The Best “Get Well Soon” Email I’ve Ever Received

I’ve been going through my inboxes recently, cleaning them up and putting everything in proper folders like a good archivist. I usually start getting antsy if there are more than, say, 60 messages in my inbox, but sometime in April my good intentions got away from me – and today I realised that my personal email inbox had some 300 messages in it, while my work inbox was approaching a thousand. Pretty much had an instant panic attack.

So, mailbox tidying and archiving has been the order of the day, and along the way I rediscovered the best “get well soon” email I’ve ever received. Frankly, it’s probably one of the only “get well soon” emails I’ve ever received that aren’t from my boss. I was pretty delirious upon first reading it, sick as I was with strep throat less than a week before I was supposed to travel to Scotland to speak at a conference, but I think it holds up well.

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Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered: Getting In Touch With My Inner Archivist

I’ve been grappling with a technical issue at work for a week and a half. I don’t want to get into details, because that would be boring for all of us, but I assure you that I am neither technically or mentally prepared to solve it. I feel like I’ve exhausted all my avenues, so at this point I’m ignoring it until it goes away. Wishful thinking, I know.

Last week, just as this problem was rearing its ugly head, I attended the 2013 Archives Association of Ontario Conference in beautiful Ottawa. There were a lot of great talks at the conference, but there’s one in particular that has stuck with me as I’ve been grappling with my stupid technical problem. Given by three archivists from the Archives of Ontario – Rachel Barton, Nana Robinette, and Stewart Boden – and entitled Computers Don’t Smell – Accessing Archival Records in the Digital Age, it was one of the most the most self-reflective talks I’ve attended in a long while. The presenters spoke to, unsurprisingly, their experiences with access to digital records. But during their presentations, each speaker also analysed their own archivist persona, using, wonderfully, the metaphorical framework of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Buffy Season 1

She’s really got the archivist look down

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Resignation, Rhetoric, and Who’s Next for LAC

Yesterday, Daniel Caron, the much maligned head of Library and Archives Canada, resigned. And there was much rejoicing.

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.