A Window on Research at LAC

Robert McIntosh


This presentation will first outline the pressures on and objectives of public institutions like LAC with respect to support for research. Public institutions face a very different research environment than universities. In an academic context, research typically suggests a project that is sustained, in-depth and aimed at producing a publication (or a similar report on findings), generally peer-reviewed. It is about the creation of knowledge, whether or not there is an immediate practical application for this new knowledge. At a large public institution like Library and Archives Canada, research generally involves the gathering of evidence, or the development of an argument, in support of an immediate or pending decision. It is limited and focussed.

Four examples: Is the $50,000 a dealer is asking for this 18th century map warranted? How does LAC wish to document (which records, in which media) the functions and activities of, for example, the Department of National Defence. Given our interest in acquiring records from the Government of Canada’s recommended EDRMS, what are the specific metadata elements LAC needs from government institutions? In the context of the Government of Canada’s laws and policies, under what circumstances might the cloud be used as LAC’s long-term digital storage option? Certainly, sometimes LAC participates in larger academic research projects. At times, the aim is to support research that has anticipated practical benefit for LAC. In other cases, it participates simply to be a good colleague and to support broadly reflection on the archival, library, information management or conservation professions.

Second, having described the research context at LAC, the presentation would delve into our longstanding participation in InterPARES. The project goal is to examine issues around the notions of ‘trust’ and ‘trustworthiness’ of digital records. It aims to generate the theoretical and methodological frameworks that will support the development of integrated and consistent networks of policies, procedures, regulations, standards and legislation concerning digital records, and to ensure public trust grounded on evidence of good governance, a strong digital economy, and persistent digital memory. As a partner institution, what has LAC learned from InterPARES? How has this participation supported LAC in the delivery of its mandate? What is the learning based on InterPARES participation that LAC has applied in its operations? Issues around the trustworthy record, metadata, Open Government, Open Data, Big Data, and the Cloud, for example, are all of pertinence to LAC – and InterPARES has influenced LAC’s approach.

The presentation will conclude in offering views on how universities and public institutions like LAC might develop even closer links. Given our shared mandate for research, our shared interests, and our distinct strengths, both parties would gain considerable benefit from the elaboration of stronger collaboration.


Robert McIntosh has been Director General of the Government Records Branch of Library and Archives Canada (LAC) since April 2016. He previously held a range of positions at LAC in private sector acquisition, preservation, stewardship, and public services. He started his career at LAC in 1992 as the archivist responsible for military records.

He has published widely in the fields of archival science and history. His article “The Great War, Archives, and Modern Memory” received the W. Kaye Lamb Award in 1999. His book, Boys in the Pits: Child Labour in Coal Mines, was published by McGill-Queen’s University Press in 2000. From 2004 to 2007, he was General Editor of Archivaria: The Journal of the Canadian Association of Archivists, during which time he oversaw the roll-out of e-Archivaria.

Prior to his arrival at Library and Archives Canada, Dr. McIntosh studied at the Universities of Alberta, Strasbourg, Carleton and Ottawa.