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Friday, November 28, 2014

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Archivists denounce federal budget

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Shannon Hodge

The scrapping of a federal program that supports small community archives and museums will have a serious impact on the preservation and dissemination of Canadian Jewish historical records, community archivists say.

The Association of Canadian Jewish Archives and Museums (ACJAM) wrote to Heritage Minister James Moore June 4 to protest the elimination of the National Archival Development Program (NADP), effective April 30.

The NADP provided grants of about $1.7 million annually, as well as consultation services, to historical archives and museums across the country, usually those run by ethnic, religious or First Nations groups.

“The NADP is essential to the preservation and accessibility of Canada’s community heritage and is especially vital to the health of our country’s smaller and cultural archives,” the ACJAM members wrote to Moore.

The cut is part of the $9.6 million in reductions to Library and Archives Canada contained in the last federal budget. In early May, Moore defended the cut, saying, “All the services that we operate right now to Canadians will continue, but they’ll be done differently.”

Moore’s press secretary, Sébastien Gariépy, told The CJN the decision to drop the NADP was made by Library and Archives Canada, an independent Crown corporation, and not by the government.

Without addressing the NADP issue directly, Gariépy wrote in an e-mail, “Library and archives has the money necessary to fulfil its mandate.”

NADP assistance has allowed Jewish archives and museums to organize their collections, making them available and comprehensible to not only the Jewish community, but, in many cases, the public at large. In recent years, much material has been digitized and described, making it accessible to the world.

These grants have helped support oral history interviews, the preparation of archival material for provincial and national catalogues and databases, the creation of exhibits and educational materials, translations into English or French, as well as put in place the optimal conditions for keeping fragile papers and photographs, the ACJAM told Moore.

“In short, the NADP has opened the doors of our institutions, physically and virtually, to our communities and the general public beyond,” thereby promoting understanding between the Jewish and other communities, the ACJAM says in the letter.

The ACJAM members are, in Montreal, the Canadian Jewish Congress Charities Committee National Archives, the Jewish Public Library (JPL) archives, the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre, and the Jewish General Hospital (the medical library and health sciences libraries); the Ottawa Jewish Archives; in Toronto, the Ontario Jewish Archives (OJA) and the Beth Tzedec Reuben and Helene Dennis Museum; the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada in Winnipeg; the Jewish Historical Society of Southern Alberta in Calgary; the Jewish Archives and Historical Society of Edmonton and Northern Alberta, and the Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia/Nemetz Jewish Community Archives in Vancouver.

Shannon Hodge, the Montreal JPL’s director of archives since 2005, said the JPL received two NADP grants in recent years, which, although relatively small, went a long way in getting its archives and those of one major community institution into good order. Each, she noted, had to be matched through other sources.

The first, in 2007, for $12,000 enabled the JPL’s extensive institutional and personal archives to be professionally organized, including the creation of a list and database of holdings.

The process unearthed many treasures, including correspondence in the 1930s between Albert Einstein and Max Seigler, a Montreal alderman. In a Feb. 22, 1939 letter, Einstein, writing in German, lamented that sparsely populated Canada wasn’t accepting more European Jewish refugees.

That’s a document of international importance, Hodge said.

The second NAPD grant, in 2010 for $10,000, allowed the JPL to put the YM-YWHA archives—“which had been sitting in the basement, untouched for decades” – into shape in time for the Y’s centenary.

“The Montreal Jewish community is extremely lucky in having many people who are dedicated to preserving its heritage, but those in smaller towns are often not so fortunate,” Hodge said.

Nevertheless, she believes it will be difficult to replace NADP funding even in Montreal. Grants from the Quebec government are very limited, she said.

Hodge said NAPD money wasn’t easy to get. Applicants had to show exactly how they’d use the money and what the benefit would be.

Jewish community archivists in Quebec have found that the greater exposure has gone a long way to promoting more awareness of the richness and diversity of the Jewish experience in the province, Hodge added.

She’s concerned the cutback will affect the JPL’s project to digitize records of Canadian Jews’ participation in the two world wars. “We want to create a virtual catalogue and exhibition contextualizing this experience. It might have been completed in two years. Now it may take five or six years.”

The commemoration of the JPL’s 100th anniversary in 2014 may also be affected.

Dara Solomon became director of the OJA the day after the cut, a disheartening start. “I quickly learned that the OJA has depended on past support of NADP grants to address a number of significant or at-risk collections over the years,” she said.

These include processing records of the CJC’s committee for Soviet Jewry from 1967 to 1992 and of the Philip Givens papers, records of the late Toronto mayor and Jewish community leader, which are now fully accessible.

For 2012, the OJA had applied for an NADP grant to complete the archival cataloguing of two major collections: the United Jewish Welfare Fund collection, records of Toronto’s central fundraising body and services provider for a century, as well as the Sara and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre collection, a key resource for Holocaust education and commemoration in Ontario, she said.

“These records are heavily requested by both staff and external researchers. However, they remain largely inaccessible, due to their disorganized and unprocessed state.”

An NADP grant would have enabled the OJA to put them online through Ontario’s Archival Information Network – also NADP-funded – which is used by smaller institutions, like the OJA, that have little funding available for a dedicated online catalogue, Solomon said.

“We hope that the advocacy from the archival community and the support of our local and provincial politicians will improve the situation but, unfortunately, it does not look promising,” Solomon said.

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