The CHA appreciates the challenges that Covid-19 have created: lockdowns and restrictions of various types have placed enormous burdens on all organizations, both public and private, regardless of their size. We have no doubt that the leaders of the Library and Archives Canada have struggled to maintain both employment and services, and that the threat of further austerity measures cast continuing doubt on the financial situation in the future.
However, as a public institution that has defined itself as central to the GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) sector, and promoted its capacity to add value to communities by “enriching the lives of millions of visitors of all ages, backgrounds and regions,” we are gravely concerned about the continuing limits to public access. The system of registering for limited numbers of archival reading room spots, two weeks in advance, was difficult enough. Spaces for the week were snapped up by researchers within minutes of the portal opening, making research virtually impossible for people outside the Ottawa area. Any value added to the capital district by LAC in the last two years has been minimal. Nevertheless, the possibility of signing up for a maximum of 12 hours of research time a week was better than the complete lockdown of public access that had characterized much of the pandemic.
Now, however, the reading room hours have been cut back further to just three days a week, representing a forty percent rollback overall. At a time when other institutions and businesses are slowly expanding their availability to the public, it seems that LAC has taken the reverse approach. How is it possible to continue to make the case for the value of the heritage and history when the key driver of their value – the public – is being kept out?
Researchers are desperate to get back to the Archives. The complete closure of the reading room in the summer of 2021, and the retrenchment rather than expansion of its services since then, however, is going too far. Surely if galleries, museums and libraries across the country can open their doors, so too can Library and Archives Canada.
We strongly urge the leadership of Library Archives Canada to reconsider its decision to further limit the hours of access and, instead, work to improve accessibility for all Canadians. The announced reduction threatens the core mission of this great federal institution.
Steven High, President
Penny Bryden, Past President