MP Hiebert defends cuts to archive program

Hugh Ellenwood says digitization of documents can
Hugh Ellenwood says digitization of documents can't replace keeping analog records.
— image credit: Alex Browne photo

The federal government is not responsible for the elimination of the National Archival Development Program (NADP) – a move critics say could lead to the collapse of Canada’s archival system.

That’s the message from South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale MP Russ Hiebert, responding to an open letter to him from White Rock Museum and Archives’ Hugh Ellenwood, published in Tuesday’s Peace Arch News.

Ellenwood had voiced concerns that federal funding cuts that curtailed the program pose a threat to the “documentary heritage of Canada,” saying the cuts are driven by a misguided reliance on digitization as a way to reduce costs.

Library and Archives Canada eliminated the program – the primary funding source for communities’ efforts to preserve and access their past – on April 30.

Hiebert told Peace Arch News it was “an arm’s-length Crown corporation” that made the decision; that it was not part of federal budget deliberations.

Tuesday, Ellenwood – who has yet to receive a formal response from Hiebert to his May 17 letter – characterized Hiebert’s comments as “a bit of a cop-out.”

“If the money for it doesn’t come in from the government, the project can’t be funded by Library and Archives Canada,” he said.

Until this year, the NADP had funding of $1.7 million annually.

Ellenwood pointed to a recent memorandum from the Canadian Council of Archives which says the organization – which has distributed federal funding and resources for archives since 1986, and administered the NADP since it was established in 2006 – will, in effect, cease to exist as a result of the April 30 decision.

“Its elimination will have a far-reaching and devastating impact for documentary heritage across Canada,” the memorandum states.

Ellenwood said the NADP has resulted in an internationally respected – and connected – network of archival organizations maintained to consistent federal-level standards.

On a local level, he said, White Rock Museum and Archives was able to reorganize to Canadian Archival standards in 1993 as a direct result of the Canadian Council of Archives and Archives Association of B.C. – both funded at that time by a predecessor of the NADP.

Hiebert told PAN he understands the priorities driving the Archives Canada decision.

“There are limited resources and space to store documents,” he said, adding he believes digitization of archives is “acceptable to Canadians.”

Hiebert said there is “too much information” to have it all kept in a hard format.

“(Archives are) certainly important and valuable to the community and we have invested heavily in providing space – such as the renovated White Rock Museum and Archives.

“We also have to recognize that we’re moving into a digital age, and we want to make the information available to as many Canadians as possible – and this accomplishes that.”

But Ellenwood said archivists across Canada reject the notion that digitization saves costs.

“Anyone who knows anything about digitizing papers and photographs” recognizes its only advantage is in ease of retrieval, he said.

“It’s a very expensive process to undertake and maintain,” he said, adding that compatibility issues are always a concern.

He warned that reliance on digitization as a substitute for “analog” archives – essentially storing documents and photographs in boxes – could come at a greater cost.

“It’s not a suitable surrogate,” he said. “All these things – systems, CDs and external drives –  are subject to failure, and digital failure is absolute.”


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