Guy Berthiaume, National Librarian and Archivist of Canada – Interview by Pamela Lutzker


Guy Berthiaume
Dr. Guy Berthiaume

I sat down to speak with Dr. Guy Berthiaume on the first day of the 2017 ALA-ICA conference.  Dr. Berthiame is the National Librarian and Archivist of Canada. He earned his doctorate in history at the Université Paris VIII in 1976 and worked in academia until becoming involved with archives at the Bibliotheque et Archives Nationales du Quebec (BAnQ, the Library and National Archives of Quebec), where he served as Chair and CEO.  Dr. Berthiame moves easily between French and English, and is active in promoting francophone organizations like the Reseau francophone numerique (RFN).

Pam Lutzker

The national archives of Canada, Library and Archives Canada (LAC), is unusual in that it combines the national archives with the national library. I asked how this arrangement differed from most other national archives. Dr. Berthiame enthusiastically described how the two areas complement each other. The library is very public-focused, always looking for ways to get more people to come in and get involved.  Archives are more inward-focused. Their mind-set is more “If they build it, people will come.” Working with librarians has helped the archivists to become more open and to work to bring in the public.

I asked about special projects at the LAC. Dr. Berthiame noted that all of the Canadian WWI military records will have been digitized and put online in time for the 100th Anniversary of the end of World War I (11/2018). The LAC is also actively working to collect records and information about the history and culture of the indigenous people of Canada, also referred to as the First Nations. Dr. Berthiame said that archives are important because they are the beginning of the chain for change.

Funding for the LAC is an on-going effort. Dr. Berthiame noted that the people who make the financial decisions in the government understand the importance of records and archives but are pulled by competing prioritiesincluding issues like poverty and disaster relief. The case for funding the archives must be made with the understanding that there are other priorities. With that in mind, he has brought to the table groups seeking private money to help fund different programs.  

Dr. Berthiame said that two issues in archiving keep him up at night. The incredible amount of digital records and the fact that information is increasing exponentially, which requires making plans to accommodate those records. The Canadian government has instituted an information governance planbut did not include the national archives in the process. So the national archives now has to work within the existing system to develop a plan that will allow for records no longer of business value to be transferred to the archives.

The increase in number of digital records is only going to become more challenging as government officials begin to use more social media. Dr. Berthiame noted that the Canadian Prime Minister likes to tweet as much as the U.S. President.  The national archives will be held responsible by future generations of historians if those records are not captured and archived as well.

At the conclusion of the interview, I asked Dr. Berthiame what advice he would give to those beginning a career in archives.  He replied that it is important to keep your mind open.  Don’t think that the profession as it is now will remain that way forever.

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