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Interview with Paulette Dozois

14 Apr 2021 10:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

As any young professional will know, having the support and guidance of senior staff can be the biggest blessing and privilege. Their words of wisdom and wealth of experience are invaluable and can make the difference in a young professional’s career.  For me, one of those people is Paulette Dozois (PD), now retired Senior Lead Archivist at Library and Archives Canada (LAC). Paulette spoke to me in early February about her career, a phone call that lasted only an hour but that could have continued for days.

Without mentioning any dates (!!) Paulette told me about the beginning of her career working at LAC as an Assistant Archivist in Private Records (or the Manuscript Division) and then as an Archivist (HR-02), where she worked on the MacKenzie King diaries, the Robert Borden fonds, the “four unknowns” — John Abbott, John Thompson, Mackenzie Bowell and Charles Tupper —  then the Richard B. Bennett fonds. Following her time here she transferred to Public Records (also known as Government Records) where she had many different responsibilities but settled with the Department of External Affairs fonds (Foreign Affairs) for twenty years. Her final ten years at LAC were spent working on the Block Review project with the Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) group.

In addition to her time in the Archives Division at LAC, Paulette also spent a year in Policy, a year at the Directorate of History and Heritage at the Department of National Defense, and spent some time working on a contract with the Yukon Archives in Private Records.

Paulette was awarded the Archives Association of Ontario’s JJ Talman award in 2020 —  a testament to her dedication and leadership in the archival profession. Heralded as a champion of researcher’s rights, Paulette received the award for “her innovative approach to access” through the “identification and examination of representative parts of the archival record and opening the records based on the findings.” The full text of the award citation is available online and includes a very funny anecdote about white gloves!

Caption: Image of Paulette Dozois, courtesy of Rodney Carter.

Alt-text: A photograph of Paulette Dozois wearing a red scarf.

RM: What did you study?  Did you choose your degree based on a desire to work in archives?

PD: "There was none of that back in the dark ages!"

Paulette holds a Master of Arts in Canadian History from Carleton University. While completing her work for this degree she did research at the then Public Archives of Canada and was inspired by the work she saw being done there. She said that she’s an "unedumacated archivist"!

This led to an interesting discussion about the formal education of archivists in Canada. Paulette told me about the aptly-named “Archives course” that new archivists took within about the first five years of being hired. It was a 6-week course delivered by the Public Archives of Canada to archivists across the country with upwards of 50 students at a time.

Through the course she learned the “basics of archives.” During that era, PAC had three types of archivists: special media, private and government. There were no reference or access archivists then as each group of archivists did their own reference work. But with the advent of Access to Information and Privacy legislation, government records were being transferred to LAC “in tsunamis [and] Reference Services came into being as a point of necessity because of the volume of requests.”

Paulette told me that “when she started, the [Prime Minister] records up to St. Laurent were all right there on the 3rd floor of [395 Welllington]! You could just walk down the hall and get a box and bring it down to your desk. The government archivists were up on the 7th floor with the tiny windows! Users were sent right upstairs to see archivists; the building was much more open in that way.”

Caption: Photograph of Library and Archives Canada Ottawa research facility at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa, Ontario.  Photograph by Sophie Tellier (LAC).

Alt text: Image of large building flanked by banners that read “Library and Archives Canada - Bibliothèque et Archives Canada.”

RM: What were your impressions of the field, or of the work, when you "joined"? 

PD: The field was "predominantly, overwhelmingly male and now it's mostly female I think. When I was in the manuscript division first, there were a few women who'd been there a while, the government archives division, when I put my name on the transfer list, the equal opportunities for women had cited the division because there were no female [archivists], just one female [senior archivist] Barbara Wilson.” Paulette did emphasize that she “never had any trouble, [her colleagues were] very respectful.”

RM: Looking back, what are some of the major shifts you've lived through with regard to archival work?

PD: "[In] the beginning the archivist did almost all function: reference, custodial, appraisal, acquisition. […] The archivist was really in charge of those records. You did it all. Over time, the amount of authority that a particular archivist has over a fonds has diminished. [...] It had to happen. [...] So much changed when ATIP came in. Our responsibilities increased intensely."

Her advice is that "archivists should be part of the decisions," because silos won’t serve the record well. “There is just one record.”

I asked Paulette about her involvement with the ACA.

PD: “[I] started in the early 1980s on the membership committee, and then the membership chair for a long time. Then I was on the Public Relations committee and I was chair when we did the booklets like Business Archives." Paulette recalls organizing a pop-up frame to set up behind the table at events, getting the ACA out and present in the community. She started publishing and giving papers, and was on the editorial team for Archivaria for a while. At this point in the interview Paulette paused as if this was the extent of it, only to continue by mentioning that she was on 4 or 5 program committees for conferences, chaired the Newfoundland conference program committee in 1993 (Between The Rock and a Hard Place: Archival Theory and Practice). And it didn’t stop there: "I was the one who got approval for the special interest section on access and privacy issues in the 1990s." Paulette also spoke to the importance of the annual conference as an opportunity to establish and maintain the "links across the country that make the ACA a strong organization."


Caption: Cover page of the Business Archives booklet published by the ACA in 2000.  Copyright Association of Canadian Archivists.

Alt-text: A blue and white rectangular image that serves as the cover page for a booklet entitled “Business Archives” with various images representing industry such as an oil rig, textual documents, machines, a satellite and a factory-like setting.

RM: What advice might you give to a young or aspiring archivist?

PD: "Dress properly (laughter). You know there was a time it was unheard of for an archivist to show up with jeans on. Just not done. [...] Have fun! If there's one word to describe how I feel about my career it's LUCKY. There were some tough times but we got through them."

I think I speak for many when I say that I feel incredibly lucky to have worked with Paulette, to have had her ear, her kind smile, and to have been able to sit in the corner of her very full office furiously scribbling notes as she told me stories and shared her wisdom on finding aids to restricted files and a few detours in between. Congratulations to Paulette on her well-deserved retirement!


Rebecca Murray

Rebecca Murray (RM) is a Senior Archivist in the Reference Services Division at Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa, Ontario.  She is also a member of the ACA’s Outreach Committee and Mentorship Program.  She sometimes wears jeans to the office but will now never do so without thinking first of Paulette’s advice!









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