The Archives Society of Alberta: a quarter century of service
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Until very recently I was responsible for overseeing the operation of a specialized museum library. When I first took the position I had little or no knowledge of what was required to operate a library, so I enrolled in the Master of Library and Information Studies (MLIS) program at the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Alberta (U of A). Being responsible for a special collections library, with archival holdings, set within a museum environment presented both unique challenges and opportunities. In this type of setting, the single greatest challenge related to the management of the collection. One is forced to meld practices from all three disciplines in such a manner so as to maintain a seemless and accessible service for the many user groups. The main opportunity was developing a greater understanding of the theory and practice behind the three disiplines, and learning what practices have been shared and borrowed from one another, as well as how their respective philosophies and approaches differ. Working in this type of situtation is unique, but it is one that more people in the information management sector should experience for it broadens one's awareness of available resources for a given topic. The result is an enriching experience for both the information seeker and provider.
That said, when it came time to begin selecting electives for my MLIS program I opted for those courses directly relevant to my workplace environment, and those that would shed further light on my growing personal interest in understanding the similarities and differences in the management of museum, archival and library collections. Archives Administration was an obvious choice, as was the History of the Book, Government Publications, and a Practicum placement at an archives arranging and describing records. Lastly, it was important to select courses that would further my exploration of the interconnectiveness of these disciplines with respect to the much broader issue of their unique roles in the preservation of human knowledge and memory.
The decision to write a narrative based history of the founding and evolution of the Archives Society of Alberta was prompted by both my enrolment in the Archives Administration course, and to further my understanding of the evolution of archives and archival practice in Alberta. This project will not directly impact my career goals, but the writing of this paper and the completion of my MLIS program has afforded me greater insight with respect to the broader field of heritage preservation. Greater awareness of how all three of these types of institutions work will assist me in my new role as a museum curator for I will inevitably come into contact with archival and library materials.
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Archives, museums and libraries store much of humanity's collective knowledge. Of the three, archives are least recognized and least understood by the public. This should not come as a surprise for the acculturation process, or lack thereof, starts very early. Children, for example, regularly take field trips to their local museums as part of their social studies programs, and visiting their school and public libraries is part of the curriculum for those in the primary grades. I have yet to hear of a group of school children discussing what an archive is, never mind visiting such an institution.
Ask a person on the street about museums and they are likely to respond by saying they are the places where you can see grandma's spinning wheel, collections of butterflies, artwork and any other number of natural and human history specimens and items we as a society have deemed worthy of preservation and study. The fact that museums display items to be looked at appeals to many of us in this current visual age. People also find museums appealing for they offer an opportunity to see, and perhaps touch, the "real thing." These visual and tactile experiences evoke very strong emotions, and it is not something that we normally associate with boxes of documents or cabinets of photographs.
Like museums, libraries and their holdings are well known to the public - a large percentage of us frequent libraries on a regular basis. The role of the librarian may remain largely misunderstood, but people do know they can access books, CD's, videos, periodicals and so forth at their local library. It is true a person may have to spend time searching the catalogue to find a desired item among a library's vast holdings but most of these resources are known to the user by way of reviews, discussions with friends, and/or recommendations. In short, items found in libraries are a known commodity, and the user has a pretty good idea of what to expect from them.
Conversely, ask the average person what an archives is, and chances are you will not get much of a response. Archives are not well understood - in fact, it would probably be safe to suggest most Albertans could not properly identify an archival institution in the province. Despite this anonymity, it is archives that hold the most telling, and compelling, of society's secrets. It is at archives, not libraries and museums where people go to find lost relations, verify legal documents, and look for evidence supporting their arguments, claims or positions. Uncovering the secrets held within an archives is not an easy task. One must be willing to spend a great deal of time and effort to find a desired document or item - not necessarily something many of us are willing to do in an age when most demand instant answers. No doubt this contributes to the reasons we do not hear a great deal about archives, why they are not well understood and, thus, largely ignored.
