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Approaching the millennium: challenges and prospects for British Columbia archives Hives, Chris 2009-03-10

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1Approaching the Millennium: Challenges and Prospectsfor British Columbia ArchivesChristopher HivesUniversity of British ColumbiaKeynote AddressAssociation of British Columbia Archivists (May 1998)I am very pleased to have been asked to deliver this year's keynote address. Program chairKelly Stewart indicated that the committee had in mind a keynote that would build upon some ofthe discussions in recent issues of the AABC Newsletter relating to the future direction ofdevelopment of archives in British Columbia. Although, in general the talk would focus on theprovincial archival system, the parameters of the keynote would be left to me.There are a number of people who would have been able to do justice to this topic andprovide some very useful insights into the recent evolution of the provincial archival community. IfI do have an advantage and perhaps bring a unique perspective to this discussion, it is because I hadthe privilege of serving on the AABC executive and also as a long-time board member and chair ofthe Canadian Council of Archives. Following the amalgamation of the Association of BritishColumbia Archivists and the British Columbia Archives Council in 1990, the first AABC executivedeveloped a number of important initiatives, some of which have a bearing on today's discussion.My eight years of service on the CCA board have provided me with a comprehensive overview ofarchival development in the rest of the country and provides a useful context within which to betterunderstand and measure the accomplishments of the archival community in British Columbia.In thinking about this paper, I needed some sort of framework to give structure to thediscussion that follows. As so many others have done lately, I have unabashedly used the occasionof the approaching millennium to reflect on where we are as an archival community and speak inbroad terms about the challenges confronting, and prospects for, archives in British Columbia.Taking time for this sort of reflection is important and very cathartic. Unfortunately, archivists oftenfind themselves too oppressed by daily responsibilities to spend precious time thinking about the"big picture". For the rest of this session and that which follow we are going to have an opportunityto exchange ideas about the recent and potential future directions for the development of theprovincial archival community. In particular, my remarks will focus both on efforts to build aninclusive provincial archival network and also some of the implications for participatingrepositories.To suggest that archivists today face myriad challenges would be an obviousunderstatement. The current economic climate in which all levels of government are forced tochoose amongst education, health and social welfare for the allocation of increasingly scarceresources generally leaves archives as relatively low priorities. As a consequence, it is unlikely inthe short-term that archives will receive significant new funding to support their activities. At the2most basic level funding cuts result in reduced service and staffing levels as positions disappear orvacancies are left unfilled. Given the labour intensive nature of archives, staff cuts mean thatpatrons can no longer expect the same level of service than has been the case in the past.Decreasing resources are also forcing institutions to reconsider the scope of material thatthey will acquire. Some archival repositories have narrowed their acquisition mandates and collectalmost exclusively the records of their sponsoring agency. The selective retreat from the acquisitionof private papers represents a movement away from the strict sense of 'total archives' which hascharacterized the development of many of Canada's public repositories.Working within an increasingly complex record keeping milieu -- one characterized by anincredible proliferation of recorded information -- archivists face the additional pressures of copingwith the mounting costs associated with the acquisition and preservation of archival records and theincreasing expectations of users who demand more comprehensive access to archival materials. It isclear that budget reductions will have long-term consequences for the acquisition and preservationof, and access to, society's documentary memory.Changing technology represents a major concern for archivists from several perspectives.First, archivists must spend considerable time learning and understanding increasingly complexrecord-keeping environments particularly given the vast array of records now generatedelectronically or on other new media. We also must face up to a number of purely practicalconsiderations. One such concern is media obsolescence: at this point in time, archivists still do nothave a clear idea about the life expectancies of floppy disks, computer tapes and optical disks. Evenif the problem of media obsolescence is overcome, we still face the problem of hardware andsoftware obsolescence, which means that, even if the tapes and disks survive, we may not be able toread them, so for all intents and purposes they may be inaccessible and unusable. It is ironic thatwhile we live during a period of unparalleled record generation, information has never been sovulnerable. In fact, it might be argued that the more modern the information recording medium, themore fragile it seems to be.If rapid changes in technology present archivists with problems it also provides a wholenew set of opportunities. Take for example the development of the internet. Never