ARCHIVES MOVE PROTESTED
Space, pests, water prompted removal of records from university
University of Saskatchewan professor Charles Smith and dozens of other academics are calling on Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan to reverse its decision to close its Saskatoon office on Dec. 21.
Smith posted an open letter online making the request on Nov. 29, after having learned about the closure from the university in a message sent out by the president on Wednesday and hearing it officially from the archives staff on Thursday.
The effect on Smith’s work will be direct: for the last six months, he’s been working on an extensive research project and has borrowed dozens of boxes of documents from the archives. In three weeks, the boxes will be taken from him. He will have to travel to Regina to access them, which may not be an easy task because classes are in session and he has two young sons.
“That was my initial, ‘Oh my God,’ ” he said.
Then there’s the fact that people have set out research plans for the last several years on the assumption the materials would be readily available to them, Smith noted.
“This has been there for almost 80 years, so to have it taken away and be given three weeks notice, it’s very cumbersome and very difficult to navigate,” he said, asking why the information wasn’t made available months ago.
In an emailed statement, provincial archivist Linda McIntyre said the PAS has been trying to find an “appropriate solution” for the archives as a whole for several years, but its space in Saskatoon has been “at capacity” since the mid-1980s and there’s no room to grow.
“The University of Saskatchewan has been generously providing us with space at well below market value for a long time, and that is understandably coming to an end. Between these drastically increasing lease costs, our lack of capacity to grow, issues with water, pests and rodents, and a lack of environmental and security controls — including fire protection, we need to move the Provincial Archives out of the University of Saskatchewan,” she wrote.
She added it’s best practice in the archive field to operate out of a single location, and other than Quebec, the PAS is the only jurisdiction that offers services at more than one location.
McIntyre wrote that the PAS and the ministry responsible, Central Services, recently became aware of Smith’s letter and encourages “concerned parties to reach out to us to discuss this change.”
In the letter, Smith wrote that even if the Regina office hires more people or expands its collection, researchers, staff, student and faculty coming to Saskatoon will run into a “never-ending series of issues trying to access essential information.”
After the closure of the Saskatchewan Transportation Company, the defunct provincial bus service, it will also be difficult for them to go to Regina to access records.
Smith said he understands the archives have been under increased pressures and hours of service have been reduced over the years, but there’s also the loss of one-on-one assistance from archivists that will also disappear from Saskatoon.
“One of the things archives has been doing across the country, and that’s great, except that takes away the connection to the archivist. Archivists really are there to help you navigate an incredibly dense ... maze of organization to find the records you are looking for. We’re talking about thousands of pieces of paper over hundreds of years. The archivist is such an important resource, so it’s going to be a lot harder to do that work from a distance,” he said.
Each request takes time to fulfil to begin with, considering each document retrieved by the archivist has to be reviewed to ensure releasing it would not violate privacy legislation.
This is all happening on top of staff cutbacks, Smith said.
Since he found out about the impending closure, he learned about the archives’ history and its longtime affiliation with the university.
“I think that’s a real loss for the university; I think that’s a real loss for people who live in Saskatoon and sort of the area Saskatoon services, including northern Saskatchewan, which will make those records much less accessible.”
University of Saskatchewan professor Charles Smith and other researchers will have to travel to Regina to continue their work following a decision to put all of the province’s archival materials there.