Perhaps part of the misunderstanding comes from the complexity of the word archives - it not only means the building and institution that house the preserved materials, but the programmes that ensure their safe keeping, as well as the holdings themselves. As for the latter, they can be public or private records, and can take on many forms - printed documents, hand written diaries, sound recordings or movies, to name just a few. Another reason people often overlook archives is these types of institutions are often associated with libraries, historical societies, museums or civic centres. In such cases, the name of the archive is either tagged on the end, or it is simply omitted.
Despite this anonymity archives play a critical role in the preservation of our heritage. They "preserve some of the basic cultural resources of our country," namely, "the recorded memory of our nation." (1) It is what prompted Sir Arthur George Doughty (1860-1936), Dominion Archivist of Canada from 1904-1935, to declare, "of all national assets, archives are the most precious. They are the gift of one generation to another and the extent of our care of them marks the extent of our civilization." (2) Every entity in a given society contributes material to this "national memory" - governments, businesses, churches, associations, and individuals. Beyond preserving the national memory, archives also ensure the protection of our collective and individual rights, and the efficiency and economy of governments and businesses alike. No business, government, institution or association, regardless of size, can operate without some form of records management system, and such a system, whether consciously thought out or not, represents the first steps of saving those materials that are crucial to achieving their goals. (3)
So if archives are so important why have they been overlooked, dare one say, neglected? Part of this has to do with their historical evolution - they have been closely associated with government and academia, and have operated somewhat out of public view. As noted earlier, they are not a place where one thinks to go for an afternoon with the family, and they are not a place where one can borrow reading materials, such as the public library. Archives lend themselves to research, and until recently this has almost always meant scholarly research. In fact, during the first half of the 20th century, unless you had a letter of introduction or could prove that your work would lead to a significant end product of finding, most individuals were not allowed to enter these types of institutions.
Archives are still oriented to scholarly research, and are still very closely linked to governments, and as such, are very dependent upon government budgets. On the positive side of the ledger celebrations marking the nation's centennial in 1967 and the province of Alberta's 75th anniversary in 1980 created a sense of excitement for those interested in the preservation of the nation's treasures. This resulted in an influx of funding for the heritage sector in the 1960s and 1970s. Community based heritage groups wanting to establish museums, publish local histories and erect commemorative markers received generous support for their causes. These events served as an impetus for the development and proliferation of heritage agencies and institutions, both on a national and regional basis: for example, the re-awakening of the Historical Society of Alberta in the early 1970s, the emergence of the Canadian Museums Association in the 1970s and 1980s, and the creation of the Alberta Museums Association in 1971. (4) One offshoot of this was a change in the demographics of those using archives - once the preserve of academia, increasingly the lay person began mining the riches of archival resources looking for stories to fill the pages of local or family histories. Witnessing this proliferation of heritage agencies those working in the archival field realized that they needed to speak up for their profession and discipline. The result was the emergence of the Alberta Society of Archivists (forerunner of the Archives Society of Alberta) representing the members of the profession. The Society's goal were to further the education of the profession's members, lobby government for more funding for the discipline, and raise public awareness regarding the role of archives in society. (5) On the negative side of the ledger, the good times did not last and the recession of the early 1980s meant funding for heritage projects quickly dried up. The fledgling ASA soon found itself scrambling to mount an awareness campaign, so as not to be drowned out by larger, longer established heritage agencies, all fighting to maintain their share of a shrinking pot of money.
