Library and Archives Canada docks at Pier 21 in Halifax

By Leah Rae

In May this year, a big change came for the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) Halifax team when we moved into the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in beautiful downtown Halifax. The time has flown since then, and we have already passed our first summer at our new location.

A colour photograph of a red brick building bearing the sign “Pier 21.” In front of its main entrance is a raised garden enclosed within a circular stone form that supports several large plaques.

Providing reference services to researchers in the Halifax region from our new service point at Pier 21.

Not only do we now share office space with Pier 21, we also opened a new service point to make LAC’s collection more accessible to the local communities in the region. Officially launched on June 19, it is located within Pier 21’s Scotiabank Family History Centre, just inside the museum. During the summer we have seen a steady increase in client visits. People come in with all different kinds of questions for us about lighthouses, immigration, family history, military history, war brides, home children, the coal mining industry in Cape Breton, aboriginal genealogy, and much, much more. In addition to the knowledgeable employees who staff our service point on weekdays, we also have a kiosk that provides clients with access to LAC databases, as well as other subscription databases, such as Ancestry.ca. Researchers can drop by anytime during our hours of operation to use the kiosk or speak with someone at the orientation and reference desk. For up-to-date hours of operation, please visit the Service Points Outside of Ottawa page. Researchers can also make an appointment with an archivist on site for assistance with more in-depth questions or with help preparing for a research trip to consult material at LAC in the National Capital Region, Winnipeg, or Vancouver.

A colour photograph of a woman sitting at a desk in front of a computer looking at the camera. On the wall behind her is the sign “Library and Archives Canada – Bibliothèque et Archives Canada.”

LAC archivist Leah Rae at the new orientation and reference desk

Co-locating with Pier 21 also gives us the opportunity to work with the museum on some of its most popular events. Canada Day has been the largest event for us so far, with this year marking the 150th anniversary of Confederation. We set up an information booth in the museum and were delighted to receive over 300 visitors. People were excited to meet us and to enter a draw to win one of five reproductions of original images from LAC’s vast collection.

A colour print of an ad for Alex. Keith and Sons. Nova Scotia Brewery.

One of the prints reproduced for the draw on Canada Day (MIKAN 2838059)

Canada Day was the first of many planned collaborative events between LAC and Pier 21. We are looking forward to more opportunities to highlight our collection to Haligonians and other visitors.


Leah Rae is an archivist based in Halifax in the Regional Services and ATIP Division of Library and Archives Canada.

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.

Revolutionizing cataloguing – implementing RDA!

There’s been a revolution in cataloguing! Since 2010, RDA (Resource Description and Access) has been the new international standard for description. It was developed over many years through the cooperation of institutions such as Library and Archives Canada (LAC), the Library of Congress, the British National Library, the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek, and other national and international committees (LAC employees sit on the Canadian Committee on Cataloguing, for example). Implementation of RDA began at LAC in late 2012 and is still ongoing, involving the entire cataloguing section. This has included hundreds of hours of training sessions, meetings, individual research and reading, and informal team discussions and consultations as we have to rethink a lot of our policies and practices to adapt to the new philosophies and rules for description represented in RDA.

So, what’s so different about RDA?

There have always been standards and rules for description of course. But the rules we were using were developed before the advent of the multitude of formats that are now collected by and available in modern libraries. This has forced cataloguers to try to treat everything like a printed book. You can imagine how frustrating that was at times! On top of that, the old rules were designed to help cataloguers fit all the essential information on a 3” by 5” card that was filed in a card catalogue drawer. This meant abbreviating words, omitting non-essential information, and making decisions based on the placement of information on the physical card. Now with online catalogues, linked data, and international databases available with the click of a mouse, we need to rethink how we do things. Some of this involves physically changing how the information is presented in the catalogue record (for example, RDA eliminates abbreviations unless they appear on the item itself). Other changes focus on thinking differently about the relationships between the content, the physical item (what we call the “carrier”), and the people involved in creating both.

What hasn’t changed?

As always, our goal is to create a bibliographic record for an item that accurately and thoroughly describes both the physical item and the content it holds, and allows users of our catalogue the best possible access to the item and our collection. The employees in the cataloguing section are committed to creating useful, accurate, credible metadata that is used by libraries across the country, and in international databases. RDA may be changing the “how” of cataloguing, but not the “why!”

