Yesterday, Daniel Caron, the much maligned head of Library and Archives Canada, resigned. And there was much rejoicing.
And then there was much thinking. Caron’s resignation seems to have been caused by many and varied things, not limited to $170,000 in personal expenses charged to government coffers, accusations of muzzling, and a pretty basic misunderstanding of the principles of library and archival theory that have incensed the community. Caron has been the mouthpiece for government policies that lead to sweeping cuts and program eliminations in 2012 that devastated Canadian archives, expanding the reach of government policy to many thousands of small repositories (CAUT has an excellent summary of the cuts here). It is questionable, at least in my mind, whether LAC can ever recover from the havoc wrought at Caron’s hands, whether or not he was directly responsible or if he was merely a government scapegoat.
Regardless of the reason, Caron’s resignation has been greeted with something approaching glee amongst my colleagues. However, there is also common vein of worried speculation – what’s next for LAC? Perhaps, more accurately, who is next for LAC?
One colleague opines that LAC doesn’t necessarily need a librarian at the top. To some extent, I agree – the head of a huge organization must be a competent administrator with a keen ability to manage a large but ever-shrinking budget. There are maybe a handful of librarians or archivists who meet these criteria. Caron was a public administrator who had found success in various governmental managerial positions at the federal level – but that did not make him the right fit for LAC. And while I agree that someone with a proven track record for administration is absolutely necessary, I also feel that the next Librarian and Archivist of Canada needs to have a solid theoretical grounding in the field. Caron’s outlandish statements about digitization were an embarrassment to the profession and showed a complete disregard for reality. Yet those statements led to the decimation of LAC’s workforce and the elimination of programs that have no suitable digital replacement, such as inter-library loans; furthermore, projects initiated to support digital initiatives, such as the creation of a Trusted Digital Repository, have been summarily dropped. Caron’s rhetorical allegiance to digitization as the great saviour of LAC is so steadfast, yet so easily dismantled, that my colleague Kelli and I wrote a whole conference presentation on the subject (which can be accessed through SlideShare here).
Every day, I am immensely grateful that I have chosen to work in a field that values freedom of expression, an unflagging dedication to quality, and commitment to the profession that goes beyond showing up to work on time. And I can only hope that our new Librarian and Archivist of Canada is someone for whom those characteristics are self-evident. LAC needs a leader who recognizes the immense value, in both cultural and evidentiary lights, of libraries and archives.
Is it likely that the government will appoint a person that the library and archives community approves of? Frankly, no. As Anna at Deantiquate points out, Caron’s expulsion is not the portent of an idealogical shift at LAC. The library and archival communities, angry for so long, are unlikely to be appeased by his successor. And as Myron eloquently states on Bibliocracy, Caron’s resignation must serve as a reminder that the struggle to make LAC a national repository worthy of our collective admiration is ongoing. It’s not going to be any easier from hereon in.
But an archivist can dream.