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Why was the ASA established? To understand this, one has to review the historical development of archives and records management in Alberta. The Government of Alberta took its first tentative steps towards preserving and managing records in 1925, with the passage of the Preservation of Public Documents Act. This act stipulated records had to be retained for a period of at least 10 years within the department responsible for creating them. After that, they could be destroyed or transferred to the "archives" of the province, but only with the approval of an Order-in-Council. As no archives existed at the time the Legislature Library and its staff filled this void. The act was amended in 1961, lessening the retention period to five years. There can be little doubt the motivation for the passage of this amendment was to reduce the large number of records accumulating in departmental offices - it is doubtful if much thought was given to preserving these documents for future generations and historical study. (6) That said, four years later (1965) the Alberta government did hire an archivist in anticipation of the development of a new provincial museum and archives. In 1966 the Preservation of Public Documents Act was repealed and replaced by the Provincial Archives Act. This new piece of legislation defined what public documents were, broadening the definition to include records created by any public body (board, commission or establishment) forming a "part of the public service of the Province". The new legislation provided for the creation of a Public Documents Committee to which departments had to submit requests to destroy materials, or transfer them to the "archives." Despite the creation of the Committee, the disposition of records (destruction or archiving) still required the passage of an Order-in-Council. (7)
Apart from these events pertaining to the management of government records, there were only a handful of other archival programs of note taking shape in Alberta during the 1960s. The most significant of these being the Glenbow Archives, which came into being with the establishment of the Glenbow Foundation by Eric L. Harvie in 1955. The Glenbow remains the premier archival institution in Western Canada, and is considered one of the finest in the country. (8) As for the majority of the other archival programs operating in Alberta today, most commenced operations after 1980 - the City of Edmonton (1971) and the University of Alberta (late 1960s) being 2 of a handful of notable exceptions. (9)
Further to the development of archives and records management practices within government the province repealed its Provincial Archives Act in 1970 replacing it with two new pieces of legislation, the Alberta Heritage Act (now the Historical Resources Act, and the Public Documents Act (now the Government Services Act). Under this new structure, the Provincial Archives of Alberta was to be governed by those responsible for implementing and upholding the province's new heritage legislation, while the records management process was placed under the control of the new Government Services department, later Public Works, Supply and Services (now Alberta Infrastructure). (10) This approach to records management and archives was contrary to practices in all other jurisdictions in Canada. So vague was Alberta's new heritage legislation with respect to archives, it merely stated "the Minister may 'provide for the operation, maintenance and development of the Provincial Archives of Alberta'." (11) To date, the legislation remains largely unchanged.
It was within this environment that a group of professional archivists, working at various Alberta based institutions, met in Red Deer in early 1980 and began to discuss the notion of establishing an organization that would eventually evolve into the Archives Society of Alberta (ASA). Many of those at the 8 March 1980 meeting were heads of institutions, who had established an informal process of annual meetings a few years earlier - they refered to themselves as the Directors of Albertas Archives (DAA). The decision to create a professional association was based on the recommendation of a task force established by the DAA. The task force's report recommended the creation of an organization dedicated to promoting "… the preservation and use of archival materials, and to encourage the development of archival skills among archivists …". Those involved hoped to achieve these goals by lobbying the public, government and business. (12) This lobbying activity would consume much of the Society's resources during the early years, but it would prove to be very important, for it lead to recognition for the profession as being unique and separate from other heritage based disciplines. This in turn resulted in the securing of stable funding necessary to carry out the Society's mandate.
