Ottawa

Digitizing Canada's heritage top priority for new chief librarian

Canada's new top librarian and archivist says her profession's biggest challenge remains meeting the digital demands of the next generation of library patrons, and that could mean collecting tweets and emails alongside those historical books, maps and photographs.

Leslie Weir became new Library and Archivist of Canada on Friday

Leslie Weir, new Librarian and Archivist of Canada, wants to preserve tweets and emails that have heritage significance. (Haneen Al-Hassoun/CBC)

Canada's new chief librarian and archivist says her profession's biggest challenge remains meeting the digital demands of the next generation of library patrons, and that could mean collecting tweets and emails alongside those historical books, maps and photographs.

Leslie Weir, who took over as Library and Archivist of Canada on Friday, told CBC's Ottawa Morning that in 2000, many were predicting the demise of libraries amid the increasing digitization of books and information. The technology never slowed, yet now, nearly two decades later, libraries are still around.

"In fact, libraries were developers of the digital, they were early adopters of technology and they were the ones to start digitizing our books and our magazines and our family photos," Weir said.

Weir is aiming to make more of the Library and Archives Canada collection available to the public in digital form, but cautioned it takes time: so far, only about 2.5 per cent of the collection has been digitized. 

Tweets and emails

Another challenge is determining just what fits into the collection — do tweets and emails now qualify, for example?

"The big question is how much and what to preserve, and finding ways to identify what has historical significance and what doesn't," Weir said. 

"For instance if we're having some kind of exchange about having lunch, I don't know that we really need to preserve that for hundreds or thousands of years. But, if there's a conversation going on about something that's core to Canadian society, then we do want to preserve that." 

Ottawa's new central library is set to open near LeBreton Flats in 2024. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

New library

As the country's top librarian, Weir will oversee the eventual merging of Library and Archives Canada and the Ottawa Public Library's new main branch, a project that began under her predecessor, Guy Berthiaume.

Weir said she's thrilled about seeing his vision through to fruition.

"I think we have seen from Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec in Montreal that bringing a public library and a national library together creates synergies, and it brings different client groups to each of the institutions." 

One of the things Weir is most excited about is the new exhibit space at the combined facility. 

"I am looking forward to having ability for people to interact with those exhibits and be part of those exhibits, because that's the way people like to interact these days. I think that will be quite exciting," she said.

Weir was formerly chief librarian at the University of Ottawa and president of the Ontario Library Association.

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