Reference services across borders

By Virtue Tran

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) serves a diverse clientele with diverse information needs. In Reference Services, we see many queries coming in from across the globe. Though service for this international community is essentially the same as for inquirers from Canada, responses should take account of the challenges associated with accessing the collection across borders. This blog provides a glimpse of who our international clients are, a sample of interesting questions we have received, and a look at some of the techniques our reference specialists use to facilitate access by this community.

Our clients

Our clients are from all over the world! In the years 2018 to 2020, requests came from the following countries and regions:

  • Africa: Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire), Djibouti, Morocco, Tunisia
  • Americas: Brazil, Martinique, Trinidad and Tobago, United States
  • Asia: India, Japan, Taiwan
  • Europe: Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Russia, Switzerland, United Kingdom
  • Middle East: Israel, United Arab Emirates
  • Oceania: Australia

The above list is only a small sample of the international locations from which we receive requests. Many inquirers are professors and students doing research on either a specific Canadian topic or one with a Canadian component (such as ethnic groups who have immigrated to Canada; government policies and the Canadian cultural scene). Students in information science who have an interest in LAC as an institution or in the state of librarianship and archives in Canada comprise a niche within this clientele.

Then there are archivists, librarians and genealogists. As this is part of their day-to-day jobs, these clients are experts in searching for information. They usually have tools of the trade that allow them to conduct more complex searches. Their questions are geared mainly toward finding information on behalf of their own clients or for internal work. Recent examples include the Direção-Geral do Livro, dos Arquivos e das Bibliotecas [national book, archives and libraries department] of Portugal and the Scottish Natural Heritage Library. Finally, inquiries from members of the public vary widely. They are often driven by curiosity, hobbies or research into family history.

Here are three examples of topics that have piqued the interest of our international clients:

From Martinique: Guadeloupe domestics in 1910–1911

Request for information regarding the Canadian immigration service during that period and biographies of various immigration public servants who worked on the file of Guadeloupe domestic workers. This is found mainly in books discussing the history of immigration legislation and the policies of Canada. At the time, the Department of the Interior was responsible for immigration. Because immigration of Black people was discouraged, as was the case for other ethnic groups, immigration officers would find ways to deport them under the Immigration Act of 1910.

Further sources:

LAC database: Immigrants to Canada, Porters and Domestics, 1899-1949

Calliste, A. (1991). Canada’s immigration policy and domestics from the Caribbean: The second domestic scheme. In S. Brickey and E. Comack (eds.), The social basis of law: Critical readings in the sociology of law (2nd ed., pp. 95–121). Halifax: Garamond Press.  OCLC 24743137   This chapter sources information from various archival documents available at LAC.

Kelley, N., and Michael, J.T. (2010). The Making of the Mosaic: A History of Canadian Immigration Policy. 2nd ed. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.  OCLC 531018353 Chapter 4, “Industrialization, Immigration, and the Foundation of the Twentieth-Century Immigration Policy, 1896-1914,” pertains mainly to the discriminatory treatment of Asian immigrants under the section “Selective Admission Restrictions.” The discriminatory treatment of Black immigrants is also discussed, but to a lesser extent.

Macklin, A. (1992). Foreign domestic worker: Surrogate housewife or mail order servant. McGill Law Journal 37(3), 681–760.   ISSN: 0024-9041 — OCLC 768130032

Yarhi, E. (2016). Order-in-Council P.C. 1911-1324: the Proposed Ban on Black Immigration to Canada. The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Canada.

A typed page (Form B of the Immigration Act of 1910, used for deportations).

Form B – Order for deportation (C-10411 reel on Héritage).

From France: “Les Belles Mères” by La Bolduc

Request for information on the song “Les Belles Mères” by this famed folk musician. This song borrowed the “Red River Valley” melody as mentioned in an extensive biography published on our webpage. It is available on Virtual Gramophone along with other digitized songs by La Bolduc while materials such as books, articles and musical scores are searchable through our catalogue Aurora.

A colour picture of the label of the song “Les Belles Mères” with golden lettering on a navy disk.

Label of the song “Les Belles Mères” (published by the Compo Company Limited) (OCLC 1007640213).

From the United Kingdom: Stephen Leacock recordings

Request for a list of audio records of the writings of Stephen Leacock. Specifically, the requester wanted to know the names of those who were speaking in the recordings. LAC holds many audio recordings that can be located through our Aurora catalogue. Information about the readers is found within the bibliographical records, in the section on performers, in the notes or even in the title.

