Category Archives: government information

Which is preferable: Invasive or Intrusive? (aka the Future of Canadian Census)

Back in July, when the kerfuffle over the long form census was fresh, I accused the Harper government of being disengenuous in their claims that changing the long-form census from mandatory to voluntary was due to privacy concerns over the invasiveness of the census form.

Recent permanent appointment of new Chief Statistician of Canada Wayne R. Smith (necessary due to the 2010 resignation of Chief Statistician Munir Sheikh over the census issue) and subsequent media coverage of Smith’s approach pretty much confirm that view.

Apparently Harper has asked Smith to “rethink” the census for 2016, specifically directing the Chief Statistician to look into how other countries conduct censuses. (Oh, you mean like this freely-available Sept 2010 article in Canadian Public Policy did?) The buzz that is arising from this directive is all about register-based methods that avoid mailing surveys to individuals at all. And this reinforces my assertion that the claims of concern over privacy are bogus.

Register-based censuses link administrative databases so that an individual’s profile can basically be mined for the answers to questions that would have been asked on a paper census. This is exciting for researchers and statisticians, because these registries are generally very accurate. However, for privacy advocates, giving the federal government carte blanche to link and mine federal databases is a matter of concern.

The Online Party of Canada is hosting a discussion on this topic in a  forum on their website. The original post notes:

At first glance, it would seem that most of the vital information collected by the Canadian long-form census questionnaire (2B) is already being collected, at least in part, via other governmental sources (i.e. federal, provincial, municipal, etc.):

●      Age (Q1), gender (Q2), date of birth (Q3) and most labour market activities (Q34-46) information can all be linked to our Social Insurance Number (SIN) and/or Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) data.

●      Citizenship (Q10-11) via Citizenship and Immigration Canada;

●      Place of Birth (Q9) and parents’ POB (Q25) via Provincial Birth Certificates or country of origin under the Immigration Act;

●      Mobility (Q23-24) via Canada Post (theoretically);

●      Education (Q26-32) via Provincial Departments of Education, School Boards and Post-Secondary Institutions;

●      Only a few questions related to: Activities of daily living (Q7-8), Household Activities (Q33), Language (Q13-16), Commuting (Q47) and Dwelling (QH1-H8) could not presently be answered from other sources.

But then asks:

How would Canadians feel about this alternative?

No more census. Save millions in tax dollars. More accurate data.

But our personal information would have to be linked and completely centralized. What types of mechanisms would we need to implement in order to insure confidentiality and protect ourselves from government misuse or abuse of data?

Now I’ve never heard of the OPC before, but these questions are right at the heart of the matter. The only thing  I can think of that they leave out is the question of whether inconvenient questions – questions not represented in official data and also those asking things the current government might not wish to collect – things such as self-reported ethnic identity or unpaid work hours – would be scrapped under a register-based census plan. Given that the unpaid work hours question was already scrapped (much to the chagrin of feminists), I expect this is not a large concern of the current government.

So, How do we feel? How would you feel about your medical records being linked to your tax filing and your hydro bills and your school records  and your motor vehicle records and your vital stats records and your address as listed with Canada Post and…a bunch of other things? How would you feel about a law requiring you to register all address changes with the government? Denmark astutely points out that registering your address with one central body is highly efficient. But do we trust our government the way Danes trust theirs?

The researcher in me loves the idea of the high-quality data we could get with a registry-based system. (The researcher in me is also skeptical that Canada could pull together anything like that for 2016!) However, there would have to be some serious safeguards (including updated ethical review and data stewardship processes) put in place for the privacy advocate in me to feel comfortable with it. I’d also have to feel assured that the increased data infrastructure would be available for non-governmental researchers as well as internal government use.

Last year Harper supposedly changed the census due to its invasiveness. But that’s not the right word. A lot of us were using the wrong word, because it appears that perhaps he’d like to entertain the idea of a more privacy-invasive process, as long as it would be less intrusive into our lives. No pesky, visible forms taking up our time. No census takers knocking on our doors, asking us annoying questions, making sure the population is well aware of what info the census is aiming to collect. Instead just a quiet government data-mining operation. Invasive (possibly more invasive than now), but not so intrusive.

