The APLA Experience for a First-Timer

Janine Mills

Late Wednesday afternoon. Striding east along the raised dyke footpath, I could see that the water level to my left was noticeably higher than the lush meadowlands and cultivated fields to my right. The centuries-old stone-fronted dykes are still doing what they do best.

As I looked back at the white spire of Acadia University’s Manning Memorial Chapel and white belfry of University Hall cresting the treetops in the distance, this bucolic setting of past and present struck me as being evocative of a recurring theme at this year’s APLA conference, as voiced by Bill Greenlaw (Executive Director of the Archives, Museums and Library Division of the Nova Scotia Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage) in his keynote address that very morning: library professionals are facing the challenge of finding a balance between their traditional mandate and models of service delivery, and using new technology to build on and enhance that service delivery, integrating non-print formats, to existing and offsite patrons, without losing sight of what they do best.

I remember in the recession of the nineties that libraries were among the first institutions targeted for cutbacks, and yet through those few difficult years, library attendance soared as people realized that their local library had just the resources to get them through that tough period.

Fast-forward to now: by comparison, the news from LAC/BAC of jobs being cut, in-person service being dropped, and the elimination of interlibrary loan service by 2013 is an unprecedented attack on freedom of information and freedom of speech, has taken us all by surprise, and threatens to be overwhelming in its sheer magnitude.

But as APLA President Jocelyne Thompson made clear in her Thursday morning session, what is probably the worst crisis being faced by libraries and their sister institutions (museums and archives) is also an opportunity that we must seize for raising our profiles, reasserting our relevancy, and pursuing ongoing advocacy, and advocacy is about relationships.

Why are libraries valuable and worth keeping open? Who are our stakeholders? How do we articulate our value to them (and government!)?

As the collective memory of Canada’s history, archives, museums, and libraries must recognise that they have interests in common and foster collaboration with each other. Library professionals should not consider archives and museums as having nothing to do with libraries, or as competition for dwindling funding. This is to fall into the “divide and conquer” sandpit.

Acadia University Archivist Wendy Robicheau demonstrated this complementary relationship extremely well in her Wednesday afternoon session in the Kirkconnell Room of the Vaughan Memorial Library. She is strongly opposed to digitization, believing that there is more intellectual engagement in the physical handling of and sleuthing through primary documents. Wendy is on a mission to have critical archival research training made part of the undergraduate syllabus, and has enjoyed success in proselytizing students and faculty alike.

I believe that digitization is sometimes warranted, specifically to halt the further deterioration of fragile items that should no longer be fingered by the zealous researcher. In their Thursday afternoon session, e-Resources Librarian Donald Moses and Archivist Simon Lloyd of UPEI gave a detailed report on their ongoing collaborative digitization and stewardship of the flagship Charlottetown Guardian newspaper.

In their Wednesday afternoon session, Dalhousie University School of Information Management students Amy Lorencz and Nancy McPhee gave an overview of their exciting project of launching a physical and digital archives at the Khyber Centre for the Arts which showcases artworks, music, and movies, housed in a gloriously shabby heritage building (oozing old world character) on Barrington Street in downtown Halifax. For starters, they will digitize the Khyber’s collection of 2,000 posters and construct a metadata framework and controlled vocabulary for cataloguing and searching.

And speaking of cataloguing, the pending Resource Description & Access cataloguing rules emphasise digital format, but not at the expense of traditional print. Clustered results displays showing a title in all existing formats allow for better resource discovery, I would argue, enhancing libraries’ ability to do what they do best and achieving that balance between our traditional mandate and accommodating new technology as it develops (since RDA is compatible with other metadata formats).

In her excellent Wednesday morning session on RDA, Dalhousie University’s School of Information Management cataloguing instructor Dr. Louise Spiteri did much to diffuse the dread so many are feeling. This was about the third presentation on RDA that I’d attended in a couple of years, and as I listened I could see the words “DON’T PANIC” in large, friendly letters floating comfortingly before my eyes. Dr. Spiteri gave her audience the boiled-down RDA in common-sense language, and it is hard for me to see what all the fear and hostility is about surrounding RDA.

My first-time attendance at an APLA conference was so enjoyable, and I met so many intelligent and friendly peers. It also made me think more deeply and broadly about the profession I work in, and about our overlap and links with our sister institutions the museums and archives. Echoing the sentiments of Bill Greenlaw and President Jocelyne Thompson, we must find ongoing ways of demonstrating value as things are changing.