonic form the archival network and system that we know today.
In their 1951 report, the Massey Commission focused on the role and dual nature of the Public Archives of Canadaxiii but also focused on the growing “regional” archival communityxiv and lamented the lack of either a local or national approach to the adequate provision for the collection and preservation of public records or of other archival documents.xv The Commission in its report on local and provincial archives recognized early the rationale and deeper need for the establishment of a coordinated approach to the acquisition and preservation of the wide array of Canadian archival content.
The Essential Building Blocks Over the next 25 years, the archival community in Canada grew exponentially.
When the Massey Commission was preparing its report there were approximately 49 Canadian archival institutions in place. By 1960, those numbers had grown to 75 and it is been estimated that over the next decade there was a growth of approximately 5 institutions per year.xvi In the period leading up to, and following the celebration of Canada's Centennial in 1967, there was a renewed and deepening interest in Canadian history, Canadian social institutions and the growing diversity of our population. Adding to this was the growing interest of family historians and scholarly and general researchers seeking the documents of religious, business and ethnic communities. The burgeoning development of the new discipline of Canadian Studies was seen as a foundation for reinforcing a strong Canadian national identity that could lead the country into the 21st century.xvii The Symons Report officially titled: To Know Ourselves: the Report of the Commission on Canadian Studies ushered in an era of considerable growth in Canadian archival community.
Established in 1972 under the chairmanship of Thomas H. B. Symons, the report cited the crucial importance of the country’s archives to the core of the Commission’s mandate: “The future quality and scope of Canadian studies will depend on the state of our country's archives”. xviiiThe report has been characterized by many in the archival community as the watershed moment for ‘the coming of age’ of the Canadian archival community. While assigning a major role to Canadian universities in the role of promoting public awareness of the potential historical and archival value and importance of private, public and other community held archival material, it also recognized the need for “…. the development of a comprehensive archival system that will meet the needs of Canadians throughout the country.”xix The Symons report galvanized the archival community and provided the impetus for the creation of the Consultative Group on Canadian Archives chaired by Ian E.