Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) Wants Your Opinions

Now that it has become public knowledge, I think I'll blog a bit about LAC's efforts at greater public consultation. As you may know, there was a big controversy about a year ago when LAC cut back on reading room hours (including limiting the evenings) in September 2007. Many researchers, including historians, were angry since many make trips to Ottawa to do research and seek to make the most of their visit by logging as much time as they can in the reading room. LAC officials stated that funds were being moved to some sort of digital archive effort. This explanation was not viewed as satisfactory by many and thus, the Public Consultations and Services Advisory Board was formed.

So much for the background. Earlier this month, LAC published a DISCUSSION PAPER ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE SERVICE STRATEGY BY LAC SERVICES BRANCH to provide a frame for public comments. As one might expect, there is a long boilerplate on the document which speaks somewhat vaguely of the challenges faced. While the document notes that LAC has received considerable positive feedback, I find criticism to be more illuminating:

During 2007-08, the overwhelming majority of comments collected on the comment cards were compliments on the service clients received from LAC staff. The most frequent complaints concerned delays in receiving purchased copies or answers to reference inquiries, and reduced onsite hours. Among suggestions for improvement were requests for more interpretation or research of individual military personnel records, better user orientation, confirmation of orders/inquiries sent using forms on the LAC website, availability of electronic copies of items for purchase, and improvement in consultation room facilities.


LAC does not attract an audience sufficiently representative of the Canadian population, especially with respect to visible minorities, and needs to do more in this area. While LAC is doing better with visible minority youth, gaps exist in other age cohorts. Similarly, LAC needs to improve its effectiveness in attracting francophone users to its services. LAC is pleased to note that it does appear to be reaching aboriginal audiences and users.

There is some interesting material to consider. I wish there was some more analysis that explained the differences in users. I think advertising could be improved. How many people know of the Canadian Genealogy Centre, for example? LAC's involvement in a recent TV program involving genealogy was a good first step, but they need to go further. Of the various programs discussed in the document, having more original materials made available in digital form would be my priority.

You can send your comments to LAC by post and by email:


Services Branch
Library and Archives Canada
395 Wellington Street, Room 211
Ottawa, ON K1A 0N4

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Information Professional - musings on becoming a generalist

I've been thinking to develop my IT skills more recently. I can do all the easy Web 2.0 things (I had my first blog more than five years ago, for example) at this point and I want to go beyond that. I'd like to be able to do some basic programming using mySQL and perhaps Java. I would also like to learn more about Web design. I'm still thinking about the best way to achieve this goal. I may look at taking courses at a nearby university or perhaps through a professional organization?

I wonder what other skills I should aim to develop further to become an information professional? I aspire to be flexible, to understand not only archives, but libraries and information management more generally. While the academic environment is very entiving to me in many ways, I'm not sure that I can obtain a position in that sector. I'm trying to think about the right way to mix some specialist skills and knowledge with more general abilities.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Linux Conference

I noticed quite a few people wearing t-shirts and ID cards for a Linux Conference happening in Ottawa today. Somehow, I wish I was part of that movement and conferences like that.

I'm experimenting with learning more about Linux but I'm finding it a steep learning curve. I used to edit config.sys and autoexec.bat files in MS-DOS (ah, the early 1990s) but it has been a long time since I've used anything that involves a command line.

I noticed that there were no comments or advice when I discussed freelance or independent work. I am interested in knowing if any readers out there have anything to share.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A good day at LAC: good presentations and swag

It was a good day at LAC today. I finally met people from different parts of the organization, which was quite illuminating. There were different presentations and the staff presenting kindly took questions. Though I was curious to ask quite a few questions, I restrained myself. Most of the other students at the event were very quiet.

What did I learn at the event? For example, there was an interesting presentation about the institution's Mass Digitization Program which has much potential. There was also some good indications about LAC becoming more responsive to the views of Canadians. I wonder about the mechanism of that though. How does a big federal institution interact with the general public? I don't want to suggest that it can't happen, but I do wonder about how that can happen. There are also a number of promising departments that I wouldn't mind working in at some point should the opportunity come up.

To top it all off, there was also some LAC swag. I got some stationary, pens, and a nice black shoulder bag. I really like library, archive and museum swag. Getting it for free was a nice plus, which I appreciate.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Overtime denied, the independent option is considered

I wish I could work overtime (or just more hours paid at the standard rate) as I have rather high expenses* coming due soon and unproductive, unpaid "free time" available. I wish I could work as a consultant or something on the side, but that doesn't seem like an option in the archives field.

The current situation makes make my hitherto passing interest in the Association of Independent Information Professionals into something more concrete. On its face, that independent option does attract me in some respects but I haven't seen any data on what exactly it involves or how much it pays (or how much income it can reliably generate). I suspect that it works something like freelance writing or acting with a minority of big winners and vast numbers of people getting by, paying the bills with other work. That said, I would be more than happy to be proven wrong on this point.

*My university just posted the fees I have to pay - it is around $8,000 (about $350 higher than last year).

Monday, July 14, 2008

An interesting week ahead, Web 2.0: for leisure or work?

This is going to be a satisfying and exciting work week for me. I'll get to visit some places that one does not normally get to see, which mostly involve indulging my interest in Canadian history. It is going to be good.

I know one ought to be critical of notions of Library 2.0 and whether Web 2.0 practices will make life better, but the benefits are often very clear to me. One thing that needs to be considered is whether some of these activities are for work hours or not. Some of the best blogs, podcasts and other Internet content I enjoy and learn from is done by people as a hobby of sorts. It is something I think about and don't yet have full answers about.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Interesting developments afoot

Work has become more interesting of late, involving some new duties. I'm very pleased at this development. It is the sort of thing that will take several months to be completed, but I like what's happening. It is giving me some good ideas so far.

In other news, I've recently been listening to podcasts from the SirsiDynix Institute. These events are free to listen to and have covered a variety of interesting subjects of interest to information professionals. While it is true that a majority are concerned with technology (which is great and which I enjoy listening to!), there are other subjects covered as well.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Innovation and government (or large organizations generally)

This post considers a sensitive subject, that of innovation and government. Innovation may conjure images of Silicon Valley, engineers building satellites and things of that nature. In the main, that is not what I am thinking about here. I think information professionals including archivists and librarians can do some of that though working with software developers, engineers and the like. What I have more in mind is taking existing technologies and bring that into government.

Whether that be exploring uses of Web 2.0 or being more willing to experiment with new practices, it appears that such practices are discouraged in government, or perhaps large organizations generally. In some ways, government resistance is easy to understand. The set of incentives that public servants live by condition them to reduce risk, be careful with image and so forth. This tendency combines with a certain tendency of librarians - the aspiration toward perfection - in an unhelpful mix. The contrast between the playful and innovative spirit embodied in some in the field like Stephen Abrams (link to his blog), then again he is Vice President of Sirsi Dynix, so one should not be surprised that he focuses on innovation.

On some level, it just feels frustrating to see all the great innovation happening in the United States and not seeing anything like that in Canada. Canadian libraries and archives are getting there but the spirit of caution is making things move slowly. Such is my perception, at least. I would be delighted to learn of counter-examples.

Monday, July 7, 2008


It has come to my attention that some people at my workplace (which employs hundreds of people) know of this blog. I've only heard this indirectly and so I'm not sure how to react. I gather that blogging about work is a new and strange thing. It would be great if there was some more LAC blogging, official and unofficial. Alas, there are is institutional resistance to such practices.