In 1980 the Alberta economy was booming fuelled by the petroleum industry, and the government was awash in money - now was the time to push for more resources for new programmes specifically relevant to archives. Within 12 months, however, the boom had gone bust, and the economy languished for several years, hampered by low oil and gas commodity prices, and the introduction of the federal government's National Energy Program. Starting in the early 1980s, governments worldwide began taking a new, hard-line approach to fiscal management, which has translated into either hold the line budgets, or small reductions and, at times, severe cuts to so-called soft areas such as arts, culture and recreation. The decision to organize was timely for the change in economic fortunes proved to archivists they needed a unified voice to clearly articulate their message.(13)
Once the decision to organize had been made (March 1980) the remainder of the year was dedicated to writing a draft constitution, including bylaws. These were ready for presentation to those who attended a meeting at the Provincial Archives in March of 1981. Events unfolded quickly with the selection of interim officers; the Society's first executive was comprised of the following individuals: Ted Hart, Chairman; Dave Leonard, Vice-President and Newsletter Editor; Don Bourdon, Secretary; Jean Dryden, Treasurer; and, Michael Dawe, Member-at-Large. The executive formalized the Society's constitution and set of bylaws at its first official meeting in May at Red Deer. The organization was officially registered under the Societies Act of Alberta in July of 1981. A second Executive meeting was held in Edmonton in September, and membership fees were set at $5.00 a year for individuals and $50.00 a year for institutions. Several more meetings were held throughout the fall of 1981; a number of administrative issues were discussed, including the organization of educational workshops for members. The Society held its first Annual General Meeting in Edmonton at the PAA, on Sunday, 14 April 1982. The members elected an executive consisting of the following individuals: Don Bourdon, President; Keith Stotyn, Vice-President; Gertrude Russell, Secretary; Lynn Huhtala, Treasurer/Membership; Michael Dawe, Member-at-Large; Dave Leonard, Newsletter Editor. (14) Once the administrative details of organizing the new Society had been dealt with, the executive and membership turned their attention to fulfilling the organization's mandate. The remainder of this history of the ASA looks at several issues key to the Society's survival and its interaction with other organizations within the larger heritage community.
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From the outset, the ASA was conceived as an organization for those individuals, professionals or amateurs, interested in archives, but institutions were permitted, even encouraged, to join. The mandate of the agency, at least initially, focused on the education of its membership and building awareness of the profession. Matters pertaining to the operation of institutions were left to the heads of the province's archives to deal with under the guise of the Directors of Albertas Archives (DAA). The DAA (1978-1985) evolved into the Alberta Archives Council (AAC) in 1985. These agencies became integrally intertwined with the ASA throughout the 1980s and eventually merged with the Society in 1993. (15)
1983-84 were busy years for the ASA - much was accomplished and many ideas were pursued. Formalizing the production of the Newsletter, which has published continuously to the present day (electronically since September 1996) was an early success. The Society recognized the need to develop a corporate image so a logo competition was held and the winning entry was chosen in 1984 - the same logo, save the name change of the Society in 1993, is still used today. The executive toyed with the idea of operating a job bank but opted to advertise positions offered by members in the Newsletter. The organization also explored the idea of a closer relationship with the national Association of Canadian Archivists (ACA), but no tangible benefits could be identified so the idea was not pursued. The Society did establish a Honourary Membership award in 1983 - the first recipient of this accreditation was Dr. L. G. Thomas. The ASA would later create the Alan D. Ridge Publications Award for the purpose of recognizing works that furthered the cause of archives. Of all the work conducted during these early years that which was most important with respect to the good government and operation of the organization was the establishment of a sound committee system. Initially, three standing committees were organized and charged with developing an educational program, overseeing nominations and elections, and maintaining a membership list and handling renewals and recruitment. Committees evolved over time with some being added, others deleted and others merged. It was the work undertaken by the members of these various committees that laid the foundation for the development of a highly successful educational programme and advocacy campaign. (16)
