The Sad History of Professional Expertize at Library and Archives Canada

Thanks to an access to information request to the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, we now have a history of the numbers of historians and archivists and librarians employed by Library and Archives Canada and its predecessor organizations.

At a glance, going back as far as 1990, it’s clear there has been a dramatic decrease in the total number of professionals employed to fulfil LAC’s mandate for Canada’s documentary heritage, mainly owing to the reductions in the employment of librarians. While the decline started before the amalgamation of the two founder organizations in 2004, the focus here is subsequent developments under Conservative and Liberal administrations and the four people who have held the title of Librarian and Archivist of Canada.

Lib/Arch Wilson Caron Berthiaume Weir Total
Conservative Chg in Hist. & Arch. 9 -29 23 3
Change in Libr. -33 -62 3 -92
Liberal Chg in Hist. & Arch. -5 30 -44 -19
Change in Libr. -9 5 -10 -14
Both Chg in Hist, & Arch. 4 -29 53 -44 -16
Change in Libr. -42 -62 8 -10 -106
Total -38 -91 61 -54 -122

Since 2004 the professional establishment of LAC has declined by 122, about half of the initial establishment. All but 16 of the decease was in the librarian category.

Under various Conservative administrations, the decrease was 89, with a slight increase in historians/archivists and a reduction of 92 librarians. Liberal administrations account for 42 reductions, reasonably balanced with slightly more historians and archivists leaving.

The tenure of the four Librarian and Archivists of Canada saw very different outcomes.

Guy Berthiaume increased the complement by 61, 86% historians and archivists. Increases occurred under both Conservative and Liberal administrations.

The most significant decline, 91 in total, two-thirds librarians, was during the four-year tenure of Daniel Caron. The second largest drop, 54 in total, 80% historians and archivists, is during the present term of Leslie Weir, which started in 2019, just in time for the pandemic!

Overall, the decline has been at the expense of specialist expertize; LAC now has no staff dedicated to newspapers and maps. Response to requests for materials, formal and informal, is glacially slow. Resources devoted to digitization to facilitate access across Canada to some of the more used resources are much less than when First World War service files were digitized.

This data was obtained via a post in Documentary Heritage News, Vol 16, No 10 referring to Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat – Access to Information Request A-2022-01290.

It’s been suggested that some of the changes may have been owing to reclassifictions.  The chart below shows the year by year number of full time equivalents from the establishment of LAC.

While reclassifications may have occurred, the dip for the Caron disaster in 2012 is evident, as is the increase through the Berthiaume years. The most recent two years are from plans. not actuals.


5 Replies to “The Sad History of Professional Expertize at Library and Archives Canada”

  1. In the shell game of corporate body count many experienced personnel are retired and then rehired as consultants.
    Is this the case at LAC?
    The costs of consultants would show up in “project expenses” or some other disguise.

  2. The Conservatives hated professional archivists and librarians, as well as statisticians. They are the party that disbanded those that worked on the long form census. This meant there would be no reliable information on Canada’s people (population, ethniticity, demographics, you name it).
    G.B., St. C.

  3. Sad news indeed. One wonders what’s going on under Ms. Weir…could the pandemic have something to do with it? Perhaps at least some chose to retire rather than to work from home. While much library work can be done remotely, certainly from what I know from the summer I spent working there as a student, there are many areas for which only hands-on work and collaboration is possible. It will be interesting to see if numbers rise again over the coming years. I certainly hope so.

    Then again, for libraries/archives and the profession in general, so many people have the attitude that they’re no longer needed as “everything is online”. *sigh*

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