Nanaimo archives in crisis after feds cut grants

NANAIMO – Demise of program will leave archivists without important advisory council.

  • Jun. 2, 2012 6:00 p.m.
Christine Meutzner

Christine Meutzner

Federal cuts to Library and Archives Canada will likely result in large gaps in historical record-taking at the Nanaimo Community Archives.

The Conservative government announced last month it was eliminating its $1.7-million National Archival Development Program, distributed by the non-profit Canadian Council of Archives in every province and territory to about 800 community archives across the country.

Without the funding, provincial archival councils will no longer have a mandate and community archivists will be left to stand alone without advice on how to properly archive items.

Christine Meutzner, Nanaimo Community Archives manager, said the funding was imperative to properly research and store record groups, and that provincial councils are important sources of advice to ensure archives are kept to a high standard.

“There is nothing similar at any other level as far as funding like this goes,” she said, adding that fundraising would take up valuable time away from her core duties. “There’s no where else to go.”

“What really bothers me is the provincial councils will collapse so that my archives advisor service is gone,” she said. “We archive to a national standard so that items are easy to find and preserved, it’s not just done willy-nilly. The ability for me to have that professional association and collegiality and that help is gone. It’s an awful effect and nobody wants to have the sense they are operating on their own. “

Nanaimo’s archives are accessed by a number of regular clients, including architects and engineers looking to get a better understanding of the labyrinth of mine shafts under the city, journalists, city planners, municipal employees and students.

Some record groups at the Nanaimo Community Archives previously funded by federal grant money include the Hudson’s Bay Company, Canadian Collieries, Nanaimo Fish and Game Protective Association, and several others. Grants provided for individual record groups are often in the $5,000 to $10,000 range.

Meutzner said the record keeping process is far too technical and time-consuming to ask volunteers or students to do it – knowledge of copyright law and Freedom of Information access is required – and digitizing items within the archive as the federal government has suggest would take “thousands of hours.”

The city provides the archives with almost $57,000 annually, though the archive operates apart from the city as a not-for-profit organization. Donations from the public make up the balance of the budget, which is about $80,000 annually.

Nanaimo Mayor John Ruttan said the city will continue its support, noting that preserving the city’s history is important for citizens who live here now and in the future.

“To me preserving the archives and the work they do is as important as preserving the Bastion – it’s our written history,” he said.

Ruttan stopped short of suggesting the archives become a city-run operation.

Meutzner said while she will still take in items that meet archival criteria, it is likely those items will have to wait months or years before they are properly archived. That will inevitably create holes in Nanaimo’s archived history.

“There’s no doubt about it.” she said. “In 100 years this is all we’ll have. The things that people write now will tell us what Nanaimo was all about.”

Funding to the National Archival Development Program was part of the cutbacks in the federal budget earlier this year.