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It’s Time to Close the Archives

16 Mar 2020 11:50 AM | Anonymous

With growing global spread of COVID-19, the Association of Canadian Archivists (ACA) is concerned about the health, safety and well-being of archivists and recordkeeping professionals. It’s time to close the archives to the public and allow staff to make decisions about where to safely continue their work. 

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and Canada’s Chief Medical Officer of Health have urged all Canadians to practice social distancing to limit the spread of the virus. In response, many schools have now closed, and universities and colleges have moved classes online. These precautionary efforts are proactive and prioritize the safety of students, staff and faculty. At this time, there is little benefit to allowing researchers to physically access archives and special collections. It’s time to suspend in-person visits and encourage staff to work from home where appropriate. 

In many locations across Canada, public services have been suspended or curtailed, including public library services. The ACA strongly encourages the closure of all public archives, museums, local history rooms, and historical sites as an additional proactive measure. 

The ACA acknowledges that any closure or reduction of services will disproportionately affect student workers, contract staff and hourly workers who may lose wages or access to benefits during this time. The ACA encourages employers to consider any and all opportunities to allow for remote work. Possible projects include: [1]

Administrative work, such as: 

  • developing or revising policies, workflows, or manuals
  • continuing committee work via phone or teleconference
  • updating emergency planning protocols and continuity planning
  • cleaning up shared work drives by standardizing file names, organizing files, and deleting duplicates, etc.
  • researching new and emerging technologies applicable to collections management
Collections work, such as:
  • auditing collections for EAD- and/or RAD-compliant descriptions and outdated/oppressive language, importing/encoding legacy finding aids
  • cleaning descriptive data, such as finding aids, catalog records, and database descriptions (e.g., running spell check, populating fields, building templates)
  • exploring ways to share your collections in aggregators or linked data repositories, such as your provincial and territorial network, WorldCat, ArchiveGrid, SNAC 
  • adding information from your collections to Wikipedia and Wikidata, or uploading images to Wikimedia Commons, or transcribing documents in Wikisource
  • identifying collections for digitization and planning out each project
  • transcribing/translating digitized handwritten documents (e.g, diaries, correspondence, etc.)
  • creating libguides or research guides
  • reviewing digitized content for quality control
  • archiving web content using either the Wayback Machine or Webrecorder
  • maintaining and cleaning up website, checking for alt-text in images and doing accessibility audits
Reference and outreach work, such as:
  • answering reference requests as appropriate and possible
  • creating FAQs or “ready reference” answers 
  • engaging with users online through social media platforms
  • drafting, scheduling and writing blog posts
  • researching writing and recording podcasts or video tutorials
Staff development work, such as:
  • reaching out to hourly and student workers to ensure that they are able to submit timesheets electronically
  • arranging for regular phone calls/email check-ins with staff and volunteers
  • inviting fellow workers to collaborate on a project
  • researching and writing grants to support projects or scholarly research
  • learning a new skill, such as API, python, etc.
  • attending to annual performance evaluations or reviewing professional goals
  • completing applications for professional support and funding

If staff continue to work from office buildings, they should continue to follow good health and safety practices. Where possible, remain at least two arms lengths from other people, wash your hands frequently, and avoid touching your face. Do not work in an unsafe environment. 

For up-to-date information about COVID-19, visit Infection Prevention and Control Canada at: or call the Coronavirus Hotline at: 1-833-784-4397.

We appreciate that the global COVID-19 pandemic is increasingly worrisome and that mitigation efforts will require significant adjustments. In these challenging times, we remain ready to advocate for archives and recordkeeping professionals. We also acknowledge the strength of our professional community and the good will that characterizes ACA membership. Let’s keep this community safe and healthy so that they can care for our important documentary heritage now and in the future. 


ACA Board of Directors

[1] Thanks to the SAA Accessibility and Disability Section for compiling this list of work tasks and projects that archivists can do remotely. For more ideas, visit the Section’s growing google resource page here:

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