Category Archives: preservation

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…



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

Hark – PubMedCentral Canada on the horizon!

Thanks to Dean Giustini for the original heads-up on this:

In a press release titled “Canada joins international effort to provide access to health research,” the NRC (parent organization of CISTI, the de facto Canadian national library of science & medicine)

PubMed Central repository will open new pathway to Canadian health research

July 06, 2009, Ottawa, Ontario

Accelerating the development of discoveries and innovations and facilitating their adoption through free and open access to research findings. This is the aim of an important new initiative that will provide researchers and knowledge users free access to a vast digital archive of published health research at their desktop and connect them to an emerging international network of digital archives anchored in the United States.

The National Research Council’s Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information (NRC-CISTI), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), and the US National Library of Medicine (NLM) have announced a three-way partnership to establish PubMed Central Canada (PMC Canada). PMC Canada will be a national digital repository of peer-reviewed health and life sciences literature, including research resulting from CIHR funding. This searchable Web-based repository will be permanent, stable and freely accessible.


This has been a long time coming, and I know I’ve been but one of a gazillion nags pestering folk at CISTI and CIHR about when PMCCanada was going to actually happen. Between translation issues (the two existing PMC repositories are both English only), funding cuts, and who knows what all else, it’s taken quite a while for PMCC to go from drawing board through discussion to reality.  And to be sure, this is still short of reality, but an official press release gives reason to hope!

PMCCanada could really help Canadian health research funders, many of whom now have OA policies requiring free access to research outputs within 6 months of publication, guide grantees to a specific deposit location if they so desire (or at least offer a clear option to those without institutional repositories). CIHR sort of already guides researchers to PMC, but the CIHR policy came about much more quickly than the Canadian PMC repository did, so this could only be one of multiple options.  I wonder if CIHR will now require deposit in PMCCanada, similar to the NIH’s PMC deposit policy.

I know some Canadian journals have worked to become accepted into PMC by now, and I’m not sure if they will get shifted over, or exactly how the territory between PMC affiliates is divvied up/shared.  It’s a bit of a confusing time for authors these days, with some journals depositing automatically into PMC, some not (or not fast enough to comply with all funder mandates), some not even eligible to do so, and multiple deposit processes still required to deposit into multiple repositories (e.g. a university institutional repository and PMC).

Anyway, kudos to those who have worked long and hard on this project. It will be great in principle to have a PMCCanada, it may make it easier for CIHR (and possibly other finders) to check on compliance with their access policies, and we’ll just have to figure out what the existence of PMCCanada means in practice.



Filed under government, Health, OA, preservation, publishing

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 )



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.


(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?


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


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

Making sense of DRM

Here’s a confession: I don’t really ‘get’ DRM. I mean, I can describe what it is, talk about related legislation, and discuss its impacts on intellectual property law and practice, but I don’t really know the extent to which it’s present in my life.

I’m one of those people who total non-techies think is a real techie but who really is not. You may be one of us too. I maintain websites; I don’t create them (unless you want a really ugly one). At my office the line between techies and non-techies is drawn around whether you are scared by “the black screen.”  Back in the hand-coding days, it used to be whether you could write HTML code. I’m on the fence. I can deal with the black screen if you give me guidance with the DOS. I can code HTML but I’m not super fast with dreamweaver, I get lost in php, and really don’t know perl or java — although I’m confident I could learn if I had the incentive. Which is all to say, I think I’m a pretty typical North American “new librarian,” from what I’ve seen.

And yet, I am intimidated by DRM.  I have no idea whether I’ve broken digital locks.  Probably?  Or maybe not? I’m too afraid of getting screwed over to use the iTunes store, and still buy my music on physical CDs, and then load them onto my computer, and then MP3 player, because I know that if my computer crashes at least I’ve still got the physical disc in my basement somewhere. When my old laptop met its maker, I moved everything I’d loaded onto my old computer onto my new one, from my backup hard drive. I have burned copies of stuff for my kid (yeah, like I’m going to give my first grader my original BNL Gordon or TMBG Flood CDs? Ha!). Presumably, I’m a copyright criminal, although I wouldn’t swear to it under oath, because there’s a chance I’m not, just by luck.

