Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Libary and Archives Canada: not as bad as you would think!

Greetings from rainy Ottawa, where your humble correspondent is deep in the records of the Provincial Secretary, Canada West. (Sorry, not nice to invite envy.)

The joys of going through countless reels of microfilm aside, I admit I have been agreeably surprised by my return to what I still prefer to think of as the National Archives.

Like most people in the Canadian history network, I had been aware of the chilly and getting chillier relationship between the CHA and the powers-that-be who make LAC policy. The latter would be much the same people who care so much about the quality of present and future information--viz. the census, so you can imagine the degree of their concern for past information and the people who use it. You can read about the the latest skirmish here.
Now I will say there is a certain sense of yo-yo dieting about this trip. Things which bugged me on my last visit many years ago--the inaccuracies of inventory for my sources and non-existence of the advertised finding aids...they're the same. Except the binders are tattier, and with an 'update' re the said inaccuracy/non-existence provided via the high tech solution of a yellow sticky. (I'm not joking.) So if I had been looking for progress, I would have been disappointed.

But due to the magic of lowered expectations, I feel only relief. My research trip was a last minute thing, so I was afraid that I would'nt be able to access some of the textual material I needed--the website advised a couple of weeks lead time. That's what you need for the Ontario archives. But I heard back from people--with names and contact info--within a day, and everything was ready for me. And indeed all the staff I have dealt with have been as nice as pie.

Other good things, by which I mean better than the spanking new Ontario Archives. A pretty good search engine and website. Old school hand-powered microfilm readers. Extended hours (fewer than previously, but the Ontario archives only have service hours) Lockers for your material. At the AO you have to re-request your material every day. I know.) The provision of see through bags so you can take more stuff in with you. Yesterday I had my laptop and charger, wallet, digital camera, ipod, cellphone, lip balm, kleenex, notebook and pencil with me. Try to juggle any more than the wallet, laptop and charger without some kind of bag, Ontario Archives. Also brilliant: the view from the reading room over the river. I tried Jordan Kerr's historical gaze to try to imagine voyageurs. but I need more practice with that. A great B & B closeby.

Bad things--above mentioned inventories. The cafeteria is bad, bad, bad. Luckily the Scone Witch is only a few minutes away.
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