Concerning the deal between LAC and Canadiana: We ask for transparency

I thought I would take this opportunity to weigh in on the deal between Library and Archives Canada and Canadiana, which calls for the transfer and digitization of the largest collection of Canadian archival records in history. I want to make it clear that in the grand scheme of things I think that this project is all in all a very good thing for archives in Canada, and is long overdue. What worries me is that the details surrounding this deal are largely unclear, and I think it is important for us, being Canadian archivists and librarians, to ask specific questions about this deal to ensure that this heritage collection is safe, and will ultimately be freely available to all Canadians who want to view it.

Canadiana has already tried to quell some of the hysteria surrounding the deal with their recently published FAQ, but if I’m honest there are a lot of  questions that I have that are still largely left unanswered. I even asked Canadiana on Twitter the other day to clarify the issues surrounding the ‘Premium’ payment that would be required if I wanted to have access to the search and discovery features they will be developing, but I have yet to hear a reply. I think this line from the FAQ deserves a more detailed explanation:

Until the completion of the project, this searchable, full-text data will be one of the premium services.

Does this mean that once the project is completed everyone will have free access to these features? If this is only one of the premium features, what else will we be missing out on if we don’t pay? These are just some of the questions I have about the deal, but more importantly, I think it is crucial that we start asking those involved (CRKN, CARL, LAC, Canadiana) how they plan to manage, describe and preserve this enormous amount of information and make sure that it will be available to Canadians for years to come. A lot of these questions have been discussed in Bibliocracy’s blog posts on the issue, but I would like to reiterate and request that the library and archives community start asking Canadiana and LAC their own questions to hopefully spur on more details about the project. To start it off, I have outlined below the questions that I would like to have answered:

How will this information be stored, and consequently transferred back to LAC once the full digitization process is complete?

Information architecture is obviously a crucial component of this project, as the collection will need to be stored someplace where it can be accessed by all. I think it is more important that we receive an answer about how all of this content will be transferred back to LAC. There are many methods and avenues this project can take in terms of placing the material in a repository or content management system to hold of all this material, and I think that both parties owe it to us to explain how this work will be completed. Will Canadiana use something like CLOCKSS to ensure that this material is preserved and made freely available forever? Or will this be the responsibility of LAC once the project is done? I would like to know that themigration of digital documents will be easily transferred back to LAC once this is over. Which brings me to my next question:

What measures will be taken regarding the digital preservation of the finalized, newly described content?

I’m hoping that having the responsibility of managing Canada’s largest archival collection will spearhead Canadiana to take measures to ensure the preservation not only of the physical content, but the newly digitized content as well. I would like to know where they plan on storing all of this information – will copies be held in a dark archive to ensure its long-term preservation? Will they use an Open Archival Information System (OAIS)? Will they use the Trusted Digital Repository model? It would be nice to see something akin to a Trustworthy Repository Audit and Certification (TRAC) so that Canadian information professionals feel confident that the proper steps are being taken to preserve this digital content.

What type of metadata schemas will be used?

This one is pretty self explanatory, but seeing as this is a Canadian initiative one would have to assume that Canada’s RAD archival description schema will be used. Seeing as linked data has become so prominent as of late, does Canadiana have plans to use RDF to encourage and support linked data within this collection? Because one of the main goals of this project is to make this content more discoverable and searchable, I think it would be helpful for us to understand how all of this transcription and metadata tagging will take place.

What do you really mean when you say that all of the content will be open access?

When I hear the term open access used to describe information content I always get excited. If this effort is truly going to make all of this digitized archival material open access, then that is fantastic. However with this deal, there are details of how open access is being described in this context that have me scratching my head. For a definition of open access, I like to use SPARC’s definition, which they define (in a nutshell) as material that has:

immediate, free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search or link to the full text of collections, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software or use them for any other lawful purpose

There have been a lot of discussions around Canadiana’s statement that they will be making the digital content available for free via a Creative Commons license. What I don’t understand is that in order to access certain features of this content, you will have to pay a premium fee. That doesn’t sound very open access to me, but a simple clarification would help with this fact. Which leads me to:

Can you please elaborate on the fees that are involved with premium access, and how this will work with the 10% of digital material released per year for 10 years?

This question has been on my mind since I heard about this deal (as I described above). What I would like to know if how this premium fee will work: what will it cost? what features are involved? Will the premium features become freely available once every 10% of the digitization process is completed?

