Thursday, December 15, 2011

Modernizing Library and Archives Canada

My employer recently moved to a hoteling system where nobody has a fixed desk. We just take our laptops out of a locker and pick a desk each day. This has its advantages and disadvantages, but one side effect is that it is much more difficult to have great piles of paper. I've had to throw away unimportant papers and scan the important ones. This elimination of paper has been very freeing for me, and it occurred to me that this way of thinking would be good for Library and Archives Canada as well.

Certain documents are of such great historical significance that they it makes sense for taxpayers to pay to preserve them. However, many documents held by Library and Archives Canada could simply be scanned, the electronic copies be made available to Canadians free on the internet (assuming their copyrights have run out), and then the original documents could be sold to collectors.

I wouldn't want to lose great works of fiction written by Canadians, but all I need is an electronic copy. Then anyone who wants it on paper could simply print it themselves. I don't see why taxpayers should pay to house the physical books in an expensive building. Library and Archives Canada has a service making it possible to get electronic copies of documents now, but you have to pay between 20 and 80 cents per page (the web page explaining these charges has disappeared since this article was written). Why not just scan everything once and be done with it?

I used to want paper copies of documents to truly feel like I possessed them. I'm over that now. Data on the internet has a permanence that physical objects like paper can't match. Combine this with the fact that electronic copies would be far more accessible to all Canadians, and the idea of scanning all historical documents is obviously the right direction.


  1. Well, given that the internet in its current form is less than 20 years old, I think I'll reserve judgement on how permanent it is.

  2. @Patrick: I'm not saying that I expect the internet to last forever in its current form. I'm saying that scanned documents placed on the internet will survive with at least as high a probability as documents squirreled away in a government building.

  3. They have two copies of my book (provided at my expense).

    Not sure what the point is, but apparently if you publish a book - you have to give them a couple of copies.

  4. @Mike: The only point I can see is to justify paying salaries. If we want to preserve copies of all books it would make much more sense for you to provide an electronic copy.

  5. Haha - I think you're right.

    I'm not even sure of the point of saving a copy of all books.

    For example if RESPs disappear at some point, I guess the RESP book will be a part of history, but I fail to see how important it will be for future generations to be able to read a book about an investment account that no longer exists.