-Greyson

ps – Incidentally, if you’re interested in reading it, the Globe & Mail has published a transcript of their whole interview with Mr. Smith, and it’s pretty enlightening. For example, until reading that I had no idea StatsCan is assuming there would be only a 50% response rate to the voluntary survey that replaced the long-form census. In this fascinating read, Smith says amazing things, including:

“The one thing we know with absolutely certainty is the response rate going to fall from making the survey voluntary.”

and

“But there is no guarantee this data will not be usable. There is no guarantee it will be subject to major non-response bias beyond the levels we’ve traditionally seen in the census.”

He also denies that there is *any scientific reason* to expect non-response bias from groups such as Inuit, non-English speakers, or immigrants.

Wow.

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The metered Internet threat to innovation & access to information

Remember the early days of mass public access to the world wide web? Back when AOL was king, noisy dial-up modems were par for the course and having any graphics on a webpage was super-fancy? Remember in 1993 or so, when you’d connect to the Internet, download your email as quickly as possible, disconnect to read the text and write your responses, then connect and send your pre-written emails as quickly as possible? It’s the type of scenario today’s kids would find baffling and hilarious: clunky, unwieldy, expensive, and certainly not one that encouraged increased use of the technology.

Well, everything old is new again. The CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission), Canada’s telecom regulator that brought us nearly-neutrality rules just a year ago, recently issued a decision on “usage based billing” or UBB (Telecom Decision CRTC 2011-44). And the meter on your Internet may well be back on – albeit measuring bytes rather than seconds this time around.

A lot of reaction to this decision is coming out, and more analysis will follow in the coming days, I’m sure. OpenMedia.ca has a petition up, Canadian news outlets are covering the decision (and reaction) widely, and online content providers are understandably furious.

I haven’t gotten a chance to comb through the decision in detail yet, and I have to take a couple of boys to the science museum shortly, but there are a few points I want to make right off the bat. I may be back later to comment further or clarify these quick notes.

1) UBB is not the same issue as net neutrality (unless #2 applies)

The reason usage-based billing sounds so appealing, so normal,  is that we do pay per item/metered amount for a lot of goods. We pay for utilities like hydro (hydro = electricity for you non-Canadians) on a metered basis, and many areas also meter water (although that is not without controversy). Frankly, the UBB idea is a brilliant example of big ISPs hearing the pro-neutrality argument that Internet should be treated like a utility and running with that concept, turning it to their advantage.

A lot of the same folk who were up in arms over net neutrality are upset about this UBB ruling. And they have good reason to be outraged. However, in strict sense, UBB is not in contradition with net neutrality (where net neutrality = slowing down of selected content en route to the consumer). My understanding of the CRTC UBB decision is that it is supposed to be content-agnostic, and only size-based. Now, this doesn’t make a lot of sense, policy-wise, anyway (as I will discuss below), but it’s not necessairly non-neutral.

However, metered use makes sense for goods for which we have  a finite supply, not for things like information, which do not require rationing. Economically speaking, information is a non-rivalrous good, meaning that my use of the good (say, a webpage, journal article or TV show) does not in any way prevent you from also using & enjoying the same good.

I know, I know, there’s that old argument about your pipes getting clogged because your neighbours are downloading too much big stuff all the time, but frankly Canadian ISPs have been given ample opportunity to show evidence of this overload, and none has materialised. In fact, the logs we did see during the net neutrality hearings showed the exact opposite of congestion, making it clear that this is just a cash grab. (I do want to make the point, however, that even if congestion were present – and eventually it may exist if ISPs fail to invest in their infrastructure – that does not mean that the correct response is to slow down Canada’s Internet in response. Other industries are required to upgrade their infrastructure over time as needs change or parts get old and fail.)

