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Canada 150: New paradigm for LAC-BAC

At their best, national institutions are not static entities but evolve in concert with the people and places that they are created to support.

From books on shelves to digital archives in cyberspace, Library and Archives Canada (Bibliothèque et Archives Canada) (LAC-BAC) plays a vital role in ensuring that the GLAM (gallery, library, archives and museum) sector continues to play a vital role in ensuring Canadians have access to information and engage with their national treasures, experts and each other.

Dr. Guy Berthiaume, Librarian and Archivist of Canada (see full bio below), speaks to LAC-BAC’s role on a number of fronts during this celebratory year, including responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action, participating in international efforts to foster collaboration between nations and library as “creative space.


From the mid 1950s to 2015, the library community supported the Canadian Library Association to advance key goals such as access to information at the national level. Now this national organization is a confederation of regional organizations. What role might Library and Archives Canada (Bibliothèque et Archives Canada) play in supporting or working with the CFLA/FCAB? Will the organizations collaborate on various projects and, if so, how?

As Canada’s national library, Library and Archives Canada (LAC-BAC) had a longstanding relationship with the Canadian Library Association, both as a member of the association and as a collaborator. We also played a role in discussions with the community preceding the creation of the new Canadian Federation of Library Association-Fédération canadienne des associations de bibliothèques (CFLA-FCAB). Once the new association was established, I asked the CLFA-FCAB executive to join LAC-BAC’s Stakeholders Forum to ensure that LAC-BAC would continue to have a strong relationship with the Federation. It is important to me that the CFLA-FCAB, as Canada’s national voice on libraries and library issues, is an active member of the Forum. The Stakeholders Forum allows LAC-BAC to update the Canadian library community on our priorities. It also allows us to follow and get involved in the work of organizations like the CFLA. For example, the CFLA-FCAB is working on topics of interest to LAC-BAC such as truth and reconciliation, as well as copyright. I am convinced that the gallery, library, archives and museum (GLAM) sector will grow stronger with cross-sector dialogue on these and other important shared issues.

As an ethical principle, access to information seems to be ahistorical. However, how access functions (what it looks like) shifts over time. For example, at one point if someone wanted to access archival materials or materials in the LAC-BAC collection, he/she had to physically visit the building. Now materials are digitized and online. How do you see access shifting in the future? Do you see emerging trends in preservation and access that could lead to another “seismic” shift in accessibility of information?

This is an interesting question, and one that I have had a number of recent opportunities to discuss—both with colleagues in the GLAM sector and in the media. In terms of access, one of the most interesting shifts that I see is the re-emergence of the importance of the library as place. Worldwide, institutions like ours are experiencing a paradox: the more we invest in accelerating digital access to our collections and services, the more our public seeks out opportunities to visit our spaces in-person. While at one time clients had to come onsite to access LAC-BAC’s collections, today they want to come onsite – to access our resources through traditional reference and consultation services, but also to engage with our treasures, our experts, and with each other through public programming and hands-on creative experiences all brought together in dynamic physical and virtual spaces. It may seem contradictory, but the more we invest in digital access—in digital infrastructure and digital services—the more we also need to invest in physical access, i.e., in our buildings, our onsite services, and our modern and digitally enabled “third spaces.” I am convinced that it is the new access paradigm for memory institutions.

In 1867, Canada did not have a national library or archives. In fact, while the National Archives was founded in 1872, our National Library was not created until the early 1950s. Why should Canada have a national library?

2017 is of course the 150th anniversary of Canada’s Confederation. As Canada’s national library, we have a responsibility to encourage Canadians to take full advantage of the materials in our collections so that they can get to know themselves, and one another. In January of this year, I had the great pleasure of welcoming the famous author and Director of the National Library of Argentina, Alberto Manguel, to LAC-BAC for a public lecture. During his talk, Mr. Manguel made the following statement: “A national library can, I believe, be a sort of creative workshop, and a place in which material is stored for future readers to find clues in order to imagine better worlds.” It is my hope that Canada’s national library will become just this sort of place . . . a place that invites the public to access and interact with our collections in ways that are innovative, and a place that strengthens our shared sense of pride in Canada’s history and in its future. 