A black-and-white photograph of Christopher Plummer in a suit standing on the left with his arms crossed. A large framed painting of a woman in a dress holding a fan is hung on the right side.

The celebrated actor Christopher Plummer read and adapted Stephen Leacock’s writings. (a182414); for an example, see OCLC 3589995).

Accessing the collection: Options

It is standard practice to redirect clients who are not in the vicinity of Ottawa, Ontario, to institutions closer to their location in order for them to access relevant materials. However, when the materials cannot be located that way, three techniques are often used:

1. The Internet

The list of online resources is long, but here are a few that are heavily used by reference librarians. LAC maintains various resources that can serve as a starting point for research. They are accompanied by an explanatory page that provides a concise summary of the subject and, sometimes, a list of publications for further readings. Other helpful resources are the Government of Canada Publications portal and the Internet Archive’s Canadian Libraries collections, which host a massive amount of official publications, departmental libraries collections, and Canadiana, a staple for pre-1921 Canadian content.

2. Interlibrary loans

LAC does not offer an interlibrary loan (ILL) service. As a result, reference librarians count on local libraries that often provide this service to help connect clients with the publication they need. In the United States, many universities have Canadian holdings, and some public libraries will offer ILL with their Canadian counterparts. While the chances of finding a publication in institutions overseas diminish greatly, not all is lost. Specialized collections exist at universities with Canadian studies programs and within national libraries and museums, to name but a few. The fact that many international organizations are based in Europe should not be discounted. Those organizations often have libraries that collect Canadian content relevant to their work. While they are unlikely to lend out, they are generally open to the public and researchers.

3. Copy services

Copy services are always an option. LAC can provide copies of documents, images, etc., in various formats, including digital, which can be requested in PDF or JPEG format. Most institutions will also offer this service for a fee, but figuring out which institutions hold a copy is the hard part. This is when reference books, bibliographies and union catalogues come in handy. A dated resource will still offer valuable insight for determining the correctness of the references provided and identifying the institutions that used to hold copies. These tidbits of information are useful for tracing back publications, especially older materials that are oftentimes discarded when they no longer meet the needs of users.

With skills, perseverance and a little bit of serendipity, LAC’s Reference Services will connect you with our Canadian heritage. So don’t be shy about sending in your queries to Ask us a Question; we will be happy to assist you in your research!


Virtue Tran is a reference librarian in the Reference Services Division at Library and Archives Canada.

At the centre of it all: Library and Archives Canada’s Vancouver Office

By Caitlin Webster

After providing service for many years from a suburban warehouse, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) Vancouver is celebrating six months at its new public service point at the Vancouver Public Library’s central branch.

Since 1992, LAC clients in British Columbia had been travelling to the Western Canada Regional Service Centre in Burnaby to consult archival records in reading rooms set up within the vast facility.

More recently, LAC began a project to redefine our national presence, in an aim to broaden services outside Ottawa, collaborate more closely with local memory institutions, and have greater visibility and impact across the country. One result of these efforts has been the establishment of co-location arrangements for LAC offices in Halifax and Vancouver.

Following closely on the successful establishment of LAC‘s public service point in Halifax, the LAC Vancouver office implemented its co-location partnership with the Vancouver Public Library VPL. LAC launched its public service point in the central branch of VPL on November 8, 2017, with a Signatures Series interview featuring former Prime Minister Kim Campbell. At this public service site, LAC Vancouver provides in-person orientation and reference services, as well as kiosks for LAC research tools and subscription databases such as Ancestry.ca.

A colour photograph of a round building resembling the architecture of the Colosseum in Rome but clearly contemporary with its glass windows on the top two floors.

Exterior view of the Vancouver Public Library’s central branch in downtown Vancouver. Photo: Vancouver Public Library.

In the first six months of service, LAC staff have assisted clients with questions on a variety of subjects, including Scottish emigration agents, the first Chinese Ambassador to Canada, evolving land-title laws, Indigenous genealogy, and the history of local buildings and other sites.

A colour photograph of a woman sitting behind a service desk with a Library and Archives Canada banner behind her.

Public service desk and self-serve kiosks at Vancouver Public Library’s central branch. Photo: Caitlin Webster.