before havearchivists had available to them a tool with such power to disseminate information about archivalmaterials to a potentially huge audience. However, this too has its downside as taking advantage ofthese tremendous opportunities requires that archivists seek out the necessary training and thatarchival institutions develop their own strategies for the internet. The Web presence of archives inCanada varies from the provision of basic administrative information to complete finding aids and,occasionally, even copies of digitized archival materials. The level of participation of repositories isgenerally determined by the level of in-house expertise.As a result of information technology developments in general, archivists are beginning toexperience increasing user expectations. Sophisticated researchers familiar with the capacity forautomated, inter-institutional access to bibliographic information particularly in the library world,come to archives with similar expectations. Unfortunately, the archival community as a whole lags3significantly behind the library world in the adoption of standards for automation and description.This generally mitigates against the development of an inter-institutional approach to developinginformation systems and, as previously indicated, repositories are left to their own devices toprovide users with holdings information.Although computers have been used in numerous archival settings, automation projectshave been carried out by individual repositories with little or no development in the area of inter-institutional access to holdings. The problem to date has been the absence of commonly accepteddescriptive standards for archival material.For more than a decade now the Canadian archival community has invested significantfinancial and human capital in the development of descriptive standards. The first complete editionof the Rules for Archival Description (RAD) appeared a couple of years ago. The speed with whichRAD was developed is testament to the dedication of the individuals involved in its preparation andthe degree of significance attached to the initiative by the archival community. Having completedthe preliminary developmental phase it is now necessary to find ways to fast track itsimplementation.Movement toward standardized descriptive practices is essential for providing users witheffective and equitable access to holdings across a number of different repositories. What, forinstance, would happen in the library world if there were no standards and patrons were expected tolearn idiosyncratic systems at each library. Moreover, to what extent would it be possible forlibraries to co-operate? Most of us understand the importance of standards in the library world thatallow patrons to go into many different libraries with the expectation of finding a certain level ofcommonality. Standardization and harmonization of practice provides a foundation for jointactivities that would not otherwise be possible.The obvious importance of RAD notwithstanding, each archival institution must allot timeto allow staff to study the Rules and develop plans for implementation. While the CCA hasencouraged the implementation of descriptive standards by making the use of RAD mandatory forall descriptive projects it funds, there has been very little done in a systematic manner to helpinstitutions master and implement descriptive standards. Most institutions in Canada have been leftto grapple with the problem of implementing RAD on their own.So far I have touched only briefly on a few of the myriad problems confronting archiveswith which we are all but too familiar. It might be suggested, however, that at least some of theseproblems are of less concern in British Columbia because some time ago, we developed a moresystematic, inter-institutional approach and, in so doing, laid the foundation for a provincialarchival network.One of the most important factors in the development of such a network is the BritishColumbia Archival Union List (BCAUL). Initiated by the AABC in 1991 with financial supportfrom the provincial and federal governments, this project is, perhaps, one of the most significantarchival projects undertaken in Canada to date. From the outset, BCAUL was envisaged as a means4of developing an inclusive network of repositories in British Columbia, as a vehicle for theeffective dissemination of information about standards for archival description and, finally, as a toolto provide for the efficient exploitation of archival resources maintained in archives throughout theprovince.The original idea for BCAUL grew out of a project to develop an on-line database ofarchival description at the University of British Columbia Library between 1985 and 1988. Theproject produced one of the first fonds-level listings of archival holdings accessible through an on-line library catalogue. Having served as project archivist, I began to think about the value ofexpanding this project to include the holdings of repositories throughout British Columbia. I hadthe doubly good fortune in 1991 of being president of the newly-formed AABC and also havingopen-minded colleagues on the executive who, if not entirely convinced of the importance of theproject, were certainly prepared to have the Association undertake a feasibility study. It isinteresting to note that there was no great ground swell in the province for the development of aunion list - it was basically an executive-driven initiative that, following the completion of thefeasibility study, received the endorsement of the Association.From the outset BCAUL was intended to be much more than a traditional archival union listsuch as the Union List of Manuscripts in Canadian Repositories. The