2) UBB is a potential neutrality workaround

While I think the intent of the CRTC  is allow metering of all Internet content equally within the same subscription plan, and to do otherwise is likely a violation of the still-untested CRTC net neutrality rules, there is a lot of scope here for ISPs to provide favourable conditions for content from which they benefit.

For example, an ISP may offer special promotional “exemptions” from UBB for content offered by their parent company – dinging, say, Netflix while exempting their own online TV/movie service. This isn’t throttling content in the “pipes” or charging a toll to content providers for content delivery, it’s charging a toll to users for content access. It’s throttling the consumer’s wallet.

3) UBB is a giant threat to access to information, and to innovation

Here’s where it gets really ugly. Imagine what it would (will?) be like when we are charged by the byte for information downloaded (and possibly also uploaded?) over our connections.

No one knows how much bandwidth they’re using so they minimize use, fearing fees. AJAX is no longer an asset; it is a liability and we disconnect from continuously refreshing websites to save bandwidth. The pressure is on for online content to be as compressed as possible, hitting the art community hard. Community wireless, such as building-wide wifi in co-op housing, becomes potentially pricey and hard to control.Schoolkids are no longer encouraged to post videos from the classroom to demonstrate and share learning. Employers start to police recreational Internet use more than ever. Coffee shops and other hotspots stop offering wifi all together, making life harder for freelancers, the self-employed, students and others without official workspaces.

Fearing the bandwidth limits on their personal subscriptions, the middle-class flock to libraries to do their downloading. Libraries cannot afford this. Libraries may not be able to afford current levels of bandwidth use, if metered, particularly academic libraries or those dealing with subject areas involving rich media (art, film, music…). I cannot over-emphasize the threat to public access to information via libraries here: libraries are currently THE places in society where anyone can access the Internet. If libraries have to limit this, ration it somehow, or lose this role, it will be a tragedy both for libraries and for the public who rely on library Internet. When public Internet access is limited or closed, public access to information, and therefore public participation in democracy, is seriously impinged. With the government increasingly moving to online-only forms, information, and dialogue with the public, how responsible is it to simultaneously move to meter Internet use?

We may move backwards in time, returning to network television for entertainment. Online course reserves could be pricier for the university than those old print custom course packages. We might actually revive the fax machine?!? Why would a country want to push its population back in time, when the rest of the world is jetting ahead with innovative multimedia content and new delivery systems? Hard to say. Just dumb policy-making? The cynic in my says it could be that those making the policy stand to benefit from old media technologies and fear the threat of the new. However we may drag our feet and try to slow things down within national borders, change and innovation are going to happen – if they need to happen elsewhere first, that will happen. Maybe the CRTC needs to attend Karen Schneider’s talk at MLA?

-Greyson

ETA – Well, that didn’t take long. The decision has already been appealed. Fasten your seatbelts!

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Filed under academic libraries, business, democracy, digitization, government information, inclusion/exclusion, Intellectual freedom, Internet, media democracy, net neutrality, privatization, public libraries, technology

A Day in my Life, with Census Data

To follow up on my last post about census data, and a great conversation with some local librarians a couple of weeks ago, I decided to try to brainstorm the ways census data impacts my daily life. I’m not talking about how I or my colleagues might use it in research, but actual, concrete people, places and things in my day-to-day that would not be the same without good data from the long-form census. The hyperlinks below track to news articles or open letters to the government about the importance of the long-form census for specific reasons. Some of these links are PDFs.

I wake up in my housing co-op (built with support of gov’t programs for affordable housing, informed by data on income and housing).

Wave to my hearing-impaired neighbour and her service dog (supported by disability advocacy based on the census and the census-based Participation and Activity Limitations Survey).

Bike to my bus stop, on bike routes planned with information from the census.

Take transit to work – on an express route planned based on commuting time/mode data and housing density information.

If I arrive a few minutes early, I might stop by a coffee shop on my way in to the office. The store’s business plan was informed by census data, which helped the business owners know they had a market in that neighbourhood.

