restricted access Creating a National Information System in a Federal Environment: Some Thoughts on the Canadian Archival Information Network
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The Promise of CAIN In late 2001, the Canadian Council on Archives, a publicly funded agency that oversees archival development in Canada, launched the Canadian Archival Information Network (CAIN), an online network of Web sites and databases designed to bring together intellectually the spectrum of activity taking place in archival repositories across the country. The network aims to provide electronic access to information about archives through searchable fonds-level archival descriptions, along with news and facts about archival programs. The developers of CAIN ultimately see the network as a tool for “communication , consultation, coordination, and cooperation ” between archival stakeholders and the archival community. Its goal is to transform the archival landscape for both researchers and archivists, to “tear down the walls of archives’ readings rooms and open every archives across Canada to all Canadians.”1 The Origins of CAIN In Canada, the search for a coordinated electronic archival network has emerged out of the country’s distinctive archival history. This history began with the premise of public responsibility for culture, the idea that government must play a central role in creating an identity for a large and diverse country. This sense of public obligation has evolved into a belief in the importance of continuing public support for society within a framework of public-private partnerships. In archives, this focus on public responsibility was formalized in what became known as the concept of “total archives,” the view that national and provincial archival institutions were responsible not only for the reception of government records which have historical value but also for the collection of historical material of all kinds and from any source which can help in a signiacant way to reveal the truth about every aspect of Canadian life.2 Inherent in the total archives philosophy were the following concepts: 1. the government had a central role to play in the culture of the country; 2. the government also had a responsibility to help Canadians foster a sense of their identity, given the country’s small population and expansive terrain and its proximity to its southern neighbor, the United States; 3. the acquisition of private-sector records and the preservation of copies of historical material from other sources were valid archival activities for publicly funded institutions because such records bolstered Canadian identity; and 4. public institutions had a responsibility to preserve in one central, publicly accessible location archival materials in all media, from print to audiovisual materials to cartographic documents. 182 ⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮ Creating a National Information System in a Federal Environment Some Thoughts on the Canadian Archival Information Network Laura Millar ⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯ Total archives was all records from all sources in a centralized , publicly funded archival repository. Leaving the care of history strictly to private agencies, corporations, or local groups without any government intervention was not an acceptable option in Canada.3 From the late 1800s to the 1970s, a handful of publicly funded institutions acquired and preserved both public and private records as part of the total archives concept.4 In the 1980s and 1990s, the total archives concept was overtaken by a belief in an “archival system.” The term signaled a redeanition of total archives in the face of three realities: the decentralization of public functions, a growing sense of regional identity and regionalism, and diminished public funding for cultural programs. The essence of the archival system was that responsibility for society’s documentary heritage must now be shared among the federal, provincial, and territorial governments. Further, the private sector must become more involved in the care of the nation’s written record. In this vision of an archival system, a disparate group of public and private archival repositories would work together to acquire and preserve aspects of Canada’s documentary past. Through collaboration and cooperation, these institutions would preserve a balanced record of Canadian society. One of the arst priorities for this emerging archival system was the development of the Rules for Archival Description (RAD), Canada’s archival descriptive standard. In 1986, the Bureau of Canadian Archivists published a study of a Canadian working group established to assess the potential for and scope of archival descriptive standards . In 1987 the bureau published A Call to Action, which initiated the creation of RAD. The anished RAD began to appear in French and English in 1990.5 At the heart of RAD was the philosophy that “the organization of all descriptive work proceed from the more general to the more speciac level of description.”6 The arst, most general level of description...


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