On Monday, April 30, 2012 at 11:00am, administrative staff at Library Archives Canada announced that the National Archival Development Program (NADP) and the Canadian Council of Archives (CCA) were eliminated. Without prior consultation or warning to affected stake-holders, (including the provincial archival associations across the country and staff who administer the CCA), the decision was made to cut these vital programs and services which feed into the pan-Canadian network of archives that serve researchers from across the country and internationally. This announcement was made in tandem with news that over two hundred LAC jobs were “under review” and that an estimated 105 positions are slated to be eliminated. I’ve heard that works out to be about 20% of their professional staff.
Impact on provincial programing : AAO programming, provincial database of archival descriptions
Not only did these cuts come as a shock, they also had a personal impact (hence the personal blog post, rather than a regular one on the department site). I am chair of the Archeion Standing Committee, responsible for the administration and policy of the province’s database of archival holdings, Archeion.ca. As chair, my primary responsibility is to apply for funding from various sources, including an annual NADP grant which supported the very modest costs of keeping our Archeion Coordinator on a part time basis and pay for her travel and accommodation when she’s on the road making site visits at archives across the province. On average we apply for funding to pay the Coordinator for about 100 to 164 days of work, which allows her to deliver training, answer questions by telephone or email, and enforce descriptive standards for all materials contributed to the database and pay for her expenses for about 10 – 12 site-visits and/or workshops a year. Oh right, and our committee of six? All volunteers.
The Archives Association of Ontario has been devastated by the cuts to the CCA as the vast majority of our operating funds relied on NADP support. We provide three main services delivered by two part-time and one full-time staff members: the Archives Advisor, the Preservation Consultant and the Archeion Coordinator. Our association delivers on-site consultation on archival programming, management, preservation and descriptive standards that is vital to the operations of small and medium-sized archival institutions across the province.
Impact on new professionals : no more summer contracts
As a professional, once you land a full-time position, it is easy to forget all those tenuous short-term contracts that helped develop your skills and expand your work experience that led to you acing the interview that led to that full-time job. Maybe it was a summer contract at a big institution, or a three-month stint at a small community archives getting a particularly unwieldy donation under control. These are the kinds of projects that the NADP funds: useful, localized initiatives that have wide-spread benefits both in generating access to records and giving new archivists meaningful (and paid) employment opportunities. Funding from the NADP grants also support programming by professional organizations like the AAO (and our sister organizations across the country) which is essential to the survival of our shared cultural heritage and the maintenance of professional standards.
Impact on national programming and pan-Canadian networks
Before NADP there were various incarnations of grants and funds that focused on particular issues within the archival community: preservation, reducing back log, and getting matching funds to hire contract archivists to tackle complex archival fonds that regular staff couldn’t hope to find the time to focus on.
On average, The CCA distributes around a 1.7 million dollars (see page 7-8 the NADP guidelines for 2012-2013 for the breakdown by province) through NADP across the country. A little under 2 million dollars doesn’t seem that much in the grand scheme of things or in comparison to projects in other federal ministries, heck, even within the Ministry of Heritage itself. What the feds save in the short term will be miniscule when you look at the long-term impact this will have on the local level in archives across the country and how it will undermine the ability of remaining professionals working at LAC to carry out their legal responsibilities as custodians of the federal government’s records and in more broadly, as the keepers of the collective memory of the nation.
In Ontario, we’re looking at the loss of three staff members employed by the AAO, or the severe curtailing of their activities and programming. We’re also looking at a dozens of archival institutions that have been planning (often for years in advance) to apply for a NADP grant so they can scrape together matching funds to tackle large-scale projects within their own operations.
The NADP is not icing on the cake, it is a program that is a life-line for small, “lone-arranger” operations to hire some professional expertise, buy preservation supplies, or get a short-term contract archivist hired to ensure that a project gets completed. You can view a breakdown of the projects funded by the NADP since 2006 for the operating years of 2006-2007 , 2007-2008 and 2008-2009. The CCA has posted its most recent funded projects on the Arcan_L listserv.
In the 2009-2010 operating year, 85 projects were completed, employing 114 individuals. The total cost of the projects was $2,459,142 (41% from NADP, 59% from the archival community) and resulted in 365,473 digitized items, 567.47 metres of textual records, and 88,530 additional items being made accessible to Canadians.
How about this past year? Well, in 2010-2011, 89 projects were completed. The total cost of the projects was $2,521,044, (40.6% from NADP, 59.4% from the archival community) and resulted in 378,878 digitized items, 590.66 metres of textual records, 65,343 photographs, 4,844 audio visual items, 9,652 other objects (maps, plans and other items) were described and made accessible to Canadians. Oh, and 142 people were employed as a result.
The cuts will affect the ability of archivists and other allied professions to preserve vital records in their local communities. These vital records include historical documents that tell local stories and preserve the voice of ordinary citizens. They include business and government records that ensure transparency and accountability of our elected officials and operational bodies. They also include vital records that allow descendants to trace their own life lines: baptismal, marriage, death and adoption records, parish registers, and the papers of religious, community and fraternal organizations.
Archivists can economize, constrict their operations, and find alternatives. It is the reality of our profession and sometimes we’re so good at it that it can undermine the importance of our activities by making them seem expendable, or give the impression that such tasks can be managed with ever shrinking budgets and staff complements.
The result of this cost-cutting will be the erosion of a national network of archival descriptions (ArchivesCanada.ca) that we have fought for years to establish and grow. It will undermine our profession’s ability to build and maintain our online databases. It may eliminate altogether an institution’s ability to digitize materials at a quality and standard that will ensure long-term accessibility and preservation. It will impede access and promotion of materials that are essential to community building and the education, enlightenment and empowerment of Canadian citizens.
Geez, this whole thing makes me so fracken’ mad: how do I channel this righteous anger into something useful?
Things we can do is to start talking loudly, about what bodies like the CCA and programs like the NADP have meant to our communities, the users were serve, and the records we preserve. If you can’t participate in person, maybe post a video, write a letter, send the CCA a story that they can use as evidence of the importance and impact of the CCA and its funding.
A colleague and I dug through our records and whittled out a list of projects that would not have been possible without the matching funds from the CCA (what I think is being lost in this issue that the NADP and funding from the CCA is by no means a hand out to the provinces: every applicant must demonstrate that they are putting substantial direct or indirect funding into project proposals and we’re held to account in our final reports). It was an impressive list for twenty years of collaboration. You can read about our preliminary findings in our department blog this week and subsequent posts about individual projects and the scholarship, publications and services that have been possible as a result of these projects.
Meanwhile, there are a number of efforts that you can contribute to.
You can sign a petition calling on Minister James Moore to reverse the decision to cut the NADP and the CCA here. You are also most welcome to contact your local MP and Minister Moore and talk about how important archives are to our nation’s history, accountability and democratic process. You can find contact information for your local MP here.