difference went beyond thefact that the BCAUL was in an electronic format. It was always envisaged as something more thana simple listing of the most important records from the most important repositories - a characteristicof earlier union lists. In many ways BCAUL traces its lineage perhaps more directly to the Symonsand Wilson reports which were published in the late 1970s and the early 1980s respectively than toother union list projects. Both reports stressed the need to develop archival networks and theWilson Report was an important element in the establishment of the Canadian Council of Archives.BCAUL's goals from the outset were focussed more on network building than on simply providinga list of holdings.To realize its goal of network development BCAUL, from the outset, has been designed toinclude archives of all sizes throughout British Columbia. Because traditional union lists wereprimarily intended to provide information about archival holdings, they tended to be biased towardthe most significant holdings from the more important repositories. Smaller repositories oftenlacked the resources and expertise to compile the information in the required formats in order tosubmit information to the national union lists. Moreover, in the absence of direct encouragementand support many smaller repositories felt their holdings to be of too little importance for inclusionin a national archival union list. To fully appreciate the significance of the inclusive aspect of theBCAUL project one need only read some of the many articles which have appeared in various localnewspapers expressing some surprise but more often great pride in the fact that the holdings of theirlocal archives were deemed worthy of inclusion in the new province-wide database of archivalholdings. As the project proceeded repositories of all sizes have increasingly come to viewthemselves as integral components of a larger provincial archival infrastructure.BCAUL had as its other primary object expediting the dissemination and implementation ofthe Canadian Rules for Archival Description. The need to talk the same language within the5archival community and to enjoy a certain level of commonality and standards were necessary bothfor the development of an archival network and for individual repositories interested inparticipating in it. In this sense the development of RAD made possible the development ofBCAUL while the project, in turn, provided an effective vehicle by which information aboutdescriptive standards has been communicated to archivists working in various archival settingsthroughout the province. Unlike other union list initiatives, BCAUL personnel actually visited eachinstitution to explain the goals of the project, provide information about descriptive standards andcompile the required documentation in consultation with the local archivist. These on-site visitsfrom the project archivists were deemed essential in recognition of the already heavy workload ofthe local archivists and their inexperience with descriptive standards. Once project personnel haveexplained the basics of RAD and demystified it, local archivists feel more comfortable andconfident in implementing it within their institutions.In addition to its obvious advantages for expediting research by providing detailedinformation about archival material held in repositories throughout the province, BCAUL has alsoserved as an effective management tool. With existing holdings, the information provided by theunion list can help rationalize holdings. Materials can be identified for potential transfer to moreappropriate repositories. Records may have been inadvertently alienated from the agency to whichthey rightfully belong or perhaps there is now a more appropriate repository that had not existedwhen the material was originally acquired. Finally, fonds split among a number of repositories canbe easily identified and possibly reunited in one institution. BCAUL will also be very useful forinter-institutional planning activities as repositories will be able to re-evaluate their collectingpractices and also more accurately identify material that might be falling through the cracks.While it forms the cornerstone of the evolving network in British Columbia, BCAUL is notthe only initiative contributing to this development. The goals of network building inherent in theBCAUL project have been further reinforced by other important initiatives such as the archives andconservation advisory services, the Manual for Small Archives (which is currently headed for itszillionth printing), and the provincial archives education program which has operated now forseveral years. As with the BCAUL, these have generally been funded and otherwise supported by apartnership that includes the AABC, the federal government through the CCA and the provincialgovernment. The CAAP program operated by the provincial government has also provided grantsto archives throughout British Columbia.The success of BCAUL and other provincial initiatives in developing an archival network inBritish Columbia can be measured in a number of ways. Statistics indicate that there are now inexcess of 8,000 fond level entries in BCAUL representing listings from 160 of the province'sapproximately 185 institutions.The success of network development may also be gleaned from the attitudes and ideasexpressed by archivists at some of the smaller archives. For instance, a few months ago BobMcDonald and Jane Turner, in a letter to the editor of the AABC Newsletter, seemed to questionthe wisdom of allocating CAAP funding to local archives. They has to wonder if the distribution of funds to many small archives that havesub-standard facilities is the most useful way to employ limited resources. Perhapswe should begin to consider the idea of a provincial archival network consisting ofarchives at colleges, larger museums, or municipal centres that could be givenresources to become regional archives...The response from archivists working in smaller archives in the province, which appeared in thelast issue of the Newsletter, was loud and clear. Letter after letter expressed a firm conviction thatsmall archives serve an important role in the provincial archival network and articulated a strongsense of commitment and belonging to that network.Finally, if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then current efforts to develop unionlists in several other provinces should further illustrate the success of BCAUL. In fact, this idea ofprovincial/territorial union list development forms the cornerstone of the CCA's Canadian ArchivalInformation Network (CAIN) initiative.I have suggested that BCAUL has provided the foundation for the development of aninclusive network of B.C. repositories. It has also played an important educational role indisseminating information about descriptive standards that has helped move the provincial archivalcommunity forward as a whole. This network development has, in turn, inculcated in repositories asense of participating in a larger archival system. This network approach is absolutely criticalbecause, in meeting the challenges of the future, we will have to rely on more holistic, inter-institutional approaches to preserve our documentary heritage. It is against this backdrop of archivalnetwork development that I would like to discuss the current state of affairs in British Columbiaconcerning the acquisition of private papers.Having reflected briefly on the important role played by BCAUL in providing a foundationof a provincial archival system, I would now like to discuss the place of the provincial archives, aswell as other large public repositories, in that evolving network and, in particular, the issue of thecollection of private papers. In addition, the discussion will also touch upon ideas about the generaldevelopment of the archival community.I should state clearly at the outset that I do not presume to speak on behalf of the provincialarchives. Nor do I pretend to have any particular detailed insights into the operation of thatinstitution. The comments I offer below and those made in the past come from my ownunderstanding of the evolving provincial archival system and my observations of circumstanceselsewhere in the country.To help provide a context for this discussion it is useful to reflect on an exchange of lettersover the past couple of years which appeared in the pages of the AABC Newsletter and that haveprovided the basis for a very healthy discussion both within and beyond the province's archivalcommunity. Since 1994, there has been a very interesting exchange of ideas primarily featuring BobMcDonald, myself, Jane Turner and other members of the provincial archival community.7In the most recent exchange of letters to the editor, there were several items on which Iagreed with Turner and McDonald. This included the necessity of retaining the word "archives" inthe name of the organization responsible for preserving and providing access to the province'sarchival records, the importance of maintaining the position of Provincial Archivist and "that theindividual occupying it serve as an effective champion for the preservation of both public andprivate records within the provincial government."In McDonald's original article and his subsequent piece with Turner, he argued for the needfor archival legislation which would "include the collection and management of private records.Legislation should articulate such a role for BCARS in clear, forceful and unequivocal language." Isuggested that we have to be realistic in our expectations of what exactly archival legislation wouldaccomplish. In many Canadian jurisdictions, provincial archives have been forced by changingcircumstances to focus more on the care of public records and less on the acquisition of privatematerials. This has happened, despite the fact that their official acquisition mandate extends to a fullrange of both public and private materials. In the end, archival legislation simply prescribes theparameters within which the archives is entitled to collect material, it does not require that all thismaterial be collected comprehensively all of the time." Having sounded this cautionary note, Iwould certainly agree that the development of such legislation is very important in BritishColumbia as it would assist in the development of the archival system by identifying non-governmental records that the provincial archives would normally acquire.We also agree that in light of the tremendous need in the archival community that CAAP isprobably under-funded and that there should be clearer criteria used to determine qualifications ofinstitutions eligible for receiving that funding. While Turner and McDonald at least hinted thatfunding would be better spent on the development of a handful of regional archival facilities, I stillbelieve that the idea of distributing funding to a wide range of individual repositories is appropriate.I suggested as a first level limiting eligibility to repositories that meet the AABC's definition ofinstitutional member.The point on which we really lack consensus is in our respective understanding and beliefsabout both the role of the provincial archives in the acquisition of private records and thedevelopment of an archival network in the province.In his original letter, McDonald identified what he characterized as a general "tide ofdiminishing commitment by British Columbia's publicly-funded