A Behind-the-Scenes Look at LAC: Services for the Public Available in Ottawa

Colour photograph of stacks. There is an aisle down the middle with rows of books on either side.

Stacks of published material at Library and Archives Canada

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has many buildings across Canada, two of which we introduced you to in A Behind-the-Scenes Look at LAC: The Preservation Centre in Gatineau and A Behind-the-Scenes Look at LAC: The Nitrate Film Preservation Facility.

Another LAC building, located at 395 Wellington Street in downtown Ottawa, is a popular destination for researchers who come regularly to consult the archival and published collections. This facility is home to collections management, public services, description and cataloguing, and administrative functions. There are countless stacks of published material housed on the various floors of the building; however, only the main lobby, and the second, third, and fifth floors are accessible to the public.

Public admission to the research rooms is restricted to registered researchers. Because of the vast amount of material in the collections, researchers must request what they need in advance of their visit so that LAC staff have sufficient time to retrieve it on their behalf.*

If you’re wondering why researchers themselves cannot browse the countless stacks of published material, it is for reasons of safety for both the researchers and the collections. In addition, the sheer volume of material makes it virtually impossible for someone to locate what they need without a good understanding of the collections and how they are organized.

Close to Parliament Hill and the Supreme Court of Canada, the 395 Wellington Street facility first opened its doors on June 20, 1967. It cost roughly $13 million to build and features granite and marble finishes, complete with golden mosaic pillars in the main lobby. The building showcases a variety of artwork, such as a sculpture of Italian poet Dante Alighieri by Angelo Biancini and a Henry Moore bronze sculpture entitled “Three Way Piece-Points,” located near the main marble stairwell. The Moore sculpture was presented by the British Government to the people of Canada, along with 10,000 books, to mark this country’s Centennial in 1967.

Glass-engraved panels by artist John Hutton, depicting five themes, can be seen throughout the building. They represent the written word, the spoken word, important writers, Apollo and the Muses, and the birth of Canada. You can also view them on our Facebook page!

A series of murals adorns the research rooms on the second floor. The Comfort Murals contain two works known as “Heritage” and “Legacy.” They were commissioned more than 25 years ago by Charles Fraser Comfort, a past Director of the National Gallery of Canada. The Pellan Murals are the work of Quebec artist Alfred Pellan, completed in 1968. Each of these abstract paintings features a kaleidoscope of colour presented in a collage-style interpretation. “The Alphabets” is displayed on the western wall, and “Knowledge” is displayed on the eastern wall.

The history of this Government of Canada building is recorded in the CBC Digital Archives soundtrack 1967: The National Library of Canada opens new HQ.

*Please note that our core services are offered from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday to Friday. To learn more about all of our services, please consult the previous article “What can you do at 395 Wellington Street before your appointment?

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

A Behind-the-Scenes Look at LAC: The Gatineau Preservation Centre

National Capital Region map displaying Library and Archives Canada buildings

National Capital Region map displaying Library and Archives Canada buildings

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) provides services to the public at the 395 Wellington Street building in downtown Ottawa where most of the published material and microform collection is housed. One main challenge in serving the public is that the archival material must be transported from five different storage facilities to be available for consultation in Ottawa in a timely fashion. That said, the best solution for avoiding any delay in accessing the records you need is to plan your visit and order the material ahead of time.

Also, did you know that there are other LAC facilities throughout Canada? Some buildings are for staff offices, while others are dedicated to the management and preservation of LAC holdings. Let’s begin by exploring the Preservation Centre, which is about 25 kilometres away from downtown Ottawa.

Opened in 1997, the Preservation Centre is located in Gatineau, Quebec, and is a building within a building. Its outer shell of glass and steel creates an environmental buffer zone for the interior concrete structure which houses the storage vaults, preservation laboratories and a mechanical plant. The mechanical plant is designed to be separate from, but connected to, the records storage and laboratory facilities. This feature separates and isolates the sensitive laboratory and storage functions of the building.

Photograph of the antechamber of the cold stprage vault where colour and black-and-white film records are kept.

Ante-chamber of cold storage vault for colour and black-and-white film records

The individual laboratories are constructed in a village-like setting directly above the three-story vault structure. This permits all LAC preservation experts, approximately 70 in total, to work together under the same roof.

Photograph of the interior of the art storage vault for paintings and other artwork.

Storage – Art Vault. Paintings are stored on mobile hanging racks in an environment of 18 degrees Celsius (+/- 2°C) and 50% relative humidity (+/- 5%). Other multi-media objects stored in this environment include globes and miniatures. The front of the vault provides a work area for collections management activities.

There are 48 vaults for the storage and handling of archival records, each of which measures approximately 350 square metres. They house a variety of archival records in four different storage environments. Each vault is designed to protect documents by eliminating potential threats, by having a sophisticated fire detection and suppression system, and by carefully controlling all materials used inside it to maintain a contaminant-free environment.

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