Canadian Archives Summit

On Friday January 17, 2014 the Association of Canadian Archivists (ACA), the Canadian Council of Archives (CCA), and l’Association des Archivistes du Quebec (AAQ) are hosting the Canadian Archives Summit: Towards a New Blueprint for Canada’s Recorded Memory.  The focus of the Summit is the future of documentary heritage in Canada and aims to stimulate discussion amongst the Canadian archival community.

 A number of ‘Thought Leader‘ papers have been released in advance of the Summit and can be viewed online.  These papers tackle a number of interesting topics including community archives, archives in a digital world, the public perception of archives, and challenges archives are facing.

The Summit will be held at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto from 8:30am – 5:00pm and simulcast at select sites across the county. The distributed model of delivery is interesting and allows for engagement of archivists who are unable to travel to Toronto.  Granted, the majority of the simulcast and discussion sites are in larger centers so archivists in rural areas or smaller cities may still not be able to participate as fully. 

Full details of the event can be seen here

Archival Advocacy: Canada and Abroad

There has been a tremendous amount of discussion in the twitter and blog realms about SAA‘s new publication Resources for Volunteer Programs in Archives. The publication garnered a heated post on the “You Ought to be Ashamed” blog, this post spurred a charged the twitter debate and number of other blog posts.  See here and here

For those of you who have missed the discussion, it boils down to a criticism of the use of volunteers in place of paid archival staff and a subsequent criticism of SAA’s lack of advocacy for paid archivists positions.  Personally, I see volunteers and students as a great thing, but they do need guidance and proper support from trained staff.  Many organizations couldn’t survive without the hours put in by their volunteers.  But organization also can’t flourish without consistent trained guidance.  I think this issue highlights the need for archives to make the general public, stakeholders and funding organizations more aware of what archives actually do and what specialized skills are held by trained archives staff.

Many people have limited knowledge of what terms like appraisal, processing, arrangement, preservation, etc mean.  As a result archives are often seen as storage rooms for old stuff.  Explaining the value of organization and documentation can be a starting point for introducing archival skill sets to the general public. A lot of misconceptions can begin to be altered through community outreach and active advocacy.

The other point which this discussion highlighted for me was how much more involved and active archival professional organizations seem in the United States.   The Association of Canadian Archivists (ACA) does hold an annual conference, publishes a newsletter and journal, and has a growing social media presence. The ACA also released a number of news bulletins and a letter writing campaign when cuts to Library and Archives Canada were announced.  Despite these efforts, Canadian archivists on a whole just don’t seem to be engaged in national professional dialogues to the same extent as their American counterparts.  Though perhaps I’m just observing the wrong segments of the web– in which case please correct me. 

A number of Canadian archival institutions use twitter and facebook to promote new collections and services.  However these accounts rarely engage on topics related to the archive profession itself. 
Almost all of the prominent individual archives blogs and individual archival users of twitter tend to be from the United States.  Frankly, I can’t see an ACA publication causing such a stir in the Canadian archival community even if it was controversial in nature.

This lack of professional dialogue or national community on the part of Canadian archivists can be disheartening at times.  Canadian archivists are angered when cuts are made to archival funding and tend to rise up in the face of crisis.  But on a daily basis very few archivists are engaging in discussions about how to improve the field or change public perceptions.   Last minute action isn’t always the best method and continuous education, promotion, and outreach has the potential to root out some problems before they begin.

Additional reading:
Adam Crymble’s 2010 Archivaria article, “An Analysis of Twitter and Facebook Use by the Archival Community,” provides a good analysis of the different uses of social media by archival organizations and individual.  Despite the data being from 2009-2010 the conclusions about types of usage and outreach are still very relevant.

Some Canadian Archives Twitter Folks:

Canadian Public History: Where Art Thou?

Credit: Nikopol_TO

Public Historians work in a range of positions within and outside the heritage sector.  Public historians can be found in museums, archives, libraries, academic institutions, corporations, not-for-profits, the film industry, research firms, and other organizations.

In the United States the National Council on Public History is an active professional organization that represents, offers services to, and connects public historians.  Currently, Canada has no similar active national organization.  There is a public history working group under the Canadian Historical Association, but many public historians outside of academia are not involved with this group.

 Currently, the institution I work at is a member of:

Each group has a very specific focus and offers a variety of professional development tools, connections, and resources based on its focus.  A Public Historian working in an archive may find the occasional article in Archivaria or The American Archivist which approaches archival principal from a public history view point, but that’s probably all the PH content one will get.  

I’ve taken to reading The Public Historian and Public History News to get my Public History fix – but since both are American based publications I’m often level longing for Canadian content. content helps fill in some of the void in Canadian Public History.  But I’d love to hear any suggestions on where else to turn for new Canadian Public History reading and collaboration.

