For the public at large and researchers the old building on 395 Wellington Street shared with the National Archives remained a valuable service point. The second floor Reading Room allowed for consultation of 'closed-stack' resources from the general collection by retrievals submitted through an on-site AMICUS. The Music and Rare Book Divisions provided in-depth reference, referral, and consultative services to Canadian and foreign researchers, libraries and organizations. The Reference and Information Services Division provided reference in Canadiana and Canadian studies to researchers and libraries within Canada and abroad. Inter-library Loan filled requests for materials by lending a copy, providing a photocopy, or giving referrals to other libraries that might loan items.
The fourth National Librarian, Dr. Roch Carrier, sought various improvements. He encouraged expanding the reach of the NLC to Canadians through travelling exhibitions and the newly formed Digital Library of Canada, an effort to document Canadian heritage and culture and to provide access on the NLC website. Carrier also advocated for literacy and reading through improved school libraries. His effort to stem the leaks at 395 Wellington was more successful when the roof was repaired in 2002. Two years earlier, more than 2,500 publications had been damaged after a broken pipe allowed water to enter three floors. The NLC's administration was changing and its staffing attempting to accommodate changes, such as the Internet and the advent of digital publishing. Nevertheless, ominous clouds were gathering. It wasn't just the frequent newspaper stories of water damage that were endangering Canada's national collections at '395' or the atrophied budget NLC was struggling with that were cause for alarm. The NLC's parent body, the Department of Canadian Heritage, a neoliberal creature in search of prominence, continued to take a 'fresh look' at Canada's cultural institutions and heritage.
While some officials, such as Auditor-General Sheila Fraser, stated many federal heritage buildings (including the NLC) were in a poor condition and recommended the government 'do something' before cultural heritage resources might be lost to future generations, Canadian Heritage was developing new concepts. Sheila Copps, the Minister and MP for Hamilton East, preferred to ignore the problems inherent in merging the NLC with the National Archives, something the 1999 report by John English had emphasized along with his recommendations on updating mandates of the library and archives. In fact, on October 21st, 2002, minister provided a simplistic, inaccurate rationale for MPs when she rose to explain the proposed merger in the context of reduced funding for the Canadian Archival Information Network.
"Mr. Speaker, we are of course talking about two different issues when we refer to the National Archives and the National Library. Three years ago, it was decided that it would be a good thing to merge these two institutions to present to the general public everything is part of the wealth of historical information belonging to the National Archives and the National Library. This is what we will do."
During the Parliamentary debates on the merger (Bills C-36 and its successor C-8) a few MPs actually got beyond the political obfuscation and bombastic visionary goals of a long-term plan to combine administration, storage, and preservation work in an area around the former National Archives' preservation centre in Gatineau and to establish a Portrait Gallery of Canada. Critics addressed the most obvious and long-standing problems, lack of funding and intertwined mandates. Also, NLC was a weak player in national information policy development and infrastructure. The general perception that a new administrative entity, Library and Archives Canada, would get enhanced visibility, relevance and accessibility carried the day. A single agency would allow for improved and innovative changes on a collaborative basis for the humanities and social sciences. Alternative schemes, such as combining CISTI (the country's 'other' national library) and the NLC were not considered. "Toward a New Kind of Knowledge Institution" outlined typical promotional views for Canadian heritage operations in Ottawa. All would be well in time: there would be
- synergy of collections, skills and constituencies;
- easier access to integrated holdings, both for researchers and for millions of ordinary Canadians;
- enhanced service delivery to Canadians; and
- better use of scarce resources.
Further information on post-2004 developments
Library and Archives Canada at Wikipedia
Timeline: Library and Archives Canada Service Decline after 2004 at Ex Libris Association website
Slide History of CISTI, 1924-2009 available on Internet Archive