I’d definitely be buying a lot more music these days if I felt like I could confidently do so online, but I don’t, and I’m getting used to that. I’d probably watch more “TV” too, if I felt I could easily and safely download series and movies online, but as it is it’s often not worth the time/hassle and that’s okay with me. Once I let iTunes update itself and all my loaded music went kaput, so I don’t allow Apple updates anymore. I’m aware that someday this may cause problems with the program, so I’m on the lookout for viable iTunes alternatives. Basically, I just try to avoid DRM whenever possible, and if that means limiting my intake of some media…oh well. There’s not really much music or other media I can’t live without.

My visible experience with DRM is pretty much limited to swearing at iTunes and doing policy analysis. Oh, and the fact that when I plug my personal laptop into the digital projector at one of my workplaces, it goes straight into the Vista operating system, rather than giving me my usual dual boot screen and the option of selecting the quicker, sleeker Ubuntu linux os.  I assume this has to do with the ramped-up DRM embedded somehow in Vista. But maybe it’s just some other non-DRM monopolistic technology?

See, I don’t really understand it. I don’t know how to get around that straight-shot into Vista, and because I’m just using it to project materials for teaching I don’t really care that much. But I have that niggling anti-DRM grumpiness about it, because it’s restricting my options in a way that a) doesn’t make sense to me, and b) slows me down.

Thus, putting more effort into understanding DRM is on my to-do list.  Probably not till 2009, though, since the rest of 2008 is looking seriously booked up from where I’m sitting. In light of my personal DRM experiences, I really appreciated and enjoyed a recent xkcd comic (see, I read xkcd but I occasionally have to look up the references – that’s the kind of borderline-tech-geek I am). Seeing as it’s titled “Steal this comic” and published under a CC license, I figured it was kosher to repost it in entirety here:

If you go to the xkcd site and view the original, hover over the comic to read the mouseover, which reads:

I spent more time trying to get an audiobook playing than it took to listen to the book. I have lost every other piece of DRM-locked music I have paid for.

I loved reading this, because it’s my little DRM experience amplified by someone who didn’t just decline to participate at the hint of DRM on media.

SO, here’s the interesting thing.

Last week, shortly after awesome librarian Kim Lawson of the UBC Xwi7xwa Library came to speak with my Info Policy class about traditional knowledge and intellectual property, I noticed this BBC article was posted several places. The article, titled “Aboriginal archive offers new DRM,” reports on the creative use of “DRM” to control access to the Mukurtu Wumpurrarni-kari Archive.From the project website:

The archive uses Warumungu cultural protocols to facilitate access to content. In doing so, the archive mirrors a system of accountability in which many people engage in the responsible reproduction and transmission of cultural knowledge and materials.

The example given on the About page is one of a senior male community member explaining that he is protected by the archive’s permissions controls from seeing women’s stories, which is important to make things safe. I know this type of knowledge access norms isn’t something all audiences can understand, but it’s one we really have to respect, regardless. Every culture has knowledge access rules and norms, and to me it seems a really transformative use of technology to restore control of access to knowledge to communities that have been marginalised.

I’m really excited about oft-marginalized communities being in charge of their own archives and historiography. I’m also very inspired to see the digitization tools being used both to move scholarly communication of dominant “academic” cultures into a more inclusive and equitable distribution model, and to restore to Indigenous communities the leverage to manage their own content in accordance with their own norms.

But is that DRM? I’m not really sure.  And neither are a bunch of slashdotters, apparently. From the technological specs on the website I’m not sure what makes this “DRM” and not just a web archive with permissions controls. Are all such websites now considered to be using “DRM”?  The parenting message boards with different levels of access for different user groups?  My class Moodle site with study groups set up within it? As one poster on slashdot pointed out, this access control is being imposed on users who want their access to be controlled, which is quite contrary to our usual conception of DRM to protect an owner’s financial or moral interests.

What makes access/use restrictions DRM? The type of technology? The intention behind the restrictions? Neither?  From my scoping thus far, there doesn’t appear to be much consensus. From my limited DRM experiences I tend to be fairly knee-jerk DRM-avoidant.  But I can see that whether that is appropriate really depends on the definition in use.



