Retrospective publications: better late than never

By Euphrasie Mujawamungu

Library and Archives Canada’s (LAC) mandate includes the acquisition of all documents published in Canada, regardless of format, subject or language. This mandate also covers foreign works whose authors, publishers, translators, illustrators or performers are Canadian, or whose subject matter is related to Canada. We call these publications “Canadiana.”

The collection of retrospective Canadiana covers various types of documents published between 1867 and five years before the current year:

  • documents published before the establishment of legal deposit in 1953
  • documents published after legal deposit was adopted but that were not acquired at the time of publication
  • documents not subject to legal deposit, such as works published abroad by Canadian authors or on Canadian subjects

Since LAC aims to be a source of permanent knowledge accessible to all, it must have as comprehensive a collection as possible, to accomplish this mission.

Shaped by our past

The present is shaped by the past: each period has its history … a history that is as vast as it is rich in events. Consider, for example, the first Stanley Cup, the first French-Canadian prime minister, the Klondike Gold Rush, the first female MP, the winning of the right to vote by women, the two world wars, or the bestselling novel Anne of Green Gables by Prince Edward Island author Lucy Maud Montgomery.

The daily life of yesteryear has left its imprint on many areas: art, literature, fashion, transportation, cooking and more. This is reflected in the retrospective publications in LAC’s collection, which open windows to good times and bad times; they cover topics as varied as travel, our great-great-grandmothers’ recipes, epidemics, famines, trophies won and games lost.

As guardian of the past and our recent history, LAC is a vital resource for all Canadians. It makes it easier for Canadians to search its rich collection, helps them to discover the most relevant documents and provides access to these. That is the core of its mandate.

However, gaps in the national collection must be addressed, to ensure that no aspect of our history is overlooked or undervalued. And this is not a one-day job or a one-time activity. On the contrary, constant attention and vigilance are required to identify opportunities to enrich the collection.

Colour photo of a variety of hardcover and softcover books.

Some titles acquired retrospectively by LAC in the summer of 2019. Photo credit: David Knox

The tools

From near or far, history is always interesting, making the search for publications truly exciting. As a librarian, I have several resources to identify retrospective publications to be acquired:

  • used bookseller catalogues
  • antique dealer catalogues
  • websites specialized in selling used books
  • publications given to LAC (I then look through donations to find documents missing from the collection)

The acquisition of vintage publications is subject to strict conditions: each work must be an original edition and in good condition. There is a good reason for this requirement, since contaminated or mouldy publications will not only deteriorate, but they will also damage other publications.

In addition, for a work to retain its full value, it is important to preserve all of its original components, such as the cover, illustrations and edition statements.

If LAC does not acquire it, who will?

LAC collects and preserves Canada’s documentary heritage, with the ultimate goal of meeting the needs of its users.

From vintage to contemporary publications, this heritage is a legacy for current and future generations. And there is always room for more!

LAC is a true hub of knowledge, with skilled professionals who serve the public and are dedicated to the collection. Each treasure acquired by LAC is treated with the appropriate care, and our state-of-the-art facilities guarantee preservation under optimal conditions.

In addition, LAC is at the leading edge of technology, facilitating collaboration with other organizations as well as interactions with clients.

The job of a collections librarian is dynamic and rewarding; it requires considerable dedication. In line with the services offered to the community, the work evolves as the pace of our knowledge society changes. I can say that LAC, far from being a warehouse of random items, truly enriches our collective memory. Experienced researchers, students, music lovers, or simply curious and information‑hungry citizens: everyone will find a valuable resource in LAC.

Colour photo of a variety of paperback books.

Some titles acquired retrospectively by LAC in the fall of 2019. Photo credit: David Knox


Euphrasie Mujawamungu is a librarian with the legal deposit team in the Published Heritage Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

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