Observations on remarks of Cecilia Muir, LAC Chief Operating Officer at #ACA2012

I’ve been behind in  posting information related to the ongoing situation for archives in Canada, but I hope to have some guest blog posts up for you in the next few days. In the meantime, after watching a firestorm of tweets about a talk at the Association of Canadian Archivists annual meeting in White Horse, I have finally listened to the audio for myself. The speaker in question was  Cecilia Muir, the Chief Operating Officer at Library and Archives Canada, who was filling in for Daniel Caron, the Librarian and Archivist of Canada who was unexpectedly unable to attend as scheduled.

Here is a link to the audio file: http://www.mediafire.com/?897x4x1h7evewxl which, as you will hear immediately, was recorded by someone in the audience. The audio quality gets better when Ms. Muir starts speaking, so hang in there. I did not listen to the Q&A, which I understand from watching Twitter was quite heated. I will leave the discussion of the decision to eliminate NADP and other budgets cuts to my guest bloggers and future posts. What I wanted to discuss here were two smaller issues that I think may be of interest to the readers of this blog.

First, regarding digitization, on which LAC is relying heavily to improve access to collections, Muir declared that in the Digital Content Strategy LAC is developing they will be aligning content selection with the government’s commemorative events agenda (set by the prime minister and his cabinet). Those events include the War of 1812, World War I, the 200th anniversary of the birth of Sir John A MacDonald, and  Canada’s 150th Anniversary. As noted in Twitter conversations, this decision will have an effect on the ability of scholars and researchers to gain increased access to records that are not part of this nationally (and it has been argued, politically) driven agenda. What is your reaction to this approach to digitization?

Muir also praised LAC’s efforts  toward “simplifying and accelerating our descriptive practices” and made references to (I think, the audio was a little muffled at that point) implementing practices to capture essential descriptive information earlier in the lifecycle of the records. I am fully in support of the latter, but I will be curious to hear more about the former. I’m told what this means is going from 25 descriptive fields to 10, but it’s not clear which fields those will be or what this really means. Will archivists at LAC now only have 10 fields available to them for description, or does that just mean they only be required to complete 10 fields? What thought has been given to the impact will this have on researchers?

One reason I wanted to listen to the talk was to confirm what Muir had actually said about LAC’s use of social media and crowdsourcing. She devoted some time to highlighting LAC’s commitment to and progress in using social media to enhance access and in experimenting with crowdsourcing to supplement description (although I did not hear many specifics about this). While I did not hear Muir making a direct connection between the cuts LAC has made to archival staff and the increased use of social media, some attending the talk interpreted her  as drawing a connection between the two. I jokingly said on Twitter that the next topic for debate on this blog should be whether or not active outreach to the public via social media could be viewed as an adequate substitute for trained archivists. This I think was a genuine fear at one point–crowdsource description and fire the archivists. I don’t think that’s the point Muir was trying to make, but it is the way her remarks may have been interpreted by some listeners.

So, even aside from the more explosive issues related to the cuts to the NADP and the CCA, there was much of interest in Muir’s talk. What do you think about the road LAC seems to be taking with digitization and description? Does anyone have any specifics to share about these efforts?




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