I understand that in order to create high quality descriptive metadata for digitization you need money to do it. I don’t have as much of a problem with that, but what worries me is that these details have no been provided to us. By not answering this one glaring questions, Canadiana has made me nervous that I will have to pay, or my institution will have to pay for content over the long term? How do I know that these charges won’t continue once you finish the project?

What experts are going to be consulted for this project?

I know that CRKN and CARL have both supplied money for this project, but it would be very comforting to know that highly skilled, expert personnel will be working on this project. As a librarian and archivist, I want this effort to succeed at the highest level. In order to feel confident that this will be the case, I think it would be wise to inform the library and archival community in Canada as to who will be advising this effort. I always like specifics, and knowing that the best people are working on this effort will go a long way towards easing my mind.

In the end, all I’m asking for is a little bit of transparency. This project will have an effect on a huge number of information professionals, researchers, and the general public. I think that this project shows a lot of promise, and should be a cause for excitement amongst the Canadian information community. However, until Canadiana or LAC provide specifics about this deal, I will be holding my excitement. The lack of explanation, and vagueness of this project should be a cause of concern for everyone. Ultimately, I don’t think an open and transparent explanation of a project that affects so many Canadian people is too much to ask for.

I encourage other Canadian archivists and librarians to ask their own questions about this deal through blogs, social media, or email in hopes that it will generate enough demand that Canadiana and LAC will have to respond. I am only a small voice in this, and it would be great to see others get involved. Using #heritagedeal on Twitter could help synthesize all of this information in one place.

Thanks for reading.

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4 thoughts on “Concerning the deal between LAC and Canadiana: We ask for transparency

  1. Thanks Kevin: this is a good post for a non specialist like me (I’m a historian; a user of this material). My concern is about access and I like the definition of open access you give. When it says “public internet” does that mean accessible from anywhere with an internet connection; i.e. without having to go to a university or other library paying a subscription? Like Internet Archive?

    As a member of a university community I have access via my university’s subscription. This doesn’t really help Jane Q. Public; she can come to the university of course – but that means I have better access than she does, and why should I if this material belongs to all Canadians?

    This brings up another issue: if we are talking about access through libraries what’s the relationship between Canadiana and public libraries, libraries whose budgets are under greater financial constraints and who might not be able to “enjoy” the “premium” access because of costs? Any ideas? Thanks again, Tina.

  2. Thanks for your comment Tina. Your interpretation of “public internet” is correct in that open access material should be freely accessible to anyone on the Internet. No subscription, no paywall.

    I think you raise some excellent questions about access for the general public. Canadiana.org does state that they provide information to public libraries, but I do not know the specifics of what they provide to those institutions, or what institutions subscribe to their service.

    I fear that the public will suffer in this case because it is being largely funded by the Canadian Research Knowledge Network (CRKN). Bibliocracy points in one of his posts to all of the participating institutions for the Heritage project here: http://bibliocracy-now.tumblr.com/post/52716000955/in-the-interest-of-transparency – and I do not see any public libraries on that list.

    This is another example of the lack of specificity about this deal, and I would be just as interested to know as you if the general public will be able to gain access to the “premium” features once this is deal is completed.

    Thanks again for your excellent questions.

    Kevin

  3. Canadian Urban Libraries Council has officially supported the project. In their statement, they say:

    Once the mass digitization begins, public libraries across the
    country will provide an important access point to these collections which are now only
    available in the National Capital Region, ensuring broad and effective access for all
    Canadians.. The cost effective business model that is being proposed provides a creative
    means to move the project forward as expeditiously as possible. Some of our member
    libraries are Canadiana members; and others are subscribers to the offerings currently
    provided. Many more libraries are neither members nor subscribers, however within the
    proposed model they too will have access.

    http://www.culc.ca/cms_lib/CanadianaLACSupportCULC.pdf

    It’s not clear if they are simply referring to the fact that the basic, low res uncatalogued images will be available as they are digitized (better than the microfilm in Ottawa, to be sure), or if there is some other arrangement, but it does beg the question – how will the public get access to this data? From what I can tell, it’s a wait-as-it-becomes available scenario. 10% per year for 10 years, presuming that the revenue needed for the metadata and transcription keeps to the schedule.

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