Arrive at work, which for me and over 12,000 others at my institution alone, is at a University.Universities rely on long-form data for planning programs and projecting enrollment.

Over lunch, read the news. Reporters frequently use publicly-available data from the long form census, as they did in this article this weekend.

Perhaps on the way home I visit some sort of health-care provider. It’s not unheard of. Health services planners and health care provider professional associations use census data to help plan efficient and community-responsive services and care. Medical researchers also rely on census data.

Pick up child at (French language) school and take him the public library (which has a convenient storefront location and services tailored for our community based on the census community profiles)

On our way out of the library/community centre, admire the new mural put in by local artists. Cultural councils and government arts programs rely on census data to provide information about cultural workers in Canada, who are often non-traditionally employed and under-represented in other types of counts.

Arriving home, say hi to our neighbours and admire their new foster-baby. They are foster parents, and the social work system depends on census data to identify and respond to community needs.

After dinner, attend a co-op meeting at which we discuss our federal grant application for energy-efficient upgrades to our building. Such programs for home renovations are generally informed by data about home repair needs and community housing needs.

Your day is different from mine. Perhaps during your day you interact with census data by visiting your religious institution. Perhaps you participate in an immigrant settlement program. Perhaps you are job-seeking or retraining after a layoff. Maybe you do unpaid work to care for an elder in your community or volunteer or eat at a soup kitchen.

To sum up, without good census data:

  • My house might not exist, or
  • might not be getting the needed repairs to the building envelope.
  • Disability advocacy would be set back.
  • I might not have bike routes or
  • convenient public transit in my neighbourhood or connecting to my workplace.
  • Local businesses would have less accurate business plans and thus be more likely to fail.
  • Universities would have a harder time planning for the future.
  • News reporters would lose an accurate source of information.
  • Health services would be less well-planned for my community’s needs.
  • Medical research would be set back.
  • We might not have so many French-language public schooling options in our predominantly-anglophone province.
  • Library planning would be a challenge.
  • Artists and cultural workers would be even less well supported than they already are.
  • Our social work system would be weakened.

And that’s just the things I can think of in one day of my little life.

What things in your life are impacted by census data?

-Greyson

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Wanted: Catchy Census PSAs

Believe it or not, Rafe Mair brought it home for me in his recent Tyee article.  He boils down his response to:

I must say, without intending to hedge, that my opposition takes the form of simple questions.

Why do you want this information?

What specific purpose is it used for?

Right! The people who don’t use the census data on a regular basis don’t necessarily realize how their whole life is so essentially shaped by it. Thanks for the reminder, Rafe. We are so easily blinded by our own little experiences.

Reading along with the Census long form debacle, I have eventually come to realize that part of the whole problem here is that the federal government has done a really terrible job of PR around the census and its uses. Yes, there were political reasons behind the scrapping of the mandatory long-form data collection tool, but such arguments would have no toehold with a population that was by and large aware of the importance of good census data. People know this isn’t really about privacy (as the government claimed) or jail time (since no one has ever gone to jail over the census), but many people don’t know what the big deal about the census is. I mean, census data sounds kinda wonkish and boring. Until you realize how different your life would be without it.

While clearly many people and organizations are aware (as of this morning datalibre.ca’s Census Watch tally lists 10 individuals & organizations on record against the mandatory long-form census and over 300 on record in favour of keeping it mandatory), many other people are like Rafe Mair – suspicious of the government, and unaware and uninformed about the actual uses of the census data.

Now, the current government may have ideological agendas driving the neglect of such public education, but past governments have been similarly neglectful.

It’s not that we don’t have the ability to do decent PR here: Canadians still remember the 60-year-old Swede outrunning the 30-year-old Canadian in the ParticipACTION ads from the ‘70’s. It’s only a lack of political will that has prevented similar census ads letting Canadians know why they must fill our their census forms.

Apparently the ad campaign for the US 2010 census was projected to save the government tons of money by improving compliance and reducing the need for door-knockers. Although the Tories are obviously not concerned about saving money, deciding to pay more for less with a voluntary census with larger mailout, for the truly fiscal conservative, such savings might be a selling point.

