May 28, 2013

Library & Archives Canada head resigns, amidst financial scandal


Caron doing his best “I’d rather be in Puerto Rico” smile.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that Daniel Caron, head of Library and Archives Canada, the governmental body in charge of Canada’s national heritage, has at last resigned, given the unholy furor that was unleashed back in March when LAC released a Code of Conduct that demanded loyalty to the government, severely restricted the types of activities LAC employees could engage in, and encouraged colleagues to snitch on each other. This came after years of other and perhaps graver problems in the institution: see this MobyLives article about the extent of them.

But it’s a little ironic to hear that Caron is, ostensibly, resigning over an issue that violates the spirit of that very Code of Conduct, namely the use of public funds for his own private Spanish lessons, to the tune of nearly $4,482.50 at a time when LAC’s budget has been cut by $10 million. Chris Cobb at the Ottawa Citizen reports that Caron had even signed up for another round of twice weekly lessons for next year, for an additional $10,000. Daniel Caron = not a thoughtful political individual.

He didn’t do it illegally: his spokesman confirmed that the payment for the classes “received all of the proper authorizations and approvals.” And Caron himself defended the expenses, arguing that he needed proficiency in Spanish to attend such international conferences as the Forum of National Archivists in Toledo, Spain, and the International Federation of Library Associations in Puerto Rico. However, since Caron has, over the past few years, been withdrawing LAC from professional associations, such as the Association of Research Libraries, and not showing up to both national and international conferences, including the UNESCO conference on digitization and preservation in Vancouver in 2012, it’s hard to believe that the ability to say “Hola, mi nombre es Daniel” was one he was actually going to use for the betterment of Canada’s library and archives communities.

To add insult to what is by now something far beyond injury, Caron’s annual business expenses turn out to have been double his own boss’s, Heritage Minister James Moore. According to another article in the Ottawa Citizen, this time by Teresa Smith, Caron clocked up $87,000 a year in hotel bills, travel, and expensive business meals, described with exemplary specificity in terms like “lunch with a consultant.” Which I think would indeed violate LAC Statement of Principle #2, “We are committed to prudent and responsible stewardship through adherence to the highest standards of sound financial management.”

His resignation was greeted with the politest expressions of glee, as well as ongoing questions about the future of LAC. Librarians and archivists were not particularly reassured this week when the interim head appointed to run the organization, Hervé Déry is, like Mr. Caron, neither a librarian nor an archivist by training. But, as blogger and archivist Myron Groover points out, LAC’s problems can’t be solely ascribed to, or solved by, its head:

None of these problems walk out the door with Caron, nor, I would suggest, are they of Caron’s sole manufacture. It may be left to us—as librarians, as archivists, as citizens—to make the case that Canada needs a robust and responsive LAC, and that the policies and management structure of the previous four years have not advanced that end but instead have done it profound harm.

Sal Robinson is a former Melville House editor. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.