Beyond #digitaldinosaurs

A month or so ago, the CSIRO, Australia’s federally funded science research body, released a report on the way in which GLAM (for which read, Art Galleries and Museums mostly) should engage in digitisation in order to support the NBN and avoid becoming digital dinosaurs (A recent op-ed from the UK puts the opposite position, that the viscerality of the GLAM experience will be of ongoing importance  – My assessment, on this blog, was not entirely flattering.  The report could, and should, have been so much more.

Today, I received notice of the final report from the Royal Society of Canada into Libraries and Archives Canada – The Future Now – . It covers the things that the CSIRO report did not, notably the roles of libraries and archives in the current and future environments. Rather than suggesting that libraries and archives must change to survive, it identifies both the things we do well now, for now and the future, and the things we need to work on.

What fascinates me about the library and archives project is that it too
has many faces and can be many things to many people. It will always
be relevant; yet it also needs to change with the times in which we live.
Our job is to prepare our institutions for the coming generations, not
with restrictive definitions and practices, to give them the tools with
which to see and learn, to ensure that the many voices, both past and
present, continue to be alive and not dead.
(Gerald McMaster, in The Future Now, p. 39)
It looks at the impact of budget and budget decline ( a not inconsiderable concern in Australia and elsewhere):
Whatever the budgetary imperatives facing LAC (and LAC still benefits
from a $90 million annual budget going forward), the fundamental statutory
objectives are not being met whether in preservation of the patrimony for future
generations or the facilitation of access to the documentary patrimony for

present-day research…

LAC needs far more support than successive governments have been prepared to show (p.42)

Convergence is also on the table, with the report noting that ‘In Australia, New Zealand, and the EU the merger of LAC is presented as an appalling model to be avoided by libraries and archives.’ (p.42). By way of contrast, the experience of the Bibliothèque etArchives nationales du Québec (BanQ) from which the new Director of LAC comes, is put forward as a positive. Harmonisation, rather than assimilation, is the watchword, and ‘absolute respect for the specific characteristics of each discipline, library and archival sciences’ (p.45).

Section D looks at the general context of archival collaboration and co-ordination. The discussion touches on, but does not explicitly mention, ‘total archives’, and also the idea of some form of federated or national collection.  The recommendations are somewhat lukewarm, and generic. Section E looks at collaboration across libraries and archives, and specifically at the way in which archives and libraries could share digital repositories or manage cloud services for institutional archives.  The discussion here seems a little at odds with the support for ‘respectful’ collaboration between the professions, and may need to be further developed. Section F looks both at digital access to collections and concerns about personal and private archives.

Section G:II (based curiously in the section on academic libraries) look at some of the issues that the CSIRO report examined, from social media to digital collections and access. Section H:II Public libraries, considers those who are not well served by the current distribution of information resources, from remote and regional communities, to individuals with functional illiteracy due to education, language, or disability, and those without access to the facilities, be they digital or phsyical.

There is a detailed discussion of Canadian copyright law and the impact that has both on collection and distribution of information materials, and on the impact of open access models.  Open data and open government are not concepts discussed in the report.

Aside from a somewhat disconcerting loss of the letters ‘fl’ in combination (re  ection, in  uence, etc), this is a thoughtful investigation into a major institution and the various organisations and professions that support and rely on it.
  Four stars from me.

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Archivist, historian, avid reader

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