While nowhere near as catchy as the original ParticipACTION campaign, the US Census 2010 ads do a decent job of addressing common concerns (e.g., confidentiality, how do you know the person at your door is really a census taker) and tell people WHY the census is important with soundbytes like:

A proper count is vital in assuring your community receives proper representation, as well as the funding it needs for services like job training, schools, roads and transportation

and

By answering the questions, your residence will be counted, and you’ll be helping your community get its fair share of $400 billion in federal funds.

Oh! Legislative districts are drawn based on census data! Funding for job training, schools, roads and transit are also based on census data! That’s why the government wants to know this stuff!

Reading some of the 300+ the open letters to the Canadian government that oppose the census changes gives one a glimpse of the wide swath and diversity of Canadians who are concerned with this issue. Few other issues unite ethnic-cultural community groups with economists with librarians with the medical association.

Reading the letters also gives a nice picture of the diversity of uses to which the data is put, and clarifies exactly why the census does ask things like:

  • when you commute to work (for transportation planning),
  • whether your home is in need of repair (for housing renewal strategizing), and
  • whether anyone living with you has a disability (for health care as well as community accessibility planning purposes).

Some of the letters are linked from the datalibre Census Watch list, and I encourage you to go skim some. However, I recognize that not everyone has the time, interest, or ability to read a bunch of advocacy letters.

That’s why what we need in Canada is a Census PSA campaign that mashes up the 2010 US Census style clear information-delivery with the uniquely Canadian aesthetic of the old skool ParticipACTION ads.

Any takers?

-Greyson

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Census Privacy is the Harper gov’t’s Girl-Power Barbie

I’m going to go ahead and assume anyone who’s reading this blog knows about the Canadian government’s recent decision to scrap the mandatory long-form national census, and attempt to replace it with a voluntary “National Household Survey” (NHS).

I’m going to assume you all know that the information from long form census is used for all kinds of governmental and non-governmental planning, including social programs, financial allotments for various uses, and, yes, library service planning.

I’m going to assume that readers all have the basic statistical proficiency (that the leaders of the Conservative party apparently lack) to know that a mandatory survey with near 100% compliance given to 20% of the population will almost certainly have greater validity that a voluntary survey of 33% of the population, because even if the absolute numbers of responses are the same under both surveys the response rate in the latter will almost certainly be lower and thus reflect self-selection/non-response bias. This, by the way, is a neat way to create policy-based evidence.

I’m also going to assume you know that the Tories are holding fast to their position, even in the face of the Chief Statistician of Canada’s resignation and overwhelming outcry from people who are not always allies on the issues.

Throughout this whole kerfuffle, the Harper government has insisted that the change is due to privacy concerns. They insist that the long form is too invasive. That people think the state should not be requiring that individuals report such personal information as the number of bedrooms in their dwellings and how we travel to work. Etc.

You probably also know that little evidence has been produced to back up the claim that many people are concerned about the invasiveness of the questions on the long-form (although in the most recent 2006 census there were refuseniks on the basis of the gov’t subcontracting census work to Lockheed, an issue that is going unmentioned today).

Privacy, eh?

Privacy, my foot! This change has nothing to do with privacy. Scrapping the long form does incredibly little to improve privacy of Canadians, and in fact may even make our personal data less private and secure.

Here’s some info about the long-form census, and voluntary StatsCan surveys, in terms of privacy. All of this is written to the best of my knowledge, so if anyone works with census data or has StatsCan connections and can clarify or expand on any of the below points, please do let me know.:

Public Release of Data

Full census data is normally released to the public after 92 years. Since the passage of S-18 in 2005, there has been an opt-in check box on the census, which must be checked in order to release that data after 92 years. Opt-in, while frustrating to researchers and genealogists who wanted opt-out instead, is a pretty high standard of privacy protection. Voluntary surveys are not released to the public, ever. Thus, it would seem that the NHS would be more private, 93 years from now, than the census. Or, rather, it would seem so if Tony Clement hadn’t assured us that they were changing things so the NHS will also be available after 92 years No word as of yet on whether the NHS will have an opt-in box.

