I'm going to take a nostalgic stroll down memory lane today, and follow up with my recommendations for the next Librarian and Archivist of Canada.

When Marianne Scott retired as National Librarian, government librarians were virtually unanimous in their assertion that the next National Librarian, like Ms. Scott, should be a professional librarian. Now, you would think that this had been the case back several decades or so, but in fact, Marianne Scott was the first National Librarian to actually have library credentials! She has continued since her retirement to advocate for our profession, enthusiastically participating in the various Ex Libris activities in the Ottawa area and generally attending our annual conference in Toronto as well.

So what did the government in its wisdom do? Well, they appointed Roch Carrier, author of The Hockey Sweater and various other well-regarded stories and books, as National Librarian. He was a charming person, but not a librarian. Still, he was good with the public and certainly understood some of our issues like copyright and the public lending right. He respected librarians and was well aware that digitization is expensive and not everything is available on the Internet. And at least the National Archivist of Canada was someone with a background in the archival profession (and he later became head of the consolidated institution).

Still in the late 1990s, we had the English Report (named after committee chairman John English) on the future of the National Library and National Archives of Canada. In those days, government librarians were actually CONSULTED on their views as to the appropriate direction for these auspicious institutions to take! I remember contributing my views to this exercise, as did many of my colleagues.

Although librarians, archivists and other information professionals certainly do not all think alike, one thing that emerged loud and clear from our profession was that the National Librarian and the National Archivist should be two separate, distinct offices and people since, although they had some professional goals in common, their mandates were quite different. So what did the government of the day do? Why, they completely ignored us, of course, amalgamating the National Library and National Archives as the "Library and Archives of Canada". This put CISTI (the Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information, formerly known as the National Science Library, and the library for Canada's National Research Council) in a distinct limbo: previously, CISTI had been the national library for publications in the fields of science and technology, while the National Library of Canada had been responsible for published works in the humanities and social sciences. The National Archives (formerly the Public Archives), on the other hand, had been responsible for UNPUBLISHED works in all fields, including government records.

A series of unpopular decisions followed. The Canadian Book Exchange Centre closed its doors. Interlibrary loans were cancelled, as was the free Internet service in public libraries across Canada. Librarians, archivists and other information professionals were laid off in droves. I'm very thankful that I was able to retire in 2009 with a reasonable pension. Employees of the Library and Archives Canada are being saddled with a restrictive code of conduct that brands things like teaching and attending or presenting papers at conferences as "high risk" and disloyal activities! Funny, when I taught at Algonquin College during my days as a government librarian, I always regarded it as a welcome prod to keeping up to date in my profession and being able to give my all to my primary employer!

Fast forward to May 2013, and the welcome news that Librarian and Archivist of Canada Daniel J. Caron had resigned. Other library and archival professionals will no doubt be coming forward with their own suggestions in the near future, but here are a few of my own.

My first recommendation: Dr. Tom Delsey. He was a professor of library science at the University of Western Ontario (now known simply as Western University) in the mid-1970s. He could get quite animated about arcane points of cataloguing like name and subject authority files. And just when I was graduating at the end of December, 1976, he was also planning to move on to a senior position in the Cataloguing Branch at the National Library of Canada. It surprised me a bit, as I had always regarded him as very much an academic, but he definitely knew his stuff and was an excellent advocate for librarians back when they were revamping the whole LS job classification to merge it into the Universal Classification Standard. He later retired and joined the University of Ottawa as it was setting up a School of Information Studies, ending a long hiatus without any library education at the Masters' level in Ottawa (a terrible irony given the number of federal libraries in the area - many of which have now closed their doors).

My second recommendation: Barbara Clubb, the former City Librarian. She has won all kinds of awards and oversaw the amalgamation of the Ottawa, Gloucester, Nepean and Kanata public library systems at the beginning of this millennium. She's fluently bilingual, good with the public and would never stand for this "by appointment only" nonsense that prevails now at the Library and Archives of Canada (necessitated, I hasten to add, by the vast number of layoffs of professional librarians and archivists). Having a public library background, she also, I suspect, has a practical bent that might not be so true of Tom Delsey. I think she would lobby very hard for getting that free Internet service back into public libraries and eliminating the yawning gap between the information- and education-rich vs. the information/education-poor. And she's very supportive of mainstream fiction - I remember how enthusiastically she participated in the books panel on CBC radio in the late afternoons (before CBC was decimated by those draconian cuts!)