As is often the case with volunteer organizations, one is always struggling to recruit new members and to convince them to play an active role. "Burnout" was becoming an issue for many ASA members by 1987 and it was beginning to take its toll on those who had participated from the outset. To help ease the problem the Society partnered with the Alberta Archives Council to hire its first employees in 1988 - a Coordinator of Archival Outreach and Advisory Services, and an administrative assistant. The Coordinator was hired for a 30-month term and was charged with assisting the executive with the daily operations of the organization, and with providing educational and consultation services to the members. (17) Since that time, the Society has employed a number of people, who have held positions variously titled Education Officers, Outreach and Development Officers, and Archives Advisor. The ASA currently employs an Archives Advisor. (18)
In 1991 the Society and the Council took the first tentative steps towards examining the issue of whether one combined organization would better serve the needs of their members. Before we look at the merger of the Society and Council in 1992-93, it is important to review the history and mandate of the Council. The AAC was the successor organization to the Directors of Alberta Archives group, whose members began meeting annually in 1978. During the time of its existence, the DAA/ACC dealt with a range of institutional related issues such as funding sources, recognition of their institutions as separate and distinct in both purpose and methodology from museums and libraries, the establishment of standards for employees, collecting mandates, and intra- and inter-provincial/federal networks. (19) The DAA evolved from a loose grouping of institutional managers into the more formalized Council in 1985. This took place at the bequest of the Canadian Council of Archives (CCA) which required each provincial and territorial jurisdiction to establish a council that could articulate the needs and priorities of their respective jurisdictions. Collectively the CCA and its provincial and territorial partners worked (and continue to work) to develop and set priorities for the purposes of advancing the cause of archives nationwide. This kind of national and regional cooperation emerged from a series of meetings held by federal, provincial and territorial heritage and culture ministers in the 1980s. The impetus for these meetings was an acknowledgement of the neglected state of the nation's archives and the need to do something to establish an integrated nationally based system to address acknowledged shortcomings. The AAC incorporated as a separate entity in 1986.(20)
A joint Council and Society Relationship Committee was struck in 1991 to examine the benefits and drawbacks of the then existing relationship between the two organizations. The following year a new task force was established to determine if a merger between the AAC and ASA was feasible and desirable. The key to this new committee' work was determining if a merger of the two organizations would jeopardize any of the federal or provincial funding groups were receiving. The committee found that as long as the new organization could guarantee that as long as the money earmarked for institutional aims would be used for those purposes, then neither the federal or provincial funding agencies had any objections. The AAC demanded institutional members be afforded an equal voice on the executive of any new organization, and stipulated the need for the continuation of the director's annual forums. The task force recommended a merger and the members of both agencies supported this position at their respective AGMs during the summer of 1992. The result was the creation of the Archives Society of Alberta in 1993. The first Executive meeting was held in Calgary in July, and the new Society's first AGM was held in Edmonton, in conjunction with its annual conference in May 1994. This new body was charged with catering to the needs and priorities of both its individual and institutional members. (21)
A period of restructuring within the new ASA followed the merger and affected all aspects of the organization. Over the years, a number of task forces have been struck to deal with an array of issues. One of the most significant was the "Vision 2000" committee charged with defining the priorities, strategies and programs of the Society as it moved towards, and into, the 21st Century. One very exciting outcome was the launching of the ASA website in the mid-1990s and its subsequent evolution - http://www.archivesalberta.org/. (22)
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It has already been noted several times throughout this paper that one of the biggest problems facing archives and archivists is overcoming ignorance of what they are, what they do and what role they play in society. As members of the ASA could testify, this has not been an easy task. The members of the DAA/AAC received monies from their parent or sponsoring organizations, as well as from the federal government, via the Canadian Council of Archives (CCA). These resources, however, were targeted for specific institutional purposes. The Alberta Society of Archivists (1981-1992/93), however, was formed as a professional association, and its initial source of funding was limited to members' dues. The first funding challenge the Society faced was overcoming a lack of awareness, and distinguishing itself from other agencies supporting librarians, curators, and historians.