Filed under copyright, digitization, inclusion/exclusion, IP, preservation, technology, Uncategorized

Tomorrow’s History & the Role of Public Libraries

I’ve been thinking about digitization and history; specifically the trusim that history is written by the victors (aka the privileged), and what that means for our current era.

With literacy and war-conquests-slash-oppression on the part of literate groups, orality became devalued as “official” history in most of the mainstream, dominant, Western societies.  Non-literate or illiterate people and groups have largely either been written out or written *about* in what we now deem to be literature and history. (Please forgive my rushed-through and simplistic history of the conquests of literacy-based-culture here…this is just the context part of the post!) With mass printing, the privilege bar to produce, distribute and preserve was reinforced, perhaps nudged a bit, right?  Certainly by the 20th century just writing something down was rarely enough to incorporate it into official narratives of “history”; the writing had to be adjudicated and then reproduced by a professional publisher, preserved by an archivist, or otherwise selected by someone with societal power.

I went to undergrad in 1994.  It was a heady, exciting time, especially if you worked in a library, as I was fortunate enough to do.  The Internet had just gone public!  Netscape and Mozilla were battling it out!  Web 2.0 was already being foreshadowed by innovators like Crayon (remember CraYoN – Create your own newspaper?  Early mashup, back in ‘95!). All the street-level activists in my circles were xeroxing radical zines on their temp job office photocopiers, and the Internet was going to democratize the world! Anyone could publish their work and reach the whole world! Well, anyone in the portions of the world that had electricity at least.  Or at least the literate portions of the world that had electricity…

< – -time warp here- – >

Now, we have these amazing Open Access repositories forming, and we have increasing numbers of people creating and sharing content online. I’m particularly excited about and interested in the community-based archiving projects that are popping up. (**Note to self: write a post about some of these cool projects soon**)

BUT, I have a big concern. I think we’ve all outgrown the “the Internet is going to democratize the world!” phase by now (yes? no?), but I don’t think we’re paying adequate attention to the fact that this migration of “scholarship” and preservation – basically the bulk of what will be tomorrow’s “history”  – is reinforcing the exclusive nature of historical preservation.

We are beginning to see documentation of the same type of hierarchical dynamics in online content generation as we do in printed matter.  I’ve seen recent scholarship focused on the male-female gender gap both in scholarly self-archiving and in creative digital media sharing.

I know most of us aren’t purposefully torching the libraries of our enemies and competitors.  And I don’t want to question the very sensible move of scholarly communication into online, open access format.  But I would like to talk with more folk about how we can hark back to our idealistic 1994 mentality and regain those ideals, if not the naïveté, relating to the potential that digitization holds for the whole of society.

Academic libraries are working fast and furious toward digitally archiving their institutions’ scholarly output.  I think there’s a place for public libraries to serve an organizing function in the community in terms of creating public history. A public history project, perhaps.

Public History Project…I kind of like the sound of that.  Too bad the acronym’s already pretty much “taken.”  Maybe if we slap a “Canadian” on the front end or some such…

Of course, it’s easy to spout off about, and much harder to actually figure out the nuts & bolts: How to you ensure broad community representation?  What do you do with communities that don’t want to participate? How do you select what is of long-term value – or do you at all?  Is that up to the communities themselves, perhaps?  Do you allocate more space to groups under-represented in formal histories and scholarly communities?  Is there content that is unacceptable? What about illegal stuff?  Who’s responsible for the maintenance?  And where does all of this…stuff…reside, anyway?  What formats can reasonably be accepted and preserved? Should the government be involved in this?  What about private funding?  How do you keep things impartial?  Should you strive to keep things impartial?

Despite all of this chaos in my mind about the details, I do think that public libraries are uniquely suited to facilitate a public history project: something technically based on open source software, and developed in coalition with community groups.  And, frankly, perhaps in collaboration with academic libraries, who are doing TONS of work already getting Institutional Repositories up and running.

What are your thoughts?



Filed under academic libraries, archives, censorship, community development, digitization, gender, globalization, media democracy, OA, preservation, public libraries, publishing, racism, technology

“Future Reading” and the digital divide

A few of weeks ago I came across an article in the New Yorker by Anthony Grafton entitled “Future Reading” that first interested me because of the really cool drawing involving a library and google.

