Library and Archives Canada was a good resource years ago when I was conducting research for my PhD dissertation. I could show up without reservation, present my card, order unrestricted library material, buy lunch in the cafeteria and have resources ready for me by the time I finished my meal. I haven’t had to turn to LAC for years, until recently. It’s no longer the user-friendly public resource it once was — in fact today, it is distinctly cumbersome to arrange a visit and to access material.
Researchers and the general public must use Eventbrite, the American online ticketing site, to book an in-person visit for textual consultation. The problem is that the system requires one to register about two weeks in advance, as dates are closed automatically, whether or not there are available spaces remaining for a given day. For instance, for Monday, May 30th, Eventbrite indicates that “sales are ending” in 19 hours, even though there is space to still accommodate 26 researchers that morning and capacity will not be reached by the time registration closes. To make LAC even more inaccessible to both researchers and the general public, very few dates are released at a time through Eventbrite. For instance, today the earliest date available is May 30th and the furthest date is June 3rd. That is an unreasonably narrow window — especially for anyone visiting Ottawa from out of town in order to conduct research over several days. Being a graduate student today is likely much more difficult than it was a few years ago.
While I support keeping people safe and maintaining certain good practices that have been introduced during the pandemic, it seems as though an unnecessarily rigid and ultimately unwelcoming culture is taking hold in some areas in Canada. It’s time for LAC to reassess how it makes this country’s public archival heritage accessible to the Canadian and international public.