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12/22/2014 9:29:28 AM
Canada’s National Library Falls Behind on the Job, Audit Reveals
By Nancy McCormack
Canada’s Auditor General whose job is, among other things, to assess how the government is managing its affairs and resources, recently released a Fall 2014 audit.* This audit covered a variety of disparate issues including mental health services for veterans, and nutrition in aboriginal communities in Canada’s north. But the item that caught the eye of librarians across the land was its blistering report on the problems in Canada’s National Library—Library and Archives Canada (“LAC”). It’s not often the National Library makes headlines in this country, but when it does, as of late, the news isn’t good. Over the last five years, LAC has had its funding cut by approximately $30 million dollars and endured problematic leadership. Now, as they say down on the farm, the chickens have come home to roost.
LAC is intended to be the permanent home of “the continuing memory of the government of Canada and its institutions” (as the Library and Archives of Canada Act poetically puts it). The Library’s job is to collaborate with federal institutions in identifying and collecting government records that might be of long-term interest to the nation. As such, the Library issues one or more specific documents called RDAs (Records Disposition Authority). An RDA is tailored to each federal department and sets out how specific records should be dealt with once they have reached the end of a retention period and are no longer important to the institution in its current operations, services or programs. The RDA would indicate which records were important enough to be transferred to Library and Archives Canada, or transferred to another government agency, or simply destroyed.
What the audit found, though, was that LAC was not acquiring the records it should have been. The RDAs it issued had not been updated to cover certain new programs or services that had been introduced into the appropriate federal departments. Consequently, the RDAs no longer accurately described which records ought to be sent to LAC and by what date.
LAC clearly was already aware it had a problem—some five years earlier, in 2009, it had decided it would attempt to update its RDAs and make sure the system was still relevant and working properly. Yet in the interim, only 30 of the 195 institutions falling under the auspices of the Library and Archives of Canada Act actually had their RDAs updated. Those remaining 165 federal institutions now found themselves with mountains of records they were not permitted to destroy. Why? Because, ironically, they needed LAC’s permission to do so, according to the Library and Archives of Canada Act! So, without workable RDAs, they continued keeping records indefinitely, waiting for an assessment that never came. In one instance (it has an almost symbolic aura), a heap of records held by a federal institution was destroyed by a flood before LAC had a chance to make an assessment as to their potential importance.
Another problem uncovered by the audit was that, despite a 60-day processing standard within the institution, LAC now found itself 98,000 boxes behind schedule. Some of these boxes dated back decades and contained military records (back to 1890), along with boxes from Transport Canada, Industry Canada, Public Works and Government Services Canada, and the Department of Justice Canada. Naturally, no one would have any idea as to what was in these boxes, till they were finally processed—if ever.
To crown all these woes, the audit found LAC totally unready for the vast amount of electronic materials pouring in from the various government departments. Yes, a $15.4-million digital archive system had put into place. But it had been scrapped, without ever having been used, because senior management had come to the conclusion it was too costly to run. Needless to say, no records had been saved to indicate how the decision had been made, by whom, and why.**
It all sounds quite Pythonesque. But though it’s a sad day for Canadian librarians to see its National Library exposed in this way, we’re not at all surprised in view of the difficulties our fellow librarians/archivists have had to endure after years of government budget cutting and misguided leadership. We can only hope this audit and the publicity it has garnered may be the first steps towards righting that once grand ship in the nation’s capital. LAC has embraced the findings of the audit and is in the process of putting serious plans in place to deal with the problems uncovered. Perhaps there will be brighter days ahead for an institution which has surely seen enough bad days.
Nancy McCormack (firstname.lastname@example.org), Librarian and Associate Professor of Law, Queens University, Kingston, Ontario
*Office of the Auditor General of Canada, “Chapter 7—Documentary Heritage of the Government of Canada—Library and Archives Canada,” 2014 Fall Report of the Auditor General of Canada, online: www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/English/parl_oag_201411_07_e_39965.html#hd5a. The report is conducted under the authority of the Auditor General Act.
**Alex Boutilier, “No records on why $15M project was cut: Library and Archives Canada later said the new digital system was too expensive,” Toronto Star (26 November 2014) A.10.
Posted By 12/22/2014 9:29:28 AM
12/19/2014 5:38:54 PM
Contents, Displays and Microdata – RDA, BIBFRAME and Schema
As you have probably heard, or seen in your own catalog, there’s a new cataloging standard in town and it’s RDA, or Resource Description and Access. The major goal of the new standard is to enhance the user’s retrieval and access experience, the so-called FRBR (Functional Requirements of Bibliographic Records) user needs or user tasks, i.e. to find, to identify, to select and to obtain. So, RDA is supposed to better help users identity what they need and then retrieve it. RDA was adopted by the Library of Congress in 2013 and has pretty much been accepted internationally as well, except not, interestingly enough, by the National Library of Spain.
RDA is what is called a “content standard,” which means it’s a standard for what information should be in a record. It’s not a display standard – i.e., how the record should look in your catalog – or an encoding standard – i.e., how you code the information to make it display in your catalog or anywhere else, for that matter. Now that RDA has been mostly accepted, the encoding standard seems to be the topic of most discussion. (Before we throw out the old standard for first disseminating catalog cards and then getting catalog card-type information into catalogs, i.e. MARC, let us take a minute to marvel that it was developed in the 1960s at the Library of Congress by Henriette Avram and is still in use today.)
The main contenders for the new encoding standard are BIBFRAME, which is supported by the Library of Congress, and Schema.org, which OCLC will use, calling it the “metadata standard most widely adopted by search engines.” It is to imagine catalog data outside of the MARC format, but you can see examples of records in BIBFRAME here. It seems to work just like an XML document. Schema, similarly, uses HTML tags, but with microdata that makes it possible for major search engines to understand what’s being marked up. From the Schema.org site, "Your web pages have an underlying meaning that people understand when they read the web pages. But search engines have a limited understanding of what is being discussed on those pages. By adding additional tags to the HTML of your web pages—tags that say, ‘Hey search engine, this information describes this specific movie, or place, or person, or video’—you can help search engines and other applications better understand your content and display it in a useful, relevant way. Microdata is a set of tags, introduced with HTML5, that allows you to do this."
OCLC’s thinking seems to be that it is better to go with a system that is not library-specific. But OCLC and LC will be working together, and OCLC recently announced that OCLC and LC will be publishing a white paper detailing “how both approaches fit together to address specific library needs and challenges.” Look for updates at the ALA midwinter conference.
--Christina Tarr, Head, Catalog Dept., Berkeley Law Library, University of California, Berkeley.
Posted By 12/19/2014 5:38:54 PM
12/12/2014 9:00:00 AM
The December 2014 Issue of Spectrum is Now Available
The December 2014 issue of Spectrum is now available! We hope you enjoy this last issue of 2014, and please post any feedback you may have in the comments section below.
Posted By 12/12/2014 9:00:00 AM