Sunday, May 11, 2008

Library and Archives Canada - an arranged and uneasy marriage?

As far as I am aware, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is the only national institution that combines the functions of libraries and archives. The merger of Canada's National Library and Archives in 2004 into LAC is still a work in progress. Staff still identify as working on the "library" side or the "archives" side. Such identification is difficult to change as it is based on professional education, many years of experience and, as far as I have seen, rather different ways of approaching users and information. This division is also reflected, to some degree, in the internal structure of the organization. It is possible that this division will melt away as a new generation of staff work there but I doubt it somehow. As long as LAC is the institutional outlier on this (i..e. most libraries are still stand-alone libraries, many archives are only archives etc), this new world of the "knowledge institution" may not be introduced.

Yet, if you read statements about LAC by its senior leadership, annual reports and the like, you wil encounter a different vision. This view sees to leave behind the above divisions as relics and as inappropriate to the needs and expectations of the Internet era. As Ian Wilson (of LAC) put it, the ability to master search is now more important than the mastery of specific information. That is to say, knowing Canada's first prime minister is less important than knowing where to find that out. This is not to say that specific knowledge is without value - the professions provide a clear example of where it is important to actually know things, for example. However, placing a greater priority on search over knowlege might have interesting implications for libraries, archives and related instiitutions.

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