The Future of the BC Archives: A Chance to Speak
Summary of Responses from Users of the BC Archives
With the BC Archives slated to move into a new collections and research building in 2025, the Friends of the BC Archives and the BC Historical Federation have solicited feedback from archive users about the project. Since the project announcement in October 2020, many people have contacted our organizations with concerns about a lack of government and museum engagement with users, particularly as the collections and research building project will be a major undertaking with long-lasting impacts for historians and researchers in the province.
In May 2022, the two organizations hosted a virtual listening session and launched an online survey. One hundred people provided feedback based on a number of questions regarding access and services for users of the new facility (e.g.: staffing resources, spaces, equipment, services or amenities, accessibility, transportation, and service points). Respondents also detailed their concerns for the project as it moves ahead.
The largest number of respondents were from the Victoria and Vancouver areas, while many others weighed in from places such as Kitimat, Williams Lake, Kamloops, and Campbell River. Two thirds of respondents were working on personal projects leading to publication and nearly 20 per cent represented Indigenous communities.
● Transportation: While there was concern about the lack of consultation about the location of the new collections and research building, respondents acknowledged that the decision is final. However, the location in Colwood (Greater Victoria) is a primary concern. One respondent noted that “it seems deliberately designed to deter researchers.” The length of time it currently takes to get to Colwood on public transit, the lack of accommodation and places to eat in the area, along with safety concerns, particularly at night, were all raised.
● Accessibility: Respondents had questions about access to the location for those with disabilities and many urged that there be a shuttle bus from downtown Victoria.
● Downtown Reference Room: It was noted that the new building is isolated from the other related research facilities located around Victoria (e.g. Legislative Library, University of Victoria). Eighty-five per cent of those who responded to the online survey favoured maintaining a reference room
downtown. This comment was also reflected in the online listening session. The Colwood location will be even more of a challenge for archives users coming from out of town. Some respondents wondered if the location would be a factor in recruiting and retaining staff and volunteers.
Services & Staffing
● Reference Room Equipment: Due to the location of the building some respondents predict that they will need to come to the Archives for longer periods of time. This may result in increased wait times to use scanners, readers, and photography stations.
● Regional Access & Staffing: Investment in the Colwood location raised a set of concerns about access to the BC Archives in other parts of the province. Respondents questioned what services would be offered to those outside of Greater Victoria. Online access is crucial for users who are unable to make regular visits to Vancouver Island and these respondents asked that online search tools be enhanced (e.g.: better descriptions, larger file sizes). In addition, it was noted that increased staff trained to assist remote researchers should be part of the staffing plan. Some raised the possibility of “service points” in other communities after the model implemented by Library and Archives Canada.
● Technology: It was pointed out that there is a need to keep up with new technology and also maintain the old. Digitization needs to be a priority, especially for those in other communities throughout BC. Investment in new equipment will be required and it is also important to maintain some of the old (e.g.: microfilm readers that are still best for viewing some records).
● Layout & Services: Respondents asked that there be engagement with users on the design of the building. It is perhaps obvious that the building must be large enough to house a growing collection. Some respondents pointed out the need for more attention to be given to the records of both First Nations and immigrant groups, while others also hoped that the records of colonization will continue to be made accessible. Examples of other questions raised by respondents include:
○ What will the entrance be like? Will it be welcoming with direct access to the reference room, rather than being confronted with a security desk?
○ Will there be different kinds of research spaces in addition to a main reading room? Private spaces for working with documents that raise emotional or privacy issues and spaces for group research will be needed.
○ Will the space be designed to be flexible (e.g.: to host events or groups)? Will there be an area for archival exhibits?
○ Will there be a lunchroom or cafeteria and lounge space for researchers to take breaks? Lockers, particularly for those from out of town, will be needed.
● Financial Support for the BC Archives: Overarching all concerns raised by respondents were questions about resources for the BC Archives. The government does not have a great record of supporting the archives with adequate resources and the BC Archives is not well placed to raise its own funds. Making the collections and research building and BC Archives accessible to British Columbians will require renewed investment in operations. Many respondents wondered about the government’s commitment to providing resources for the new archives beyond a new building and existing services.
● Process: There is real concern about the need for meaningful engagement with stakeholders like the Friends of the BC Archives and the BC Historical Federation as the process moves forward. Respondents noted that, so far, users have not seen clear plans nor clear lines of communication established by the museum and government. Others noted that, in the context of reconciliation, repatriation discussions with First Nations communities must continue as and after the building is built. First Nations also need to be consulted about the design of the building. A majority of respondents expressed their efforts to remain positive about the collections and research building, yet their feedback overall was one of worry and concern.
The questions raised can only be answered through conversations with those who are actually making the decisions – it is clear that users of the archives expect real engagement. The Friends of the BC Archives and the BC Historical Federation share these concerns and we look forward to participating in engagement sessions led by the Royal BC Museum and province.