The ASA focused its efforts on lobbying the Alberta Government, in particular the Minister of Culture (now Community Development), as this was the ministry responsible for overseeing the operation of the Provincial Archives of Alberta, the passage of heritage legislation and the management of several funding bodies, as well as numerous other heritage institutions. While the ASA succeeded in convincing each successive Minister that archivists and archives played a "vital" role in the preservation of Alberta's heritage, convincing these same politicians they needed their own, separately funded association was quite another matter. Everyone who held this portfolio wrote glowing letters of support and encouragement to the various presidents of the ASA, yet it took the Society the better part of the 1980s to realize a funding committment from the Alberta government that would help pay for education and training programmes. (23)
A letter written in the fall of 1981, from ASA chairman Ted Hart to Mary LeMessurier, Minister of Culture, informing her of the creation of the ASA, was the first tentative step towards securing funding. The Society received a reply, wishing the members well. LeMessurier noted the issue of funding for archival programmes was being studied. (24) What was at issue was whether monies could be set aside under the existing heritage legislation to fund archival agencies. Many argued that the new organization would have to seek funding from other sources such as lottery funds. By the end of 1982, the Minister was prepared to acknowledge that archives were separate entities from museums, and archivists comprised a seperate and unique profession, but there was still some question as to whether the existing legislation provided for this interpretation. (25) Several months later, in the Spring of 1983, this issue was resolved when the Minister recognized the legitimacy of the ASA under the Act, entitling it to funding. To this effect, the president of the ASA asked member archives to both write the minister to encourage her to be forthcoming with resources, and to apply for grants to support their programs. Much to their chagrin, most ASA institutional members soon discovered they were not eligible to apply to the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation (AHRF), the body the government used to fund most non-governmental heritage agencies and projects. The lobbying effort continued and included a letter writing campaign to all members of the Legislature (MLAs). At the same time, the Society was busy fending off suggestions from senior ministry bureaucrats that the Society should seek funding from the Alberta Museums Association (AMA). Both the ASA and the AMA found this response unacceptable: the ASA because they viewed the issue of separate funding as a legitimization that theirs was a distinct discipline; the AMA because it would mean a reduction of their funding and operations. (26)
The Society continued with its efforts and made a formal presentation to the Minister in 1984, requesting an annual operating grant of $100,000.00 for the purpose of hiring a director responsible for advisory services, establishing a proper education program, publishing the newsletter, and operating the Society. The response was disheartening. The executive was informed all current lottery funds had been allocated for the existing five year cycle. In addition, they would have to make a case for being put on the list of eligible recipients for the next cycle commencing in 1988. The ASA began to explore other avenues of funding. This included the Community Recreational and Cultural Grants programme, and the Wild Rose Foundation, and it was with the latter the ASA finally met with some success in July 1985. The Foundation provided the ASA with a grant of $21,000.00, to be used by member organizations to reduce backlogs of records requiring arrangement and descriptions and other approved projects. These funds, while greatly appreciated, were used up by the end of 1986. (27)
Throughout this period, the executive prepared ministerial briefs, outlining the role of archives in society and the need for separate funding for the ASA. In 1986 the ASA joined forces with the Alberta Archives Council (AAC) for the purpose of establishing a joint committee charged with developing a detailed fundraising strategy, and explanation as to how any funds would be used. This committee examined what libraries and museums had done to garner government support and established a list of priority projects. One of the key elements of the new plan was the development of a five-year education programme. (28) The Society and council were rewarded for their efforts in 1988 with a three year committment from the Alberta government for the sum of $300,000.00 - $100,000.00 for each year. These monies were to be used by the Society and the Council to implement the Society's five-year training programme, publish the newsletter, hire staff, describe and arrange records, and other approved projects. The government renewed the agreement in 1991 for another 3-year period. The Society has enjoyed relatively stable funding ever since. As previously noted the merger of the Society and Council in 1993 meant the new Archives Society of Alberta has been eligible for federal and provincial financial support. Grants received from the federal government, via the National Archives and the Canadian Council of Archives continued to be used to reduce the backlog of collections requiring processing, conservation work and the purchase of materials and equipment needed to safeguard collections. More recently funding has allowed the ASA to explore and develop projects related to new technologies, such as an integrated electronic network (Archives Network of Alberta and Canadian Archival Information Network), and the development of websites with an aim to better serving its members, researchers, peer agencies, and the public at large. (30)