In its Calls to Action 69 and 70, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission speaks to Library and Archives Canada  (Bibliothèque et Archives Canada) regarding its compliance with the United Nations Declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples and make accessible existing residential school records.  What is your vision for the participation of LAC-BAC in this process?

Last spring, the Government of Canada announced its full support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, confirming Canada’s commitment to renewed relationships with Indigenous peoples, and engaging federal departments and agencies like LAC-BAC in the reconciliation process. LAC-BAC was a key contributor to the efforts of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)—facilitating access and digitization of records on residential schools, and later transferring these records to the National Centre on Truth and Reconciliation in Winnipeg under a memorandum of understanding. We read the Final Report of the TRC with interest—particularly Calls to Action #69 and #70, and we are actively working to make records on residential schools in our holdings accessible and available, while respecting access to information, privacy and copyright legislation.

Moreover, we are committed to consulting and collaborating with Indigenous peoples on all stages of projects that relate to their heritage. LAC-BAC received $14.9M in the 2017 federal budget to digitize and provide access to existing Indigenous language and cultural materials, to support Indigenous communities on oral testimonies to preserve and revitalize their languages and to make sure that the communities acquire capacity and expertise. We will develop these projects in collaboration with Indigenous communities and an Indigenous Advisory Circle. We are also an active member of the Steering Committee on Canada’s Archives that is overseeing the development of a response to Calls to Action #70, on behalf of the broader Canadian archival community.

You are the Chair of the Standing Committee of National Libraries Section of IFLA for 2015-2019. Tell us about your decision to participate in this committee—how does your involvement with IFLA support your own ideas about being a librarian and ensuring access to information for Canadians.

The National Libraries Section of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) was essentially inactive when I first arrived at Library and Archives Canada in 2014. Together, with my colleague Geneviève Clavel from the National Library of Switzerland, we set about to revitalize the efforts of the Section because we felt strongly that it plays an important role in bringing together employees who work in national library for discussion about the important work that their institutions are undertaking. While the directors of national libraries have other forums for exchange on issues affecting their institutions, the National Libraries Section brings together employees engaged in other national library work, including international affairs and cooperation, reference services, conservation and preservation, cataloguing and bibliographic data management, to name a few. I am proud of what we have been able to accomplish with the Section in this short time. Moreover, Canada has a lot to gain from the work of the Section, the recent study on the different roles played by national libraries, as well as the survey on international engagement strategies used by national libraries are two excellent examples.


Guy Berthiaume
M. Guy Berthiaume est bibliothécaire et archiviste du Canada depuis le 23 juin 2014. Avant son arrivée à Bibliothèque et Archives Canada, monsieur Berthiaume a été président-directeur général de Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec de 2009 à 2014, après avoir fait carrière dans le monde universitaire pendant plus de 30 ans.

En plus d’avoir été professeur d’histoire ancienne à l’Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), il a œuvré dans les domaines de l’administration de la recherche et du développement universitaire. Il a notamment été vice-recteur au développement et aux relations publiques à l’Université de Montréal et vice-recteur à la recherche et à la création à l’UQAM.

Dr. Guy Berthiaume
Dr. Guy Berthiaume assumed the position of Librarian and Archivist of Canada on June 23, 2014. Prior to joining Library and Archives Canada, he was the Chair and Chief Executive Officer of the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec between 2009 and 2014, following a 30-year career in academia. Dr. Berthiaume holds a Doctorate in History.

In addition to serving as a professor of Ancient History at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), he held administrative positions focusing on research and university development. Previous roles include Vice-President, Development and Public Affairs, Université de Montréal, and Vice-President, Research and Creation, UQAM.


Martha Attridge Bufton, MA, MLIS, is the Open Shelf editor-in-chief and the Teaching and Learning Librarian in Research Support Services at the Carleton University Library. She is also a member of the IFLA Indigenous Matters standing committee. Her research interests include game-based learning, writing communities and the decolonization of information literacy. She can be reached at martha.attridgebufton [at]

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