The real deal vs. the microfilm reel

Access is a key part of Library and Archives Canada’s mandate. Staff strive to provide access to original material whenever possible, but what happens when material has been removed from circulation and you need to consult the original?

Screenshot of Library and Archives Canada’s internal Collection Management System highlighting a message stating “Please consult copies which exist for the material you are attempting to order. Refer to MIKAN for copy information.”

Screenshot of Library and Archives Canada’s internal Collection Management System

Material may be withdrawn from circulation for a variety of reasons such as:

  • Material has been copied and is available in another format (usually microfilm copies)
  • Material has been identified as requiring conservation treatment
  • Material is fragile or at risk of being damaged
  • Material is withdrawn for health reasons (e.g. the material is contaminated with mould)

When you request material that has been removed from circulation, a staff member from the consultation desk will contact a Collection Manager or Holdings Management Assistant and inform them that a researcher wishes to consult originals and provide the reason the researcher needs to view them.

Some of the common reasons for needing to consult originals are:

  • You need to view originals for litigation purposes
  • Microfilm copies are illegible
  • Microfilm copies are missing pages
  • Health reasons (e.g. the use of microfilm readers causes vertigo)

The Collection Manager or Holdings Management Assistant will assess the requested material and determine whether the material can safely travel to 395 Wellington for consultation.

An open container showing textual material ready to be assessed.

Textual material ready to be assessed.

Common reasons for refusing a request to view originals are:

  • Material is too fragile to transport from the storage facility
  • Material is restricted by law (you must first apply for access rights)
  • Material poses a health risk and must be treated first (e.g. mould)
  • Material has been requested for a loan or an exhibition

Additionally, the following material does not travel outside of the Preservation Centre:

  • Treaties
  • Pre-1899 atlases, early maps, oversized matted documents
  • Oil paintings, pastels, charcoal works, miniatures
  • Medals, globes
  • Glass plate negatives, large panoramas, cased photographic objects
  • Certain philatelic material

If the material is considered to be too fragile or exceptionally valuable, the Collection Manager will stipulate that supervised consultation is required.

Library and Archives Canada staff do their best to facilitate access but in some cases material simply cannot travel. When this happens, you have the option of setting up an appointment to view the originals at the Preservation Center in Gatineau under the supervision of a reference archivist and a member of the Holdings Management team.

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