In addition, given the ongoing needs of the local community regarding Indigenous claims, treaties and other subjects, LAC Vancouver continues to provide access to original archival records of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada from British Columbia and Yukon. LAC Vancouver provides reference, Access to Information and Privacy review, consultation, reprography, and other services for this selection of archival records at another site, next door to VPL‘s central branch.

A colour photograph of a room with large tables for the purpose of consulting documents.

LAC Vancouver’s reference and document consultation room at 300 W. Georgia Street. Photo: Caitlin Webster.

Since the move to this new location, interest in on-site document consultation has risen dramatically. The amount of archival material consulted by clients has increased by 54 percent, and the number of pages copied or scanned for clients has more than doubled!

Collaborative projects are also in the works, including exhibitions, information sessions and learning opportunities. For instance, LAC recently held an Indigenous genealogy workshop in which it highlighted relevant resources. LAC’s goal is to host many sessions like this one, offering diverse services to local clients and making the most of this new partnership.

For details on LAC Vancouver’s hours of service, location, and other information, please visit the Service Points Outside of Ottawa page.


Caitlin Webster is an archivist at LAC Vancouver.

Sessional Papers of the Dominion of Canada, 1867 to 1925

by Sandra Bell

Are you looking for documents offering credible information to use in research on the period between the late 19th century and the interwar years of the 20th century? You may find that the Sessional Papers of the Dominion of Canada contain much useful information.

History and organization

Sessional papers are among the oldest form of government serial records, and are part of the family of parliamentary publications that includes journals, debates, votes and proceedings. They have been published since pre-Confederation times and were formerly collected in the appendices to the Journals of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada. A distinctive group of these papers, titled Sessional Papers of the Dominion of Canada, exists for the period of 1867 to 1925. After this period the papers were issued separately.

Sessional papers are any documents formally presented in the House of Commons, filed with the Clerk, and tabled in the House during a given session of Parliament. Each report is recorded as a sessional paper and, as such, is open to public review. They are assigned a unique number in chronological order, known as the sessional paper number.

Sessional papers include the following:

  • Annual departmental reports
  • Reports of committees and task forces
  • Royal commission reports
  • Census returns
  • White papers (issued by the government as statements of policy) and Green papers (official documents sponsored by Ministers of the Crown to invite public comment and discussion on an issue prior to policy formulation)

Sessional papers are classified as either “Printed” (i.e., available for distribution) or “not Printed. Printed papers are collected and published by session in bound volumes that include the full text of the reports. They are proof of the government’s business and support government decisions. They also constitute a collection of data on a variety of topics related to the military, political, social and economic issues in the country at a specific point in time.

Each bound volume includes the text of papers for a given session of Parliament, separated into issues. The spine of each volume has the date along with the volume and issue numbers.

Inside each volume is an alphabetical list of papers as well as a numerical list arranged by sessional paper number. Some volumes have a limited subject index at the back of the final volume for a specific session of Parliament.

Finding a sessional paper

How do you find a sessional paper? If you know the date of the parliamentary session, the chronological arrangement of the volumes allows you to locate the paper by year of publication. The alphabetical and numerical lists at the front of each volume will provide the sessional paper number; you can then locate the paper by its number in the text of the volumes.

If you don’t know the date but you do know the subject, title or some keywords, you can access the comprehensive five-volume set of indexes to this collection of sessional papers:  General index to the journals of the House of Commons of the Dominion of Canada and of the sessional papers of Parliament, OCLC 1006682532

The indexes provide the number and date of the sessional paper. However, many sessional papers are published separately, so even if you don’t know the date of a particular parliamentary session, you can conduct a search using Aurora, the online catalogue of Library and Archives Canada.

Many of these sessional papers are now available online through the following databases:

Title page of the Sessional Papers of the Dominion of Canada, 1870, Volume I, 1st Parliament, 3rd Session, from Early Canadiana Online.

Table of contents providing an alphabetical listing of the Sessional Papers of the Dominion of Canada, Vol. III, 1870, from Early Canadiana Online.

Other formats of the sessional papers include microfilm. The following publication can provide additional information on sessional papers and other parliamentary proceedings:

Library and Archives Canada holds a complete collection of sessional papers (in print) for the period of 1867 to 1925. These are located on the 2nd floor at our 395 Wellington Street location in Ottawa. Should you need assistance in using these documents, please feel free to contact the LAC Reference Services.


Sandra Bell is a Reference Librarian in the Reference Services Division of Library and Archives Canada.