Commercial Interest Intervention

Commercial firms do not have access to the census planning process. Commercial firms as well as non-profit researchers may purchase modules  for many voluntary surveys from Stats Can (e.g., the Canadian Community Health Survey), however. Should the long form census remain a voluntary survey, I would not be surprised at all if business were eventually granted access to this survey too. In fact, I would expect it, if the survey loses the “sacredness” of the National Census.

Privacy Safeguards

While we might never be fully confident that stewards of any data could never possibly misuse it, the census is subject to privacy safeguards above and beyond other surveys. Disclosure for any purpose prior to the 92-year blackout period would be subject to fines and penalties under the Statistics Act, which requires StatsCan employees working with this data to be sworn to secrecy. Unlike other StatsCan surveys, the Census is not available to researchers outside StatsCan as a full microdata file. It is also not eligible to be linked with other databases, unlike other data sources including other StatsCan surveys. Again, should the long-form census turn into and assume the norms of a voluntary survey, these safeguards will likely be lost.

The Short Form & Privacy

The still-mandatory short form, which nobody appears to be speaking out against, provides plenty of information on which to base discrimination (name, age, sex, marital status including whether partner is same or opposite sex, first language learned). Sexual orientation is pretty personal and invasive to ask everyone to disclose on a mandatory basis, if you ask me — perhaps more so than many of the questions on the long-form. First language-learned gives a lot of ethnicity & immigration information, even without the long form asking about where your ancestors came from.

As comment poster LindL on the Worthwhile Canadian Initiative blog writes, of the move to scrap the long form but retain the short form,

“If it’s wrong, it’s wrong. What you’re arguing is equivalent to ‘Stealing is wrong. So I’m not going to steal a car, instead I’ll just steal a bicycle’.”

Harper’s Privacy = Girl-Power Barbie

The Harper government is using privacy as a red herring here. Calling these changes to the census good for privacy is like calling a “girl power Barbie” feminist – in other words disingenuous cooptation of a real issue in order to improve market share. I fear that to take the Harper/Clement argument at face value – that this change is about privacy – is to play right into their hands.

What is the Harper government’s interpretation of Census privacy? Well, apparently that applies to the government need/ability to make private and unseen the concerns of Canadians regarding the census changes! The long-form census, although second top rated issue by participants in the recent digital economy econsultation, was buried on the site(Although I wouldn’t vote for this very specific issue to be the top concern of Canada’s digital economy, I am quite impressed that it got so many votes, continuing to add votes and hold second place *even after it was buried* on the site and could only be accessed via a direct URL.)

As a privacy and social justice advocate, the long-form census is not what I am worried about. There are a lot of less secure sources of data out there, with less redeeming social value to worry about. For me, the benefits of  responsible, privacy-sensitive data collection and stewardship sometimes outweigh the risks, but I can respect opposing opinions.

It’s one thing if you oppose any government collection of personal data. That I can respect. I think it’s a perspective that usually comes from a position of privilege, and I don’t take this stance myself, but I can respect it if you think the long form should be scrapped along with a whole bunch of other things, on principle. But THIS? Only scrapping the long form? That is not about privacy. If you want to campaign for the end of all government information gathering, fine, but the census is really not the place to start. And don’t think for a moment that the Conservative government is on your side  an end to government information-gathering

However, in a practical sense, this change is not improving the privacy of Canadians in any measurable way, and is in fact eroding the privacy of those who answer the voluntary survey as well as hurting those who don’t by virtue of providing a skewed and unreliable demographic profile of Canada.

Silver Lining?