Anne Linday’s “Archives and Justice”

One of the presentations I found particularly intriguing at the Association of Canadian Archivists conference was Anne Lindsay’s presentation on Willard Ireland.  Lindsay’s presentation was a condensed version of an article she wrote for Archivaria.  “Archives and Justice: Willard Ireland’s Contribution to the Changing Legal Framework of Aboriginal Rights in Canada, 1963-1973” by Lindsay was recently published in the Spring 2011  issue of Archivaria.
Lindsay’s work focuses on the role of British Columbia’s Provincial Archivist Willard Ireland in the legal cases Regina v. White and Bob and Calder v. The Attorney General of British Columbia.  This article uses Ireland’s experience as a case example of the role archivists have in providing context to records and the impact which this context can have on present day interpretation of history.  Lindsay’s work also provides a semi-biographical account of Ireland’s professional work and an introduction to the history of land claims in BC.  “Archives and Justice” provides a good introduction to Ireland and the impact of archivists on the records they maintain.

Wrapping Up #ACA2011: Day Three

The final day of the ACA conference opened with a plenary session focusing on the idea of Being Archived. The panel featured authors Erika Ritter and Rosemary Sullivan. This presentation provided an interesting look on what is like to be on the other side of the fence – to be the one donating your professional and personal records to an institution. The act of donation experience that many archivists don’t ever get a chance to experience and this presentation provided a look at what goes through the minds of potential donors.

The morning session I attended was entitled Respect and Recognition Continuity and Change in Archives Practice and Aboriginal Documentary Heritage. The panel featured Terry Reilly of the University of Calgary, Sarah Hurford of LAC, Patricia Kennedy of LAC, and Marianne McLean of LAC. Kennedy, Hurford, and McLean all work in different departments of Library and Archives Canada that deal with the acquisition, reference, and development of Aboriginal heritage collections. All three speakers from LAC focused on the need to develop programming which suits the varying needs to Aboriginal communities, researchers, litigation companies, and scholars. In particular, McLean emphasized the growing need to collaboration at every stage of collection development.

Reilly’s presentation focused primarily on her role as the archivist for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The TRC archive is currently in the development phases and Reilly’s work focused on the development of policies and collection mandate’s within the TRC framework. Like the presenters from LAC, Reilly emphasized the need for the TRC to make its work relevant to First Nation, Metis, and Inuit communities – and the ongoing struggle the TRC has with engagement on the local level.

The final #ACA2011 presentation I attended focused on What is a Record in the Digital Environment? The Speakers included Adam Jansen of the University of BC, Jim Suderman from the City of Toronto, and Luciana Duranti of the University of BC. Jensen’s presentation focused on the role of diplomatics (the gensis, forms, and transmission of archival documents) in the digital age. Jensen emphasized the need to archivists to be engaged in the creation of digital content and to understand object oriented programming. Jensen maintained the importance of archivists being digitally literate and being more than merely reactive to digital trends. Jim Suderman’s presentation followed a similar vane to the work of Jansen. Suderman focused on the growing open data trend within Canada and the United States. Like Jense, Suderman suggested that archivists should be involved in the establishment and delivery of the digital platforms used by open data initiatives. This panel concluded with an interesting presentation by Duranti focusing on the Facebook Wall. Duranti used archival theory to deconstruct the digital form that is ‘the wall’ and to explain what the characteristics of a digital record are.

ACA2011 Conference: Day Two

The second day of #ACA2011 open with a plenary session by Dr. Laura Millar. Milliar’s presentation was titled Challenging the Fundamentals: Considering the Future of the Canadian Archival System. The organizational theme of Milliar’s talk was based in creating a new ‘strategic plan’ for the Canadian Archival System. This plan called for a coordinated national strategy for record keeping and preservation, a plan for preserving the digital record, public engagement, and a revised education system. Milliar maintained that archivists should be “auditor, protector, historian, advocate, and adviser.” According to Millar, the archival field is currently faced with a time of opportunity – to shape the future of the profession and to shape the society’s perception of the field. Similar to Terry Eastwood’s presentation yesterday, Millar’s talk emphasized the need to be proactive in shaping the archival profession and was hopeful in looking toward future archival developments.

The morning session I attended was entitled The Tangible and the Intangible. Speakers included Anne Lindsay of the University of Manitoba and Creighton Barrett of Dalhousie University. Unfortunately the third panelist, Teague Schneiter, was absent. Barrett’s presentation explored English ballads as a type of intangible heritage. This talk highlighted the problem of documenting and arranging intangible heritage based on guidelines designed for written, Euro-centric documentary heritage. Additionally, Barrett called for the use of flexible arrangement during the archival processing of intangible heritage, which would allow cultural heritage to be linked to a provenance of place and an expanded definition of creation.

Lindsay’s presentation provided an interesting contrast to the paper presented by Barrett. Lindsay’s paper, entitled “Archives and Justice: Willard Ireland’s Contribution to the Changing Legal Framework of Aboriginal Rights in Canada” focused on the contributions of archivist Willard Ireland which impacted political, social, and legal forms of knowledge. Lindsay provided an excellent summary of Ireland’s involvement in two legal cases which examined the question of Aboriginal title and treaty rights. This presentation saw the role of archives as that of a witness and as playing an essential role in the creation of memory. One of the more profound examples in this discussion of archives of witness was Ireland’s court testimony. This testimony placed a piece of paper with 159 ‘X’ marks on it, into the context of a larger treaty framework. The work presented by both Barrett and Lindsay was intriguing and provided food for thought regarding how to best contextualize and preserve unique forms of heritage.

