The Information Policy Blog

The (unofficial) blog of the BCLA Information Policy Committee

Monthly Archives: May 2013

Collection of Statements from Infopros on National Librarian/Archivist Qualifications

Since Daniel Caron needs to be replaced as the head of Library and Archives Canada (the position is currently being filled by Hervé Déry on an interim basis), information professionals with an interest have been putting out some ideas of what we would like to see. There was a Heritage Roundtable on LAC at parliament on May 17 (organized by NDP Heritage Committee members) where, among other things, Myron Groover said:

We need someone who will not shy away from the difficult task of paring down a bloated and self-serving management culture which has treated LAC as a personal fiefdom. And we need someone with a strong personal understanding of information technology as it relates to libraries and archives – this point cannot be emphasised enough.

Since that roundtable meeting the Joint Statement on Qualities of a Successful Librarian and Archivist of Canada was created and has been endorsed by a number of library organizations across the country (that link was to the Canadian Health Libraries Association’s blog post version, but if you prefer it in PDF format, try the Canadian Library Association’s page). This story has been picked up by Gemma Karstens-Smith in the Ottawa Citizen, and David Akin had a good piece about having a librarian instead of someone with an economics degree at the head of LAC..

Accompanying the statement on that CLA page is an open letter (PDF) to the Clerk of the Privy Council giving a bit more context (though not what the Clerk of the Privy Council’s role in appointing a new head of LAC would be). The Canadian Association of Research Libraries also has an open letter to Stephen Harper on the topic of a new LAC head.

It’s excellent to see information organizations across the country trying to be heard on this issue. Hopefully we’ll have some impact.

Daniel Caron’s Departure

The big news today is that Daniel Caron has resigned as the head of Library and Archives Canada. Teresa Smith has a good story in the Ottawa Citizen which includes quotes from IPC’s Myron Groover.

Groover said that since the beginning of Caron’s tenure in 2009, he “wasn’t very interested in working with librarians, archivists or technology specialists, thinking instead that he could just go it alone and figure out this huge modernization push without any sort of grounding in fiscal or professional reality.”

While there’s been a bunch of talk on Twitter about being glad to see the back of the figurehead for gutting LAC and destroying the NADP in the name of mismanaged digitization, it’s also important to realize that for the community of information professionals this doesn’t mean much.

Myron says it better here, but in summary: The shitty policies at LAC are still in place. Their budget has still been slashed. There will be a new head of LAC and it’s important that we make sure that that person is someone who takes the role of a memory institution and its challenges seriously and that requires us to do the work to make our voices heard.

bc library conference 2013 recap

This is not a formal report by any means, but a bit of a recap of some IPC-related activities at this year’s BCLA conference. Feel free to add information in the comments or on Twitter about info-policy related activities you participated in as well.

We start achronologically with the BCLA Annual General Meeting on Saturday morning. The IPC had two resolutions on the table: one condemning the muzzling of government employees meant to provide a “[f]ramework for activism to support employees of Library and Archives Canada, employees of other government libraries, and government scientists” and one commending the life and work of Aaron Swartz. Both resolutions passed but there was a significant moment when our chair was asked what exactly the point of the Aaron Swartz resolution was, what would happen because of it? Our chair responded that this was something to do to show people in the future that yes librarians care about this kind of stuff, we don’t just remain silent, and it was also a decent human thing to do.

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Outside the AGM, IPC partnered up with Steve Anderson from OpenMedia.ca to talk about netroots advocacy and the kinds of things librarians can do to get involved. Steve took us through the activities his organization has been involved in, which involved a healthy amount of meme-ification. Canadians do care about a neutral internet even if they don’t think about it, and Myron pushed the attendees to educate ourselves so we can talk about these issues with our members who would be affected by online spying bills, predatory pricing and undemocratic international agreements (read: everyone). And Barbara Jo May made sure we were optimistic in our abilities to make change in our world.

On Friday night the Hot Topics panel got heated near the end which was probably to be expected with a librarian, an information ethics specialist plus two panel members were current/former board members of Access Copyright. The discussion began with Rowland Lorimer explaining to the audience that “a book is just a license in physical form.” Kevin Williams from Talonbooks talked about the challenges of copyright and digital sales in a changing marketplace and Tara Robertson talked about the ridiculous workflows imposed on her job of making accessible versions of textbooks for Langara’s students. I feel that the panel didn’t quite get into the back and forth the way I’d hoped. I think Micheal Vonn’s views on privacy and whether it is possible to be an ethical stealer of information would have been worthwhile to learn about. It was interesting to see people with a stake in the Access Copyright regime defend their York lawsuit and deny that the supreme court had actually ruled on fair dealing, but that occupied only the very end of the presentation (before Tara suggested continuing the discussion over beer).

