Mar. 3, 2008

Working at Library and Archives Canada

I had the opportunity to work at Library and Archives Canada for the summer. I am truly sorry that I found myself too busy to blog regularly about what I was learning as a historian working in the public sphere, so I will be unable to do real justice to the institution and my experience there. It is nevertheless important for me to post a few enduring understandings I realized during the summer.

First of all, I would like to say thank you to the folks with whom I had the opportunity to work. For students studying both Public History or subjects in History, the archives provided a terrific mix of short- and long-term projects as well as the satisfaction of knowing that the majority of this work would benefit clients down the line. Overall, the internship proved to be a great opportunity to employ my historical skills in an forum that was both accountable for storing and managing information while also making historical sources available to the public.

Secondly, I gained an incredible appreciation of the challenges that archival institutions face. If Canada’s national archive struggles with the enormous challenges of acquiring, assessing, organizing, and describing collections, I can only imagine the state of smaller archives with fewer resources. It will take increased financial resources to maintain the massive volume of information acquired annually archival institutions. In order for governments and taxpayers to agree to the allocation of greater resources towards archives though, I believe that archivists will have to prove and demonstrate to the public that archival institutions have value to an audience broader than historians and genealogists.

Thirdly, I cannot say enough times that I think it is more important make documents available than to preserve them. I strongly believe that documents should be put at some level of risk if it means that more people will appreciate the historical, educational, and social value of archives. While some documents have legal value and are kept for that purpose, there are certainly documents of purely historical value that should be more widely used in traveling and in-house exhibits and educational programs.

I wish Library and Archives Canada and my co-workers all the best as they continue on with their very important work. They can look for me soon when I bring a class of students in to cause a ruckus in the reading room at the building on Wellington!