institutions to collect privatepapers." In a subsequent article in Archivaria he elaborated on his concern about private records:"As an historian I see records in cultural terms, the heritage of what we thought andhow we acted in the past. In short, I see archival records as a reflection of who weare as a people - our collective memory - and think it imperative that, if we are tounderstand our history, and hence ourselves, we find ways to preserve thispatrimony."A subsequent piece co-authored with Turner focused more particularly on the apparent decrease in8provincial archives' acquisition of private papers. They suggested that "the Provincial Archives doesnot have a real, active and funded policy for the collection of private records, and it displays littledesire to create one." Although according to McDonald and Turner the Provincial Archives doescontinue to collect some non-government records its efforts are largely passive "rather than havingan active policy for collecting certain kinds of records, which it vigorously pursues."(3-4) ForTurner and McDonald the organizational changes over the past decade represent an erosion of "thetraditional view that the Provincial Archives is a cultural institution where records that are bothpublic and private in origin constitute our collective memory, and reflect who we are as a people.(3) They conclude by stating that "the broad cultural goals that once gave direction to the ProvincialArchives have been replaced by ends that are more narrowly administrative. In our view, theerosion of the Archives' broad cultural mandate does constitute a "crisis" of provincial proportions."(4)Political commentator David Mitchell expressed similar sentiments in a recent VancouverSun article."The B.C. Archives and Records Service shifted its focus away from serving thepublic towards more of an in-house government service....There are some whobelieve that this is part of a wicked conspiracy to deny the public access to historicalrecords. Its more likely that the archives has become a victim of ignorance andincompetence....In the dull, modern language of public administration, historysimply doesn't fit; government doesn't know what to do with heritage. In the absenceof a political champion, the function has shifted back and forth between ministersand ministries, and back and forth again....Its more than political instability. Its morethan bad management. It's a woeful lack of understanding of the value of our past.And its a shameful disregard for the history and traditions of British Columbia."(March 9, 1998)In response to these arguments, I would like to discuss the question of archives' broad culturalmandate -- which is, of course, to preserve societal memory -- and the role to be played by theprovincial archives in fulfilling that mandate.In the past, we entrusted large public institutions - primarily national and provincial archiveswith the preservation and protection of society's documentary memory; we gave them power overthe definition and perpetuation of societal memory: both public and private. As a result, thatmemory was defined and shaped in accordance with the values and priorities of those centers ofnational and provincial power.This state of affairs was viable so long as we continued to believe in the myth of commonlyheld values and shared a common perception of archives as cultural property.Over the last quarter century, that consensus has eroded and today few of us believe thatlarge government institutions can speak for everyone. In the political arena, we have witnessed atnational and provincial levels, increasing decentralization and the devolution of authority and9autonomy to local levels. It is becoming increasingly apparent that our national identity is typified,ironically, by the diversity and multiplicity of the regional, ethnic, and social identities that shape it.In a community defined by a diversity of perspectives and a multiplicity of voices, there isno longer any defensible privileged position from which to judge what will and will not bepreserved. If archives are to play a meaningful role in the preservation of societal memory, we needto accept that memory can assume many forms and its preservation is the responsibility of everyrecord creating body not just a few.So what are the implications for the societal role of archivists at the end of the millennium?It means, for one thing, that we must stop perpetuating a false dichotomy between theadministrative and cultural goals of archives and bemoaning the way in which so-calledadministrative imperatives have eroded equally important cultural imperatives.The societal role of the archivist is to ensure the preservation of societal memory. That is acultural purpose. The archivist who seeks to ensure the preservation of sponsorial records byscheduling them and providing sound records management advice to records creators is every bit asengaged in a cultural pursuit as is the archivist who acquires the papers of a young Canadian poet orthe records of the Vancouver Choral Society. Scheduling and effective records management may beadministrative tools but they are aimed toward the achievement of the same cultural end as theacquisition of private records, that end being the identification and preservation of societal memory.The real question is, how do we exercise our societal role to preserve a meaningfuldocumentary trace of late 20th century culture, a culture that is characterized by transience, de-centralization, and fragmentation. A preliminary answer is to accept these realities and determinehow best to reflect them in our methodologies.We have moved from a conception of culture as monolithic and abstract and shaped bycentralist preoccupations