On the upside, if they do go ahead with this plan to convert the long-form to voluntary National Household Survey, I think it’s likely that whoever is in power in 2016 will change it back. In that case, while we’ll lose the 2011 data for planning and research purposes, it will be interesting to see how and to what extent making a survey voluntary creates deviations from trends (i.e., we may be able to tease out which subgroups will & won’t respond to a voluntary survey). A natural experiment in the making!

-Greyson

ps – For whatever it’s worth, I agree with Sandra Finley that the census software etc should not be subcontracted to Lockheed Martin – much like I do not think the BC MSP data should be with Maximus. But that’s another kettle of fish.

pps- Tracey over at datalibre.ca has been researching the census as part of her PhD research and has been chronicling this recent debacle quite comprehensively.

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Caron’s LAC Modernisation message: huh?

(aka the blog post wherein I probably blow any and all future chances of working in government…)

Making the rounds of Canadian LIS (and presumably archives) listservs today has been Librarian and Archivist of Canada Dr. Daniel Caron’s “Message from the Librarian and Archivist of Canada: Modernization.”

As far as messages go, it’s kind of an odd one.

The message begins by promising to share the course for LAC he has charted, and ends by saying LAC should do what it was set up to do. Truly radical. Maybe some of this makes more sense to people with more inside knowledge of LAC? To me it sounds rather like the teacher from the Peanuts cartoons. (“Wa wah wa wa…”)

On my first skim through I was numbed by all the vague references to generally-unspecified issues, challenges, harmonizing and togetherness. The “today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday” business in the middle was somewhat amusing, and the reiteration of LAC’s mandate (repeat after me: acquire, preserve, access; lather, rinse, repeat) and praise for LAC’s “brilliant past” were a nice acknowledgment.

On my second read through I realized that Dr Caron must be reeeally worried about LAC being seen as “relevant.” I mean, he mentions this concern no fewer than 4 times in the 9 paragraphs (which is, incidentally, the same amount of times he used the word “library” in the message):

1.      “Today, digital technology has radically changed our practices and expectations and, to remain relevant, we will need to tackle the issues, communicate and collaborate more than ever before with others who share our goals.” (para 1)

2.      “Our relevance in the medium and long term is also called into question in this new environment.” (para 3)

3.      “How do we remain relevant in an increasingly fragmented and to a certain extent uncontrollable environment?” (para 5)

4.      “…our relevance depends on our ability to implement the best work procedures and marshal the most effective and efficient combinations of available expertise.” (para 8 )

(all above emphasis mine)

What’s weird is that exactly the things he seems to see as threatening LAC’s relevance (digitization, preservation challenges, information overload, social media…) are the exact things that I see as making the case for the relevance of information professionals.

Nu? This is really the man in charge of our national library & archives?

I accept that I am of a different generation, cultural background, and academic discipline than Dr. Caron. I, for example, don’t feel “condemned to live in both worlds, analogue and digital, at the same time,” (<-emphasis mine; and I would say something more like privileged to live at this time of straddling the aforementioned worlds); nor do I feel especially burdened by the “daily challenges” of unspecified “social transformations” (unless by that he means corporate globalization? I do feel kind of daily challenged by neocolonialism, come to think of it…).

However, I do know a fair number of librarians and archivists from backgrounds pretty different from my own, and when they send me messages, I generally feel like I have a decent clue what they’re trying to communicate.

This, well, what can I say? It’s a totally weird message. Maybe Caron’s trying to prove that he really does get libraries and archives,  while just totally missing the mark?

…or at least that’s what I’d like to think, since the alternative would seem to be that he’s basically paving the road for privatization of LAC…

-Greyson

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Filed under digitization, globalization, government, government information, preservation, privatization, The Profession

New Librarian and Archivist of Canada…an Economist?

What does it mean that the new Librarian and Archivist of Canada is neither a librarian nor an archivist; not even an author, but rather an economist?

Daniel J Caron has been with Library & Archives Canada since 2003, in high level corporate management branch-type jobs.

Prior to that he was in various Ottawa jobs including for the Treasury Board Secretariat, Human Resources Development Canada, and the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec.

