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Program cut devastating, archivist says

May 04 2012

The elimination of a national archives program and $1.7 million in funding will have a far-reaching and devastating impact on the preservation of Canada's history for future generations, says Lara Wilson, a University of Victoria archivist.

The elimination of the National Archival Development Program - and the government funds it distributes - will affect teachers, students, historians, genealogists, authors, filmmakers and others, said Wilson, who is also chairwoman of the Canadian Council of Archives.

The Canadian Council of Archives, a third-party body that delivers funds for the program, first received federal support in 1986. Since then, it has distributed funds for the development of archives in Canada, including a University of Victoria project that was launched this week. The amounts have been unchanged since being cut in the 1990s, Wilson said

At UVic, three digital map collections were unveiled as part of the Colonial Despatches of Vancouver Island and British Columbia 1846-1871. The money for the project was administered by the Canadian Council of Archives on behalf of Library and Archives Canada, and distributed to the B.C. archival community.

"With the funding cut on Monday, there is now no federal funding for community archives," Wilson said. "There is no other similar federal program, and nothing new is proposed."

A spokesman for Heritage Minister James Moore said Thursday that efforts to digitize collections would give taxpayers more access to archives and libraries while saving them money.

James Maunder, director of communications for the minister, said in an email Library and Archives has the money to fulfil its mandate despite cries from librarians that cuts will create a black hole in Canada's documentary history.

Library and Archives, the largest single employer of librarians and archivists in Canada, has a mandate to acquire, preserve and make available the documentary heritage of Canada. It is also responsible for managing the governments' archival records.

Maunder said records show the main library in Ottawa is getting fewer inperson visitors a month, while its website gets half a million visits.

He pointed to work Library and Archives is already doing to cope with a shrinking budget - making digital copies of its collection and putting them online. However, it's with National Archival Development Program that Canada is leading the world in providing access to archival information online, Wilson said. The country's archival community is revitalizing tools that allow Canadians to search archives holdings for free on the Internet.

A new version of Canada's national catalogue of archival descriptions - archivescanada.ca - was to be deployed in September, Wilson said. "With these cuts, this effort is now sabotaged," she said.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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