to a conception of culture as variegated and concrete and determined bylocal preoccupations and priorities. No provincial or national archival institution is capable ofdefining or defending an acquisition policy that presumes to capture the diversity of "provincial" or"national" culture.If there is to be any possibility of capturing that diversity, we need to attract the attention ofa broad range of records creators and encourage the preservation of documentary memory at thelocal level. So not only is the movement toward devolution of the responsibility for the preservationof our documentary heritage acceptable it is also necessary.It was in this context, in addition to several practical concerns including budgetaryconstraints and changing demands on public archives, the development of many new archives in theprovince and the adoption of a more systematic and network-based approach to archivaldevelopment in the province, that I responded to McDonald’s original letter. In that response Iproposed a new paradigm for the collection and preservation of private papers, one in which welook beyond assigning responsibility to a single repository or a handful of repositories, opting10instead for a more collective vision. I suggested that we might appropriate the environmental slogan"think globally, act locally”.By this I meant simply that we take a more holistic or collective approach - that we see thepreservation of private records as a responsibility to be shared by repositories throughout theprovincial system and not the primary responsibility of two or three larger public repositories aswas the case in the past. As for the second part of the slogan - "act locally" - this suggests theimportance of both having materials remain in the geographic areas in which they were createdrather than being collected by and transferred to a distant public repository. Given the inability ofthe archival system to deal with the current volumes of records being generated, "act locally" wasalso extended to the idea that, where ever possible, creators of records should be encouraged tomaintain their own archives.The Wilson Report commented on the importance of maintaining material in "theorganizations and communities generating those records" and warned that "if the records are judgedonly by what is worthy of importance to the central archives, many secondary records, essentialfrom a local perspective, are left to a very uncertain fate..."(65) The report also expressed concernabout the negative impact removal of the material might have on the development of new archives:With the cream of local material skimmed off to the central archives, any movementto establish an institutional or local archives withers and dies. And other localletters, diaries and photographs potentially valuable to Canadian studies remainlargely hidden in family hands. (65)As long as we pursue a model that has as its goal the "collection" of important private papers bylarge, remote archives, there will never be any impetus for local repositories to develop intoanything more than what they are today. This is the consequence of Bob's suggestion of funnelingmaterial to the provincial archives, and, albeit to a lesser extent, the impact of establishing regionalcentres responsible for the acquisition of private papers.As a result of the existing repositories' inability to cope with the ever-increasing volume ofrecords being created I suggested that it was absolutely essential to attempt to reduce the totalvolume of materials that must be cared for in our public repositories. To this end, larger, extantorganizations such as labour unions, businesses, voluntary associations, school boards, and collegesshould assume a greater financial responsibility for their own records. These organizations shouldbe encouraged to 'act locally' in the preservation of their own records. This could take a number offorms including the establishment of in-house archival programs, development of co-operative orcost-shared arrangements with other organizations, or at the very least partnerships with existingrepositories to help defray the cost of maintaining the records. While this raises other issues such aswhether public repositories should maintain the records of profit-generating organizations -- I willleave that particular minefield for another day.McDonald generally dismissed the idea of having agencies maintain their own archives. Hefelt that access would be hampered because the repositories would be "geographically disperse" and11"their conditions of access highly variable" and, finally, wondered what would become of therecords when the creating agency no longer existed. For McDonald the key was to "find ways tomaintain records in environments that are secure and accessible over time. He continued bysuggesting that:...for users, a highly decentralized structure of archival holdings is not onlyinconvenient but greatly diminishes their ability to follow leads from one recordsource to another, a voyage of discovery that larger institutions facilitate. To achievelong-term security of records and to create a working environment that allowsresearch to be carried out effectively, some degree of centralization of expertise andmaterials is imperative.McDonald suggested instead the establishment of regional centres "in a number of institutions -such as municipal archives, museums, and university or college libraries, as well as the BritishColumbia Archives and Records Service" which would share responsibility for the collection ofprivate records.McDonald's suggestion for developing regional centres of public institutions with responsibilityfor acquiring private papers is from the perspective of conducting research very