Library and Archives Canada goes west (and east)

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) published a call of interest to the nation’s cultural resource and heritage sector seeking public service partnerships in late 2015. On Oct. 5, 2016, Dr. Guy Berthiaume, the Librarian and Archivist of Canada, formalised a new agreement with the Vancouver Public Library (VPL) that will see an in-person presence from LAC at downtown Vancouver’s Central Library. This arrangement is similar to the partnership initiated on April 15 with the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. As a result, Canada’s national library institution will be more accessible on both coasts in 2017.

Both the VPL and Pier 21 agreements offer LAC the opportunity to increase its public visibility and relevance to users: The entire Atlantic Canada regional location is moving to the Halifax-based museum; the Vancouver co-location will see LAC offer reference service while embedded in VPL’ s Special Collections. The partnerships are not one-sided, as both Pier 21 and VPL visitors will benefit from access to LAC’s extensive digital collections, particularly those of interest to the genealogical community.

The partnerships raise philosophical questions for the three streams of cultural heritage and resource management in Canada: museums, libraries, and archives. Museums like Pier 21 collect and interpret shared heritage through curated artifact displays. Libraries collect published works and may present narrative heritage through programs and booklists. Archives preserve and provide access to unique documentary records without the imposition of narrative or curation. To the public, these are three similar institutions, but with considerable disciplinary cleft among practitioners.

Despite doctrinal difference, users of LAC, Pier 21, and the VPL may not feel that mission difference is prohibitive to an inter-disciplinary information experience. Press coverage like that by the CBC’s Jane Armstrong has generated considerable interest from Vancouver library users excited at the prospect of easy access to digital records that were previously limited to visitors at LAC’s Burnaby location. If this excitement leads to successful operational collaboration at VPL and Pier 21, cultural heritage institutions may look at further collaborations and co-location opportunities.

Guy Berthiaume, Library and Archives Canada; and Sandra Singh, Vancouver Public Library. Photo credit: Library and Archives Canada.

Guy Berthiaume, Library and Archives Canada; and Sandra Singh, Vancouver Public Library. Photo credit: Library and Archives Canada.

Tim McMillan is an Assistant Manager at the Vancouver Public Library and the co-Editor of Perspectives.