Recent cuts to Library and Archives Canada have understandably elicited a fulsome, loud, and sound negative response from Canadian historians. See http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/story/2012/05/02/ottawa-libraries-archives-closing-budget-cuts.html for a CBC version of the story; The Dominion’s response is here: http://www.dominionpaper.ca/articles/4470.
As historians, how do we respond in the digital age? By launching websites such as: http://www.savelibraryarchives.ca/ and writing vehement, articulate, and passionate blogs with open letters such as http://yufalib.wordpress.com/2012/05/16/moore-lac-cuts/ and Ian Milligan’s http://activehistory.ca/2012/05/the-smokescreen-of-modernization-at-library-and-archives-canada/.
Amid the national response — which has been, and will continue to be, emphatic in its derision of this decision — we have a similar problem in Saskatchewan.
As of our most recent provincial budget, we are enduring public cutbacks at our provincial archive. Hours of operation in the reading room have been reduced to three days per week: Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, 10 am to 4 pm.
I was actually in the archive on the day this announcement came through. Then, following my visit, I had a call from the archives on the following Monday, letting me know that my photocopying request was finished, and I could come pick it up.
This was followed five minutes later by a frantic follow-up call, with an embarrassed archivist on the other end telling me that I could pick up my stuff on Tuesday — even though they were there, and I was nearby, and it was more convenient for everyone if I had just dropped in at that moment.
So, I wrote my first-ever letter of protest. I sent it via email to Lynda McIntyre, Provincial Archivist. After a headline of ‘archives hours’, it read:
While I appreciate budget issues, I am seriously concerned about the reduction in public hours at the archives. This is a major deterrent for out-of-province researchers coming here to do research on Saskatchewan. If the archives staff will be on hand anyway, does it really add that much to their daily workload to open the reading rooms?
As a compromise in the short term, I propose that SAB consider increasing the hours on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to at least reflect real working hours. Opening no later than 9 am is a must; 8 or 8:30 am is better. Also, ending the day at 5 seems reasonable.
Thank you for your consideration. I would appreciate you sending this letter to the SAB board and senior staff.
Merle Massie, PhD. Postdoctoral Fellow, School of Environment and Sustainability University of Saskatchewan Box 352 Biggar, SK S0K 0M0 306-948-3660 https://merlemassie.wordpress.com/
The reply came thus:
Good afternoon, Merle: Thank you for your email of March 27th regarding the reduction in public hours of Reference Service at the Saskatchewan Archives’ offices. The Saskatchewan Archives is currently faced with balancing reduced resources with backlogs in all aspects of service delivery. In particular, there is a growing backlog in public email and telephone enquiries in relation to reference services. In order for staff to respond to these enquiries in a timely manner we need to reduce the hours that we are open to the public over the short term. We are working with our Board to restore full public service hours as soon as possible.
Should you have any further comments or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Linda B. McIntyre Provincial Archivist Saskatchewan Archives Board 306.798.4018 (ph.) 306.787.1975 (fax) Email: email@example.com
About one week later, I received the following official letter from Bill Hutchinson, Saskatchewan’s Minister of Tourism, Parks, Culture and Sport, also head of the Office of the Provincial Capital Commission. (Note the gender mistake in the letter…)
So, where do we go from here? It sounds positive: they are exploring all resources to restore staffing, etc. etc. But we all know that once those cuts are made, they are difficult — if not downright impossible — to reverse.
All I know is, if you’re planning to do research at the Saskatchewan Archives Board, expect a colder shoulder and shorter welcome than there used to be — although admittedly, not quite on the scale of disdain for the public shown by the federal government in the cuts at LAC. It makes me wonder, who are our archives meant to serve?