appealing. Thereare, however, several attendant difficulties. First, there are political considerations. From the outsetthere will be disputes as to the location of the regional centres. Once established, how are peoplegoing to feel about having private material acquired and maintained by regional centres severalhundred miles down the highway? Perhaps this will help concentrate research material but will dolittle to stimulate the development of anything but the regional centre - a classic example of the richgetting richer. The most critical question in all of this is who will be responsible for funding thisinitiative. Would the handful of repositories across the province be expected to take on this task? Ipersonally know of very few repositories with excess storage capacity and staffing that would allowthem to assume this function in addition to their existing acquisition program. Would the provincialgovernment be expected to fund this initiative? One has to appreciate that with additional storagerequirements and staffing this would likely be a multi-million dollar proposition. If McDonaldconsiders this a viable alternative to my suggestions then I would certainly wish him well in hislobby efforts.Finally, I would like to conclude this section by referring to the discussion of "total archives"and the need for network development which appeared in the Wilson Report. On several occasionsduring his discussion of the acquisition of private papers this issue has been raised. In commentingon the decreasing activity in the acquisition of private papers McDonald observed that: this "trendrepresents a departure from the Canadian tradition of preserving government and private records instate-funded provincial and national archives" (I) McDonald with Turner suggested that "theArchives' managers have abandoned the concept of "total archives" in favour of a policy of"information management".Historically, senior archives in Canada at the federal, provincial and territorial levels establishedfor themselves broad mandates acquiring both the official records of their sponsoring agency and an12extensive range of private materials in all documentary forms bearing on the life of their institutionor region. In assessing this "total archives" approach, the Wilson report pointed out that:In virtually every instance, these were the first professional archives in their regions and theimpulse to gather all available archival material before neglect took its toll was as commendableas it was necessary. The arguments favouring a system of a few large centralized repositoriesare traditional and cogent." (64)While acknowledging the importance of this total archives approach the Wilson report alsorecognized its practical implications. Like the Symons report before it the Wilson Reportrecognized the importance of encouraging the development of new repositories and the needto develop a co-ordinated archival system with increased institutional interdependence.Even at this time it was recognized that there were limits to reliance on the "total archives"approach. With the establishment of more institutions there would be an increased risk ofoverlapping acquisition mandates.The Wilson report then articulated clearly the need to balance the 'total archives'approach with the development of new repositories. It went on to suggest that "theemergence of a true system of Canadian archives depends on a reinterpretation of the broadlegislative mandates given each of the publicly funded archives" based on newdevelopments in the archival community.Although the report recognized that these public archives "have been given theresponsibility by society to ensure the preservation of all records bearing on the history ofthat society" and that this "responsibility must remain" it cautioned that:...the public archives must recognize that today far more is implied that simplygathering all available archival material into one repository. This responsibility canalso be fulfilled by fostering the development of appropriate institutional, corporateor local archives. In so doing a much broader spectrum of historically importantmaterials can be preserved, the full financial burden does not fall on the publicpurse, and the archives remain a living part of their institutional or localcommunity."I would argue that in British Columbia, the provincial archives has not so muchabandoned the strict notion of 'total archives' as suggested by McDonald and Turner butrather moved toward the model envisaged by the Wilson Report - that is a shift fromactually collecting private records to entering into partnerships and contributing toward theircollection elsewhere. Unlike other provincial archives that have, to various degrees, reducedtheir activities in the acquisition of private papers, the British Columbia government hasmade funding available both to support the development and growth of a provincial archivalnetwork and to individual repositories within that network. While one might take issue withthe amount of money expended on these activities or quibble about the guidelines for thedistribution of the funds I very much support the basic underlying idea.13The 'total archives' approach was best suited to a period in which there were fewarchival repositories. As the Wilson Report strongly urges, the broad acquisition mandatesimplicit in the 'total archives' model must be carefully reassessed in light of changes in thearchival environment, particularly the establishment of new repositories. This is not tosuggest that the notion is no longer relevant but rather that we exercise flexibility in itsapplication. It is wrong to invoke the spirit of 'total archives' to return to a bygone era inwhich one, or perhaps even