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Education had been one of the founding principles of the organization, so securing resources to pay for program for members was a priority from the get-go. In the spring of 1983, the society formed an education committee, and soon thereafter, workshops were being planned and delivered, and bigger plans for a multi-year education programme, and summer institutes were in the works. In 1983 the ASA managed to purchase several self-study kits; the University of Alberta Extension Library agreed to house and circulate them on behalf of the Society. (31) These kits provided people with basic information about archives, their organization and operation. These self-guided learning tools were so successful the Society soon had to purchase more, and upgrade the ones they already had by updating them and taloiring them to the expressed needs of the users.(32)
As successful as the kits were, they represented one small, albeit important, step in the fulfillment of the ASA's education mandate. During 1985-86 Society and Council executives grew concerned about whether the education programs offered were hitting the mark, or if a re-think was needed. To put the ship right, the Education Committee Planning Group was established in 1986 with the express purpose of establishing an achievable, long-range plan. The result was a Five-Year Education Program that was implemented in 1988. It was the only provincially based multi-year program of its kind in the country, and other provincial networks, namely Ontario and Manitoba, looked to it to develop similar models. Upon completion of the program in 1992, it underwent a lengthy review to determine how it could be improved and updated. Another educational initiative took flight in 1988 - the launching of the ASA Advisory Service program. As part of his responsibilities, the Society's newly hired archives advisor visited with administers to offer guidance and councilling on subjects ranging from broad based methodological issues to practical hands-on practices. (33)
Three other educational initiatives are worth noting. During the late 1980s the Society began developing a Summer Institute programme. These have evolved into multi-day seminars that combine theory based and hands-on learning. Each year's Institute meets in a different location and a key lecturer is invited.(34) The Institutes are designed to appeal to those new to the profession, as well as those who have years of experience, and occasionally focus on specific topics such as the Rules for Archival Description (RAD).
The second item of note is the Alberta archival community's adoption of PAASH, or the Provincial Archives of Alberta Subject Headings. PAASH was developed in the mid-1980s by the staff of the PAA for the purpose of establishing a workable subject and proper name heading system for that institution's collections. PAA staff used the Library of Congress Subject Headings and Canadian Subject Headings as a basis from which to work, and created other Alberta specific headings, as they were needed. The ASA advocated the acceptance of PAASH during the late 1980s and 1990s, and offered seminars to those seeking a greater understanding of how it worked. (35)
The last item touched on in this section is RAD, the Rules for Archival Description. RAD evolved from years of general discussion by archivists from all over the world who supported the development of descriptive standards. By the time that Canadians began to consider the issue, the British and Americans had already undertaken considerable work on this subject. Suffice it to say, the Canadian Planning Committee on Descriptive Standards, formed in 1987, representating the Association of Canadian Archivists (ACA) and the Association des archvistes du Quebec (AAQ) worked for three years developing a workable Canadian model. RAD is based on the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules 2nd ed. revised (AACR2r) and a good portion of the Canadian version was "lifted" from the American draft. (36) Throughout the RAD process, the Planning Committee on Descriptive Standards requested feedback from the Canadian archival community. In principle, the ASA supported the development of such standards, but the members of the Society expressed grave concerns about the initial draft versions, arguing that more practical descriptions were needed, especially with respect to "creating agencies" such as government departments that regularly changed names. Once completed, the Society was pleased with the Standard and opted to provide RAD training programs for its members beginning in 1991. Registration for the courses was overwhelming, and the schedule had to be revised - more classes with fewer students per course. (37) Since the introduction of RAD a new version has been in the works, prompted by increased levels of standardization of practices globally, partially aided and driven by the development of the Internet and the World Wide Web.
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Whenever one sets forth to examine a given topic over a lengthy period of time, choices must be made as to what issues will be reviewed, and which will be left for others to examine. This paper is no different, so what follows is a snapshot of what the author has determined are some of the more important issues the ASA has been party to - these include the government's handling of, and support for, the Provincial Archives; the province's Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIP) legislation; and, the Society's establishment of an integrated electronic archival network. These issues have been selected as they have been on-going since the establishment of the ASA, or have had, and will continue to have, a significant impact on the discipline and its practitioners.