The article started with the well known recantment of the role libraries play as a place of knowledge, their history, digitization programs, why we have some concerns… you know, the usual stuff. But what really got my attention was when Grafton started addressing the many limitations of Google Books and similar projects, particularly in this paragraph:

Other sectors of the world’s book production are not even catalogued and accessible on site, much less available for digitization. The materials from the poorest societies may not attract companies that rely on subscriptions or on advertising for cash flow. This is unfortunate, because these very societies have the least access to printed books and thus to their own literature and history. If you visit the Web site of the Online Computer Library Center and look at its WorldMap, you can see the numbers of books in public and academic systems around the world. Sixty million Britons have a hundred and sixteen million public-library books at their disposal, while more than 1.1 billion Indians have only thirty-six million. Poverty, in other words, is embodied in lack of print as well as in lack of food. The Internet will do much to redress this imbalance, by providing Western books for non-Western readers. What it will do for non-Western books is less clear.

Grafton is touching on one more aspect of the digital divide where non-Western societies are lagging behind. Although I agree with his asertion that Internet will increase access to resources for poor countries, it seems to me that the fact that digitization projects are hardly touching material from non-Western countries will seriously increase the Westernization of their histories, their cultures, their languages (says a Spanish native speaker, writing in English). This new form of colonization uses information as commodity and those with the technology to disseminate it will continue to select only material that will bring them substantial economic profit.



Grafton, A. (2007, November 5). Future Reading : Digitization and its discontents. New Yorker. Retrieved December 9, 2007 from

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Filed under digitization, preservation

Archives, personal records, and privacy

Greyson alerted me to an article from the Vancouver Sun detailing new access policies for British Columbian archives that contain private personal data. Researchers who want to access records with sensitive personal data are being subjected to security checks of their computers, offices, and even homes. Apparently such checks, which seem on the surface outrageous (not to mention expensive) are already being carried out on Canadian and US researchers.

Draconian rules on archives use cast a chill on researchers
Stephen Hume, Vancouver SunPublished: Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Part of the problem seems to be in the definition of personal information. As Hume writes, it is defined as:

“an individual’s name, address or telephone number; race, national or ethnic origin, colour or religious or political beliefs or associations; age, sex, sexual orientation, marital or family status; an identifying number, symbol or other particular assigned; fingerprints, blood type or inheritable characteristics; health care history including a physical or mental disability; educational, financial, criminal or employment history; anyone else’s opinions about the individual; the individual’s opinions, except if they are about someone else. In other words, it’s a big net with a fine mesh.”

But as badly conceived as these definitions and the resultant new policies seem, they echo concern for an important point: archives do contain some truly sensitive personal data, and the permissions for reuse of that data can be difficult to determine. If personal data is collected in government records for one purpose, and then stored and used by researchers for another, has an individual’s privacy been invaded? How can archives be sensitive to both the rights of the subjects of their collections, and the needs of future researchers?*

The problem with the approach described in Hume’s article seems to be that it places the responsibility for privacy protection solely on the researcher, and assumes that security checks are the right tool to enforce that responsibility. This errs in two ways. First, invading the privacy of researchers in order to protect the privacy of records subjects seems awfully counterproductive. Second, it it is the archive that has collected, processed, and made this information available, and the archive should therefore bear much of the responsibility for privacy protection. Archivists need to be much more proactive in setting privacy policies and incorporating an ethic of privacy directly into appraisal decisions (“appraisal” is the process by which archivists decide to keep or discard a record or group of records). If less sensitive data is retained in personal records, there is less risk to the persons documented in the records. Archivists should carefully consider keeping records with data so sensitive that they could not entrust it to an outside researcher.


*For a nice discussion of archival ethics of privacy, those with access to the archival journals Archivaria or Archival Science can see Cook, T (2002) Archives and privacy in a wired world: The impact of the Personal Information Act (Bill C-6) on archives, Archivaria, 53(Spring), 94-114 and Iacovino, L, & Todd, M (2007) The long-term preservation of identifiable personal data: a comparative archival perspective on privacy regulatory models in the European Union, Australia, Canada and the United States, Archival Science, 7, 107-127.

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Filed under archives, preservation, The Profession, Uncategorized