When the 2012 federal budget was tabled in March, it confirmed what many had suspected for months: there would be a whole lot of cutting going on. Among those on the chopping block was Library and Archives Canada (LAC).
As "a source of enduring knowledge," LAC is charged with the lofty task of overseeing "the continuing memory of the government of Canada and its institutions." By circulating important information to all corners of the country, it is also a key pillar supporting the Canadian public's right to know.
But from now on, it looks as if only one corner of the country will continue to have ready access to the central repository of government information. No prizes if you guessed that one corner is Ottawa.
In a letter to Heritage Minister James Moore, B.C. Library Association (BCLA) President June Stockdale writes, "These budget cuts will result in the erosion of our documentary heritage and our ability to understand ourselves as Canadians."
The cuts have already forced LAC to cut 200 staff positions and, as of February 2013, will lead to the elimination of the Interlibrary Loan Department, which gives British Columbians access to national archival collections housed in Ottawa. Without this service, Canadians living and researching anywhere outside the capital region will have to physically visit those collections on their own dime -- a pricey pill that many simply can't afford to swallow.
But what about digitization? Can't archival records just be put online anyways? Maybe eventually, but that's hardly the case today. According to the BCLA, only a small percentage of our national archive is digitized, and with 200 fewer hands on deck, the rate of conversion isn't going to increase any time soon.
With digitization lagging, for most Canadians, the future of access to archival information looks sketchy, at best. That is, unless a pricey flight to the National Archives in Ottawa is in the cards.
However, there is another way around this problem.
MPs and senators have travel budgets that allow them and a "designated traveller" to fly free all over the country. The MP or senator gets to designate the traveller.
Surely government MPs and senators who support the elimination of interlibrary loans would be more than happy to designate researchers who need access to the Archives as their designated travellers.
There is only one way to find out for sure. If you are a researcher who, come February, will no longer be able to get the information you need through interlibrary loans, contact your closest Conservative MP or senator. Ask if they will make you their "designated traveller" so you can get the information that, as a British Columbian, you will soon have to pay thousands of dollars to access.
Let us know what you hear back, we're eager to see how out-of-the-box government members are willing to be.