As noted in a previous section in this presentation, the Provincial Archives is not directly mentioned in the legislation that governs its operation - this speaks volumes about the government's overall approach to the issue. Secondly, the provincial archivist's role in developing records management policies was reduced when the archiving and records management functions within government were seperated in the 1970s. This is in sharp contrast to the approach taken in many other jurisdictions in the world. Lastly, as the Alberta government's focus has shifted to deficit and debt reduction and eradication, budgets were dramatically reduced, severely limiting the archive's operations and effectiveness. In fairness to the provincial government, they agreed in 1995 to proceed with the multi-million dollar development of a new Provinical Archives. This new structure opened in the fall of 2003. Not only was this a long overdue development (the old facility was quite literally sinking into the ground), but it also meant that for the first time since the inception of the program in the late 1960s, all records, processing, employees and public access areas could be housed within the same facility. Despite this positive development annual operating budgets and staffing levels remain very low given the workload, and the size of the backlog of records in need of processing (arranging and describing) remains very large. The latter is very troublesome for archives are supposed to do more than just preserve documents - they are also supposed to provide access to their collections, and this is impossible to achieve if finding aids, descriptions, and inventories are not completed in a timely manner.
Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIP) legislation, or what most other jurisdictions in Canada refer to as access laws, was first discussed in a meaningful manner in Alberta in the early 1990s. Prior to this, few argued there was any need for such legislation. When Ralph Klein came to power in 1993, he committed the government to open access, as well as protecting the privacy of individuals. The first draft of the bill was very restrictive, and the ASA launched an awareness campaign arguing in favour of greater access and an exemption for archives. (38) The ASA was one of many agencies to appear before the government's panel charged with conducting public hearings into the matter. In the end the legislation did not provide as much access as had been hoped for, but an exemption for archives had been secured. The legislation took effect in 1995. The ASA sponsored workshops on the legislation, and was particularly successful in organizing sessions in 1996 for those that worked in the "MUSH" sector (municipalities, universities, schools, hospitals). MUSH sector organizations were given a two year grace period to develop the records management policies they would need to comply with FOIP. (39) Recent amendments to FOIP now require businesses or any agency collecting personal information to establish policies and practices similar to government departments, hospital boards, universities and so forth.
The Archives Network of Alberta took a relatively short time to come into fruition, and was made possible by the rapidly evolving and improving technology associated with the Internet in the mid-late 1990s. The initial meeting, which resulted in the ANA Task Force, took place in February 1994; a pilot project was demonstrated at the Learned Societies meeting at the University of Calgary a few months later in June; the Minister of Community Development expressed his pleasure and support for the initiative that same year; and, the system went live in early 1995. (40) This did not mean that it was accessible to the public at this time, but it provided a new means of communication for archivists, and it was rapidly moving towards full Internet access, and the development of websites for all of its members, including the host agency, which launched its site in October 1996. (41) Today, the network offers complete fonds level descriptions of thousands of collections, located throughout the province, and it is linked to other western provincial, northern territorial and national networks, notably the Canadian Archival Information Network (CAIN). (42)
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It has been noted and emphasized throughout this paper the one constant the
ASA found itself dealing with was the lack of awareness of the role archives and
archivist play in any given society. Fostering awareness and support within
government and business circles, as well as with the general public at large, is
one task that has required, and will continue to demand, ongoing attention from
those overseeing the operation of the ASA. It is likely the Society will have to
continue to seek funding from as yet untapped sources, as the Alberta Government
continues to focus almost exclusively on health, education, infrastructure and
natural resource development issues. That said, and despite the many obstacles
the ASA has faced, it has notched up a good many successes over the course of
the last 25 years. The once fledgling Society can be very proud of its solid
record with respect to education, advocacy work, and adoption of new
technologies. It can also be proud of its record of perseverance with respect to
obtaining funding to support its programs, but as noted above, this is where the
organization will have to be vigilant. There is no longer such a thing as a sure
bet when it comes to government funding, even for those programmes most
acknowledge as necessary for the sound operation of societal institutions, the
preservation of our heritage and collective memory, and most importantly, the
protection of our rights and freedoms.
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This paper was originally prepared by Sean Moir, for LIS 593: Archives
School of Library and Information Studies
University of Alberta
Originally prepared January - April 2002.
Revised July 2004 for LIS 600: Capping Exercise.
Page last updated 22 July 2004.