This first afternoon session I attended discussed Collecting in Canada from a historical perspective. This session included presentations by Paulette Dozois (LAC), Anna Shumilak (LAC), and Edward P. Soye (Royal Military College). All three papers in this session focused on the development of different aspects of the archival system within Canada. There was a particular emphasis on the development of LAC. Dozois‘ work focused on the legacy of Joseph Pope in the shaping of the Canadian archival system, and Soye’s work highlighted Dominion Archivists Arthur Doughty’s efforts to establish a war museum. This session provided a great overview of the development of government archives within Canada and a good starting point for discussion of how these early beginnings have shaped current government archive policy in Canada.

The final session I attended today was entitled Round Peg Square Hole. This session featured Geoffrey Yeo of the University College London, Joseph T. Tennis of the University of Washington, and Fiorella Foscarini from University of Toronto. All three speakers examined ways in which the movement to a digital environment have challenged traditional assumptions about archival practice. Yeo’s work discussed the rise of participatory digital environments and the notion of multiple modes of arrangement. Termed ‘arrangement on demand’ Yeo suggested that is impossible to predict how all users would like to use archival material and which type of arrangement of material would best facilitate this use. Yeo suggested that technology has provided archivists with an opportunity to arrange records in multiple ways, without changing their physical context. This was a great technology conscious and forward thinking panel that combined traditional archival theory with potential tech innovations.

Association of Canadian Archivists Conference: Day One

Today was the first official day of proceedings at the 2011 (ACA) Conference. The day opened with a keynote presentation by Terry Eastwood, entitled Thinking About the Base of Archival Practice: Is there a Firm Foundation or Not? Eastwood presented an intriguing look archives through a lens of interpretive social practice, with an emphasis on dissecting the constructivist theories as they relate to archives. Eastwood’s talk also challenged accepted archival paradigms – with a particular emphasis on the current accepted modes of description. Overall, Terry’s talk seemed like a call to arms for archivists to engage in both theory and practice and to look at the history of archival practice as a means of making progress within the field.

The morning session I attended was a roundtable discussion on Reaching Out to Canadian Society. The panel featured Rob Fisher (LAC), Jonathan Lainey (LAC), Leah Sander (LAC), and Christine Bourolias (Archives of Ontario). The panel framed this discussion of outreach by examining acquisition policies. The speakers emphasized the necessity of using outreach to cultivate the type of acquisitions your institution desires. The discussion portion of the session focused on specific case studies -mainly outreach to ethnic and minority groups. The majority of these examples highlighted the need to build trust relationships within communities and the need for innovate ways of connecting and supporting communities. The session provided a lot of food for thought about ways to engage the general public and the importance of maintaining a strong outreach and acquisition policy.

The afternoon session I attended was entitled Preservation and the Total Archives in the
Age of E-records. The presenters -all trained conservationists -included: Ala Rekrut (Archives of Manitoba), Greg Hill (Canadian Conservation Institute), and Rosaleen Hill (Canadian Council of Archives). Greg Hill’s presentation focused on the evolution of the role of conservators within the archival field. Hill placed conservation and preservation within a wider historical context and provided a good overview of the field in general. Ala Rekrut’s talk was narrower in scope and emphasized the need for collaboration between conservators and archivists. Rekrut discussed the nature of both traditional and digital records and the importance of context and structure in defining the intrinsic value of a record. This session concluded with Rosaleen’s remarks on the changing roles and responsibilities of conservators in the age of digital archives. Rosaleen highlighted how modes of technology have fundamentally altered how material needs to be preserved. She also emphasized the need for increased education among conservators and archivists regarding the proper care of electronic records.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s sessions, including a panel on tangible and intangible heritage.

Upcoming Events

The Canadian history and heritage fields have a busy couple of weeks ahead of them. There are number of national and provincial conferences being held, as well as a few smaller workshops and online events.

  • The Canadian Library Association annual conference is currently (May 25th to May 28th) being held in Halifax. The program can be found here and a number of participants are tweeting there impressions under the hashtag #CLA2011.
  • The Canadian Historical Association is holding its annual conference in conjunction with the 2011 Congress of Humanities and Social Sciences, from May 30th to June 1st.
  • The Association of Canadian Archivists’ (ACA) 2011 conference will be held in Toronto from June 2 to June 4, 2011. The complete program is available online and the conference hashtag is #ACA2011
  • June 1st is this month’s #builtheritage twitter chat. This month’s focus is on local engagement.
  • This year’s Ontario Heritage Conference is being held in Coburg, June 3rd-June 5th. The theme of the conference is “Creating the Will” and the conference schedule can be seen here.
  • June 15-17th is the Ontario Archives Association conference, which is being held in Thunder Bay this year. The full program is available online.
  • Doors and trails open events are also occurring in communities throughout Ontario.

I will be attending the ACA conference next week. I am particularly looking forward to two sessions focusing on the issues surrounding the archival preservation of Indigenous heritage. I am also planning to use twitter to follow some of the other conferences that I am unable to attend.