Useful links:

Discover the Access Codes for Archival Records at Library and Archives Canada – Part III

Earlier blogs (Part I and Part II) on restricted records explained the various codes that govern access to Canadian federal government records at Library and Archives Canada. In Part I, we learned that access code “32” beside a reference to a particular archival container means that the material is restricted under the provisions of Canada’s Access to Information Act and Privacy Act. However, that doesn’t mean that all of the container’s contents are restricted.

Each year, many files in archival containers are requested by researchers, and in many cases those files are open. But in order for an entire archival container to have access code “90,” meaning that it is open for research, all the files in that particular container must be open. Even if one file or just part of one file is restricted, the code against the container remains 32 – closed. However, researchers wishing to access a container marked code “32” have the right to submit a request for the material they need.

It is quite possible that the file or files to be consulted have already been reviewed and are accessible. The only way to know is to order the ones you wish to see. Library and Archives Canada’s Access to Information and Privacy staff will examine the request, and if the particular file or files requested have been previously reviewed and opened, you will receive them in an “interim” archival container.

For more assistance, you may ask Library and Archives Canada’s consultation staff or Access to Information and Privacy team.

Discover the Access Codes for Archival Records at Library and Archives Canada – Part II

In our post “Discover the Access Codes for Archival Records“, we reviewed four of the most common access codes 90, 32, 10, and 18. However, there are other access codes that you may encounter while undertaking your research. They include access codes 96 and 99.

Restrictions vary (Code 96)

Access code 96 indicates that within a group of records there exists more than one type of access condition. For example, since the Department of Transportation fonds (RG12) contains records that are open (code 90) and others that are restricted (code 32), the fonds-level access condition are indicated by “restrictions vary” (code 96).

A sample record description in the Archives Search database displaying access code 96: RESTRICTIONS VARY.

Access code 96 can be applied to more than just fonds-level descriptions. It can also be linked to series, sub-series and accessions. However, it does not apply to individual volumes and files.

Remember

Access code 96 usually means that there are more specific descriptions available for the records you are researching. In some cases, these records can be accessed by simply clicking on the “lower level descriptions” link in the “Fonds consists of” section of a record description.

A sample record description in the Archives Search database displaying the FONDS CONSISTS OF ROW.

In other cases it will be necessary to consult a printed finding aid. To learn more, read our post Discover Finding Aids.

To be determined / closed pending processing (Code 99)

Access code 99 means that the access conditions for a group of records have yet to be determined. Usually this is because the records are being processed. In the following example, while the photographic material is open, the access conditions for the textual records have yet to be determined:

A sample record description in the Archives Search database displaying access code 99.

Open, no copying (Code 95)

Access code 95 indicates that the records are open and can be consulted, however, at the request of the donor, the records cannot be copied or reproduced.

A sample record description in the Archives Search database displaying access code 95.

Questions or comments? We would love to hear from you!

Discover the Access Codes for Archival Records at Library and Archives Canada

Have you ever ordered an archival record only to find out that it is restricted? Archival records may be subject to access restrictions. To find out if a record is open or restricted, you must identify its access code. When you are in the Archives Search database, you can find these codes in the “Conditions of access” section of records descriptions (see image below):

A black-and-white three-column table of a record description in the Library and Archives Canada Archives Search database. On the left is the title “Conditions of Access,” in the middle is the volume number(s), and on the right is the access code “90: Open”.

A sample record description in the Library and Archives Canada Archives Search database. Note the conditions of access in the right column.

The most common access codes are 90, 32, 18 and 10.

Open Records (code 90)

Any records that are unrestricted and directly available for consultation are marked as “90: Open.”

Government Records (code 32)

Some government records must be reviewed according to the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act beforebeing made available. Records restricted under these laws are identified as “32: Restricted by law.” For an example, please consult the Operational records of Prairie Northern Region record description.

To request restricted government records, follow the instructions on our Access to Information and Privacy page.

Private Records (codes 18 and 10)

Records that are “18: Restricted” can be accessed through an application procedure established by the donor. These restrictions affect what you can consult, as well as what you can copy.

Records that are “10: Closed” cannot be consulted. In some cases, restrictions on closed records are set to be reviewed after a date specified by the donor.

To find out what files are restricted in a private fonds, consult the PDF document linked under “Conditions of Access” in the fonds description. For an example of this type of document, please see the Lester B. Pearson fonds description.

The next post, Discover the Access Codes for Archival Records at Library and Archives Canada – Part II, will review other access codes that apply to archival holdings. Until then, let us know if you have any questions or comments. We would love to hear from you!