Outside of Info Policy specific events, Phil Hall‘s Friday session entitled “Are We Irrelevant Yet?” had a good test for what makes us relevant. Librarianship is about an X and a Y added together. The X is “information transfer/empowering people to use information” or whatever your preferred definition is (mine is “facilitating knowledge creation”) and Y is “anything else.” I appreciated that as a way of deciding what we should be doing in our libraries and in our librarianly lives, really. It gives us a way to say that yes, advocating for laws that help us empower people is part of being a librarian, saying yes LAC employees speaking at conferences and sharing the knowledge of their specific Y contexts is hugely important (and shouldn’t be smothered by terrible codes of conduct). Maybe this is a bit of a stretch, but it was a way for me to look at this information policy stuff we go on about and how to explain its connection to day-to-day work in a library serving the public (which I’m lucky enough to do).

Of course, meeting up with librarian colleagues and talking about the shit (cool, bad or otherwise) going down in the world today was a big part of what these conferences are about. I come out of the conference excited to be doing more work with IPC this year and hope you do too.

Challenging Historical Revisionism

When one sees a headline like “Stephen Harper’s Conservatives to lead review of Canadian history” it’s kind of (read: exceedingly) difficult not to drop an Orwell reference, so let’s consider this sentence fulfilment of that obligation and move along. The gist of the story is that the House of Commons heritage committee is going to review the programs and educational standards related to Canadian history with best practices and opportunities etc.

For those inclined to give the government the benefit of the doubt, there’s some laudable language in the minutes from the meeting:

And that emphasis be placed on Canadians’ access to historical information and education, by studying the following topics:

  • How Hansard can be used as a means of preserving important witness testimony and part of the permanent public record;
  • The tools and methods available for Canadians to access and preserve historical content; and
  • The tools and methods available to Canadians to increase their knowledge of Canadian history.

This actually sounds great. As an information professional I am all for improving access to information about our history, and I think that archivists and librarians would agree. But the benefits of these words only come about if we’re dealing with a government operating in good faith.

And there’s the rub.

This is a government that has been doing its best to keep information from its citizens (muzzled scientists, dismantling the ELA, and of course our LAC colleagues’ high-risk activities) not improve access. This meeting of the heritage committee was held in camera. Why? Who knows? And the information that it has been promoting is focused on a particular view of Canada’s history in relation to military battles. First Nations history is invisible. Topics like post-war Canada are exceedingly broad, but the Battle of Ortona gets its own shout-out. This is a skewed, essentialist view of history, and it makes the blood in historians I know boil. It’s also worth noting that part of this historical review is focused on getting the CBC and National Film Board to discuss their role in preserving important accounts of history they have in their collections. Combine this with the control the government is taking over Canada’s public broadcaster and one wonders how much cost-cutting will have a role in preserving alternative accounts.

Colin Horgan uses the term “coerced coincidence” in his discussion of this parliamentary review. It’s probably not about the government pushing certain ideas into people’s brains, but about limiting the discussion to things that kind of fit with the CPC’s view of Canadianness. The Ottawa Citizen notes in an editorial:

Another reason to do this review now is that the federal government is in the midst of a cost-cutting exercise that’s affecting many of the institutions responsible for teaching Canadians their history. It’s all well and good to invest in and rebrand the Canadian Museum of History, but it’s perhaps more important to maintain the small museums and built heritage that tend to suffer the most from budget cuts.

Which brings us back, as information professionals to the cuts at Library and Archives Canada (here’s a reminder of what those cuts entail from 2012).

Maybe this review of Canadian history will point out that programs like the National Archives Development Program are important ways to give Canadians access to historical content, and those programs will be reinstated. But actually getting a good result out of this review will be impossible if we don’t engage with it and advocate for those tools and methods that all Canadians can use to deal with their history in all its shapes and forms. They say that is their goal, so we as information professionals should hold them to it.

Locke & I: A Must-Read Philosophical Backgrounder on Access Copyright

Granted, I have a bit of a soft spot for fake dialogues with long-dead philosophers, but I still think that Ariel Katz‘s “Locke and I” (in three parts: 1: A Lazy, Ignorant Company of Stationers, To Say No Worse of Them, 2: Scholars are Subjected to the Power of These Dull Wretches, 3: The Company of Stationers Minding Nothing But What Makes for Their Monopoly) is something you should read if you’re interested in the Access Copyright and why its business model includes suing educational institutions. It’s funny, conversationally-written and provides a lot of broader historical legal context to the mess (including a bunch of things we’ve linked to here on the blog and more). Definitely check it out.