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Searching for a savior: who will serve as steward of Canadian government information?

[Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Amanda Wakaruk, Government Information Librarian at the University of Alberta Libraries.]

Over the past week, the British Columbia Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA) wrote about and then provided the public with access to documentation outlining a Web Renewal Action Plan that calls for the reduction of Government of Canada (GoC) websites from roughly 1500 down to 1 (see FIPA’s blog entries, linked below). This plan appears to exacerbate the problems I noted in an FGI blog post last year: Government of Canada Publications -– It’s About Access, Not Format. For example, there is no publicly available evidence that the GoC has implemented or plans to implement a comprehensive web archiving plan before reducing its web footprint.

As a practitioner, I run into the problem of missing (i.e., unarchived) born digital content on a regular basis. (And no, Library and Archives Canada is not collecting websites for public consumption – these programs stopped in 2009.) The question I lost sleep over last year is more pressing than ever: who is archiving the web content of the GoC?

A group of institutions is working hard to setup a LOCKSS network that will help preserve the content of the Depository Services Program’s (DSP) e-archive (see the nascent CGI-PLN Wiki – email me if you would like to become a member or can help with funding to try and make this content accessible in the event that we lose access to the DSP website). Our first collection — as important and impressive as it is at over 110,000 pdfs — only represents a fraction of the content produced by the GoC. (As you might recall, the DSP does not collect html, only pdfs… and the latter format is discouraged by current GoC web protocols).

I am proud of the fact that the University of Alberta Libraries, my home institution, was able to capture select GoC websites using a fee-based (and US-based) Archive-IT account but no single academic institution can afford to act as steward for the output of the federal government. Happily, we have a colleague in the University of Toronto Libraries, who started capturing GoC web content using Archive-IT a few weeks ago as part of a joint “rescue mission” to save the contents of the Aboriginal Portal of Canada before it was deleted from government servers (the results of these crawls are accessible here and here).

The bigger question, of course, is this: If not the government, then who is responsible for collecting and preserving the born digital content of the GoC? If it *is* the academic sector’s responsibility then where will the funding come from? Recent provincial budget cuts in Ontario and Alberta have been hard on this sector, to say the least. If there is a White Knight out there, now would be a great time to step forward!

The elimination of print publications coupled with a lack of web archiving and a directive to make only ‘current’ information available online marks an incalculable loss. Countless students describe the sessional papers as “life changing” and scholars from all walks of life routinely draw on statistical information produced by their governments to help make sense of our place in the world and inform ways to improve it (as an aside, Statistics Canada plans to remove publications more than a few years old from their website). It is unthinkable that future generations will not have access to information produced by their government today… information that should be informing our cultural narrative.

Reaction to Web Renewal Action Plan

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