The outgoing Librarian and Archivist of Canada, Ian E. Wilson, was the National Archivist of Canada to Roch Carrier’s National Librarian until the positions merged, and has been involved with archives in Canada and internationally for ~30 years.

Am I the only one who is a little freaked out about this change?

I pulled Caron’s 1994 thesis record from the U Montreal catalogue, and according to Google Translate it seems to be something like “Land and political autonomy: emerging configurations of relations between Aboriginal people and the French, British and Canadian governments.” No abstract on the record so I’m not sure what his politics are, but sure doesn’t seem to be much related to libraries or archives.

I’ve tried to find some of his publications that might mention libraries or archives…looked on his publications list at the Université du Québec École nationale d’administration publique, for example.  Caron seems to have published quite a bit on human resources management, project evaluation, and in earlier years Aboriginal-government negotiations.

Yeah, I’m kinda concerned.

To figure out exactly what the Librarian and Archivist of Canada’s powers were, and what s/he is supposed to do, I went to the Library and Archives of Canada Act ( 2004, c. 11 )

Excerpt:

Objects

7. The objects of the Library and Archives of Canada are

(a) to acquire and preserve the documentary heritage;

(b) to make that heritage known to Canadians and to anyone with an interest in Canada and to facilitate access to it;

(c) to be the permanent repository of publications of the Government of Canada and of government and ministerial records that are of historical or archival value;

(d) to facilitate the management of information by government institutions;

(e) to coordinate the library services of government institutions; and

(f) to support the development of the library and archival communities.

Powers of Librarian and Archivist

8. (1) The Librarian and Archivist may do anything that is conducive to the attainment of the objects of the Library and Archives of Canada, including

(a) acquire publications and records or obtain the care, custody or control of them;

(b) take measures to catalogue, classify, identify, preserve and restore publications and records;

(c) compile and maintain information resources such as a national bibliography and a national union catalogue;

(d) provide information, consultation, research or lending services, as well as any other services for the purpose of facilitating access to the documentary heritage;

(e) establish programs and encourage or organize any activities, including exhibitions, publications and performances, to make known and interpret the documentary heritage;

(f) enter into agreements with other libraries, archives or institutions in and outside Canada;

(g) advise government institutions concerning the management of information produced or used by them and provide services for that purpose;

(h) provide leadership and direction for library services of government institutions;

(i) provide professional, technical and financial support to those involved in the preservation and promotion of the documentary heritage and in providing access to it; and

(j) carry out such other functions as the Governor in Council may specify.

Sampling from Internet

(2) In exercising the powers referred to in paragraph (1)(a) and for the purpose of preservation, the Librarian and Archivist may take, at the times and in the manner that he or she considers appropriate, a representative sample of the documentary material of interest to Canada that is accessible to the public without restriction through the Internet or any similar medium.

Destruction or disposal

9. (1) The Librarian and Archivist may dispose of any publication or record under his or her control, including by destruction, if he or she considers that it is no longer necessary to retain it.

Restriction

(2) Any such disposition is subject to the terms and conditions under which the publication or record has been acquired or obtained.

After reading that, I’m still concerned. I get that a director needs to be a manager, have strong management skills. However, I want the person charged with leading the preservation of documentary heritage of the country, facilitating access to that heritage, coordinating government library and information services and supporting library and archival development across the country to, well, demonstrate some evidence of caring about preserving and providing access to this documentary heritage, and some connection with the library and archival communities.

I’m concerned that access to information will take a backseat, that documents may be disposed of under principles other than those of the archival or library communities, and that library and archival communities in the public sector will be neglected rather than developed.

Is a professional administrator really the person we want as our national librarian and archivist?

Is it too much to, at very least, hope that the person installed as the figurehead and visionary for our library and archives sector at *minimum* have some literacy or heritage focus, if not actually be a librarian or archivist?

-Greyson

postscript: Oh, look! Unsurprisingly, the CLA agrees with me.  Or probably I should have stated that vice versa…

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Filed under government, government information, LIS education, preservation, The Profession