Academic journal article Journal of Information Ethics

The Canadian Disease: The Ethics of Library, Archives, and Museum Convergence

Academic journal article Journal of Information Ethics

The Canadian Disease: The Ethics of Library, Archives, and Museum Convergence

Article excerpt


The convergence of libraries, archives, and museums (or LAMs) into mono lithic institutions is not a particularly new idea. Although the Alliance of Libraries, Archives and Records Management (ALARM) published multiple studies on human resources in the information sector in the 1990s (1995), the literature on the subject really starts to build in the early 2000s with some of the most prominent examples of LAM convergence in Canada happening nearly ten years ago. Despite the fact that the convergence proposal has been a part of infor - mation management discourse for over a decade, we have not yet begun to feel the full effects of its introduction. As the pro-convergence movement grows, an antithetical movement has failed to emerge and the arguments for convergence have gone largely unanswered in a systematic manner. This absence of a unified critique is particularly worrisome because the implications of LAM convergence are so wide-reaching that even many of its proponents have not yet recognized its potential effects. These effects have the ability to vastly alter the fundamental principles of library, archives, and museum management and it is for this reason that a critical re-assessment of convergence is so urgently needed.

The convergence movement is building momentum with several related movements and cannot be fully assessed without taking these developments into consideration. As more institutions ponder a convergence like that seen at Library and Archives Canada (LAC), for instance, business culture seeps further into an information sector built on concepts of public service. As business culture makes more headway into cultural and heritage institutions, top-down management models become more ingrained. It is for these reasons that LAM convergence is a potential threat to the professional principles of libraries, archives, and museums, a threat that runs counter to the best interests of both information workers and patrons of information institutions.

This paper will provide a review of the arguments presented in support of convergence, demonstrate the fallacies in these arguments, show how the convergence model is both influenced by and influences the corporatization of the cultural sphere, and argue that convergence is a threat to the principles of libraries, archives, and museums that should be opposed with great deliberation.

Before continuing, a definition of these principles is in order. Beginning with libraries, the American Library Association's Library Bill of Rights (1996) succinctly defines the principles for "all libraries" as being devoted to equitable access to information regardless of background, provision of material regardless of the background of those contributing to its creation, challenging censorship, cooperation with "all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgement of free expression" and the provision of exhibit and meeting spaces on an equitable basis.

For the principles of archives, the Association of Canadian Archivists (1999) has a Code of Ethics that clearly defines the principles of the profession as well as the application of those principles through core functions. In essence, the document states that "[a]rchivists appraise, select, acquire, preserve, and make available for use archival records, ensuring their intellectual integrity and promoting responsible physical custodianship of these records, for the benefit of present users and future generations." The document continues: "[a]rchivists carry out their duties according to accepted archival principles and practices, to the best of their abilities, making every effort to promote and maintain the highest possible standards of conduct."

The American Association of Museums (2000) also has a well-defined Code of Ethics for museum practitioners, which defines the role of museums as "collecting, preserving and interpreting the things of this world." The Code states that "[i]t is incumbent on museums to be resources for humankind and in all their activities to foster an informed appreciation of the rich and diverse world we have inherited. …

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