My final recommendation: Leslie Weir, another career librarian who, like Tom Delsey, used to work at the National Library, Library Systems Centre, and now is employed as a librarian at the University of Ottawa. I don't think she has a PhD but like Barbara Clubb, she is bilingual and does come across as a practical person who would soon restore interlibrary loan service and strive to put the Library and Archives back on its feet.

Are any of these people willing and available? I don't know. And unfortunately, I don't know of anyone on the archival side, nor anyone just entering the profession or perhaps in mid-career, who might be an equally good or better candidate.

The next few months are going to be interesting!
It's always a challenge to plan my trips to Toronto for a part of the week when I can get to the things I want to go to. Sleuth of Baker Street is now only open from Thursday to Sunday. Many museums and other attractions are closed Mondays. And my Ex Libris Board meetings are always scheduled for Tuesdays.

This time, the Ex Libris Toronto-based people had scheduled an optional tour of the Bata Shoe Museum and library, followed by lunch, for the Monday. So I decided to go to Toronto on the Sunday morning, arriving in time to get to Sleuth before their 4 PM closing time, sign up for the tour and lunch on the Monday, get to my Board meeting on Tuesday, returning to Ottawa on Wednesday. I stayed at the Holiday Inn on Bloor, about midway between the zillionaires' shopping strip on my left and the studenty area of all-night groceries and vegetarian eateries on my right. Also right near Remenyi Music, which sells instruments and related paraphernalia, as well as a good selection of sheet music.

The Bata Shoe Museum was directly across the street from my hotel. We got to see the special exhibit on Sneaker Culture (which included one of the pairs of sneakers Terry Fox had worn on his abortive cross-Canada run), as well as a fascinating library which can only be visited by prior appointment; they also collect socks for the Toronto homeless. Just along the street a couple of blocks was the Royal Ontario Museum, which to my pleasant surprise was also open on the Monday. I spent quite a while after lunch looking through the textiles area on the top floor, working my way downwards through a fascinating display of home decor through the centuries, followed by a brief visit to the dinosaurs, mammals and bat cave before returning to my hotel. On the Tuesday, my Board meeting was over by about 1:30, so I went over to the Art Gallery to visit a spectacular special exhibition of treasures from Renaissance Italy. The highlight for me was the illuminated manuscripts, in particular one of Dante's Divine Comedy. No matter how much digitization gets accomplished, nothing can compare to seeing it in the flesh... or do I mean parchment? I also saw (and heard and walked through) a number of the contemporary exhibits, one by Etrog somebody (a film that he made as well as static art inspired by Samuel Beckett, Ionesco and other theatre-of-the-absurd folks and various sculptural constructs) and a number of multimedia-type displays or installations or whatever by various artists.

But the Board meeting was the reason I was in Toronto in the first place. We've been protesting and raising awareness of the way Library and Archives Canada (LAC)and the library, archival and related resources and professions are being essentially rent asunder by the current regime. The response to our letter-writing campaign has been an exercise in the kind of pass-the-buck-ology that typifies bureaucracy at its worst. After failing to get any kind of response from Heritage Minister James Moore's office, our Ex Libris president some months later sent a letter to the Prime Minister - and actually got an answer from someone on his staff. It said that our concerns had been noted and that this fell under the purview of the Minister of Heritage who "will no doubt wish to respond shortly" or words to that effect. Well, lo and behold, we finally got a response back from Moore's office, indicating that the LAC operated at arms' length from Heritage and as such, we had been following the proper course all along in writing to Daniel Caron, the head of LAC (who likewise had not replied).

On Wednesday, of course, Caron announced his resignation. Did we have anything to do with that? Maybe. Maybe with that $5000 worth of private Spanish lessons under his belt, he'll be able to get another job in some far-flung country under our NAFTA employment exchange agreements.

So who will be his replacement? Will she or he be an improvement? I live in hope!



October 2017



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