Space, pests, wa­ter prompted re­moval of records from univer­sity

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - FRONT PAGE - THIA JAMES [email protected]­

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.


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