Archives as a Service for the Community and a Tool for Local Economic Development

OLA 2013 Thursday Jan. 31, 2013 – Session 403 – Archives in Your Library

The two presenters at the Archives in Your Library session, Pierre Mercier and Erika Heesen, described their efforts to get an archives established in Leeds and the Thousand Islands. In 2010, the township municipal heritage committee, the local historical society, and the public library board founded the Leeds and Thousand Islands Archives. The library eventually took on the role of administration of the Archives, which was finalized with a memorandum of understanding in 2012. Erika Heesen had been hired to assist in the initial planning for the archives, and she was on hand for its opening to the public in April 2011.

The Ontario Trillium Foundation provided a grant to support the development of the Archives. Erika Heesen also took steps to educate the community through a lecture series about the value of archives and how to manage archives.

Leeds and Thousand Islands Archives (on Facebook)

Getting the Archives from an idea to reality took a lot of research, and the input from members of the local historical society was instrumental in maximizing the grant opportunities. Collaboration paid off when it came to getting funding for the archives.

To start her work, Erika Heesen consulted the Association of Canadian Archivists and the Archives Association of Ontario.

For those looking for a primer on Archives, Erika Heesen recommended the book, A Manual for Small Archives, from the Archives Association of British Columbia. Click on the image for the electronic version:

A point that Erika Heesen that emphasized repeatedly was the importance of establishing (and updating occasionally) a mandate for the archives. The following core set of documents is critical for defining how the Archives will establish relationships with other organizations, including other archives:

  • Mandate
  • Statement of Purpose
  • Collections Policy
  • Access Policy
  • Procedures Manual
  • Disaster Plan

One theme throughout the two sessions I attended on archives was that part of the basis for successful collaboration between the archives and other institutions was adherence to and communication of the mandate of the archives. Having different institutions embark on overlapping collections can mean that mandates come into conflict. Researchers and users can become inconvenienced. The ability to create a comprehensive collection on a particular subject (usually centred on provenance in an archives) is jeopardized with overlapping or unclear mandates among institutions. Unfortunately, in many archives, the key policies and procedures are not written done or regularly revised. These documents are useful for promoting the archives, externally as well as internally for staff within the archives and its host or sponsor organizations.


Among the most fascinating parts of this session were the tips on fundraising. Pierre Mercier, of the local historical society that helped create the Leeds and Thousand Islands Archives, provided a great deal of insight on getting grants.

Lessons learned for grant funding included:

  • Make a realistic assessment of needs
  • Meet with granting agencies prior to submission
  • Provide evidence of partnerships
  • Have a viable program with an end product or “destination” on the ground
  • Accept contributions of goods and services “in kind”
  • Do not forget about “leverage”

These bullet points from presentation just scratch the surface on the advice Pierre Mercier gave. For example, one tip for submitting grant proposals for a group of institutions that has formed a partnership for a project is to pick the partner agency that is most likely to receive the grant. Establishing partnerships and collaborating means opportunities for leveraging increase.

Pierre Mercier also talked about the decrease of funding for archives from the federal government, but he indicated that there are still opportunities if projects can be billed as promoting the “cultural economy,” in the Richard Florida sense ( – Richard Florida is the director of this institute). Promoting an archives means promoting tourism, as well as skills development. Getting digitization projects off the ground can mean hiring locals who can gain experience with new technology and so also help the local economy by building a skilled workforce.

Archives in a Library

One aspect of Erika Heesen’s presentation that stood out for me was the fact that Leeds and Thousand Islands Archives was administered by the public library, similar to the situation at the Guelph Public Library. Erika Heesen listed a number of ways in which archives can provide value to a library:

  • The Archive can be another service within the library that counters the misconception of libraries as just book warehouses. Archives provide unique services that can augment the heritage-related programming and local history collections of published material in a library. The Archives can be a source of unique promotional material such as rack cards, walking tours, and interpretive signs.
  • The Archive can open up new channels of direct service in municipalities, essentially broadening the library’s outreach and expanding its clientele base. The Archives offers new avenues for outreach to local groups and individuals.
  • The Archive can provide opportunities for a broader skill set, such as with digitization and social media, and so can then be used to showcase the library as being a place of innovation and skills development that assists in developing the economic diversification in the community.


There was a healthy discussion after the presentations. Here are some of the highlights:

Archival collection development is different than library collection development, in that archives ask individuals, families and organizations in a community to trust the archives to be the repository of their memories through their original records. Issues of ownership and copyright, as well as preservation practices, play a much more significant role in an archival collection than in a library collection of published material.

Collaboration amongst archives is very important. Archives offer repository services to the community, but some organizations can support their own archives. Pierre Mercier mentioned the Canadian Lesbian+Gay Archives in Toronto. Archives are about keeping a community’s history and stories alive. It is important to see archives in that light – without a community with those values for preserving history then there would be no reason for an archive. In addition, once an archive is established for a niche in the community then it’s important that other archives support the mandate of that archive by not creating competing collections. Since archives collect original material, it is important to see archives as part of a network and as a referral service. [This topic of collaboration was expanded on significantly in the afternoon session on collaboration between libraries, archives, and museums.]

The session also provided an opportunity to learn more about the technology used in archives and digitization projects. The ubiquitous “Our Ontario” service was brought up, and the Leeds Public Library has a collection of scanned images on this service– The list of institutions with digital collections in Our Ontario (now called Vita) can be found here: Because Our Ontario is no longer funded through the provincial government’s Knowledge Ontario program, the digitization service is now a commercial service. Services are expanding, such as improvements to the newspaper digitization service (just release brochure here: For a recently digitized newspaper collection by Vita, check out the Whitby Digital Newspaper Collection.

While the Our Ontario/Vita service combines a database for the materials as well as the public web interface (including Google Maps and social networking links), there is still a need to have separate integrated management software for an archives. I learned about archive management software that has received good word-of-mouth—ICA-AtoM (short for ‘International Council on Archives – Access to Memory’). This is open source software which the Guelph Public Library already has experience with, since its archival descriptive records are copied to Archeion – the Archives Association of Ontario repository of descriptive records.

Compare Guelph Public Library Archive records in Archeion–;isdiah versus Guelph Public Library hosted locally — Missing in our current database are hierarchical browse displays and authority control (for names, places and subjects).

As I learned in these sessions on archives, and from other others I spoke to at the OLA conference, archives have confusing and contradictory choices when it comes to software. Powerful software may already exist in an institution (such as a library’s integrated library system), but features that support unique archival functions may be lacking. A few years ago there were not many choices for archives, apart from expensive ones such as OCLC’s ContentDM, and many proceeded on their own and developed in-house solutions. The recent trend is to adopt open standards, which has an immediate benefit when it comes to sharing records. A major new consideration is the “mash-up” approach of connecting archival data and digitized objects with social networking services and Google Maps. The more standardized the data, the better these services can function.

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