a handful of regional public institutions should be expected topreserve the bulk of the province's private papers. Given the magnitude of the task ofpreserving private papers this is a responsibility that must be shared more generally amongstBritish Columbia's archival institutions.By way of concluding my ramblings on the provincial archival community let me saythat this discussion is both important and valuable. We have room in the community formany different points of view. The really positive aspect of this exchange is that we aretaking the time to consider and discuss the various issues in the course of planning forfuture developments in the archival community. This foundation will ensure that decisionsare rooted in consensus rather than simply historical happenstance.I think that we can agree that the archival community has undergone some significantchanges in the past decade. In recognition of these changes I would suggest that the time isappropriate to identify the current needs of the archival community. The last formal needsassessment survey was conducted over ten years ago. A new needs assessment surveywould allow us to reorient our programs as necessary to ensure that they meet the needs ofthe community and that we deploy increasingly scarce resources in the most effectivemanner possible. I would respectfully suggest that the incoming executive consider seekingCCA and CAAP funding to carry out this new needs assessment survey.As part of this project it might also be beneficial to conduct a review of the operationsof the AABC. As the organization responsible for providing the leadership and theframework within which the community can work toward its goal of preserving theprovince's documentary heritage, it is critical that it be equal to the significant challenges athand. In the past there has been some discussion about establishing a special committee forundertaking a thorough review of the operation of the Association and all of its programs. Isthe current structure the one best suited to help the Association meet its obligations? Is theeducation program meeting the needs of the community? Is the current model employed forthe delivery of the advisory services the best model or are there other alternatives? In thatthe scope of the Association's activities have expanded and become more complex - is itworth considering the establishment of an executive director position? There are many morethings that could be suggested but I am offering these ideas only as examples of potentialmatters for consideration.Looking to the future perhaps the two most important watchwords should be flexibilityand communication. We should be flexible in our understanding and expectations of thearchival community. This includes moving beyond the idea that a particular repository, or14small group of repositories, should have the primary responsibility for acquiring privatepapers. If this is the basic premise for the preservation of private materials what will happenin the inevitable circumstance where one or a number of these institutions is no longer in aposition to acquire this material?We must also continue to promote communication within the archival community. Thisincludes sharing in an open and honest manner information about what each institution isactually acquiring. Developing an accurate picture of who is acquiring what material willhelp us better respond as a community to concerns about the disposition of private papers.Each archival institution must communicate effectively with their sponsoring agency. It isimportant that resource allocators understand the role to be played by archives and theimportance of acquiring both sponsor and private records. The Association must look forways to improve communications with the provincial government to ensure that the work ofthe AABC is understood and appreciated. While there were some positive aspects of thelobbying effort that had to be mounted a couple of years ago when it appeared that CAAPfunding was in jeopardy, a lot of precious time was taken up on a campaign that should nothave been necessary. Finally, we should engage in constructive dialogue with the full rangeof users of archives to better understand their requirements. We should be prepared to listento their concerns and they, in turn, must be prepared to understand the constraints underwhich archivists operate.Let me finish by returning to the title of my paper, "Approaching the Millennium:Challenges and Prospects for British Columbia Archives." I have tried to suggest that theproblems confronting archives in British Columbia are really little different than those facedby repositories elsewhere. The real difference lies in the manner in which we have chosen torespond to some of these challenges. Rather than having each repository deal with theseproblems on a piecemeal basis we have tried to develop an inclusive archival network andprovide the educational opportunities to better equip the community as a whole to cope withthese problems more efficiently. I believe that the B.C. model of using a union list as a basisfor network development has been very successful as we now have a broad range ofinstitutions that share a basic level of understanding and are willing and able to co-operatein a range of activities.As we approach the millennium the challenges confronting the province's archivalcommunity will continue to grow as will new and unforeseen opportunities. We have takenthe first and most important steps to meet these challenges by laying the foundation forinter-institutional co-operation and taking a more holistic approach to the preservation ofthe province's documentary heritage.


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