The Library and Archives of Canada Everything You Need to Know

The Library and Archives of Canada: Everything You Need to Know

Ever wonder what it’s like to explore one of the world’s largest libraries? 

Imagine going through a hallway with hundreds, maybe even thousands, of shelves. Each one of them is filled with all kinds of books, documents, and other materials. 

As you open up these resources, you get a glimpse into different periods of Canada’s history. 

That’s what it’s like to explore the Library and Archives of Canada. I consider this place to be the best for doing detailed research on the history of the country. 

Whenever I need to write something detailed about Ottawa or anything related to Canada, this is my go-to place. While Google is good, it doesn’t match the incredible detail you can get from the resources here. 

Interested in going to the library? Before you go, let me give you a rundown of everything you need to know. 

A Brief Overview of the Library and Archives of Canada

A Brief Overview of the Library and Archives of Canada

The Library and Archives of Canada (LAC) has a long and complex history. You can trace it all the way back to the early days of the Canadian Confederation in the mid-1900s.

Before becoming the LAC, it was comprised of two separate entities. These were the National Library of Canada and the National Archives of Canada. 

During the year 2004, a merger would take place that would finally give birth to the library

Today, the LAC is mandated to acquire, preserve, and provide access to Canada’s documentary heritage. 

You can find over 20 million books, 24 million photographs, 4.5 million maps, and architectural drawings in its many halls and shelves. It also has newspapers, government publications, music, and audiovisual materials.

As a result, it currently holds the title of Canada’s largest library and is the fourth largest in the world.  

Researchers also make regular use of the LAC because of the variety of services that it offers. These include reference and research assistance, interlibrary loan, and document delivery. 

Besides that, it also provides preservation and conservation services. This is to ensure the long-term accessibility of Canada’s documentary heritage.

Anyone, whether Ottawan or non-Ottawan, can access the LAC as long as they have a user card. Once you have a card, you can gain access to the LAC’s collection in person at its facilities in Ottawa and Gatineau. 

You can also access a variety of online resources for your research. These include databases, digitized collections, and virtual exhibits.

The LAC is a major proponent of the preservation and sharing of Canada’s global cultural heritage.

Needless to say, it is an important facility for the country. Its role in preserving and providing access to Canada’s documentary heritage will ensure its legacy will live on for a long time.

This makes it a valuable resource for a lot of people, such as students and researchers. For anyone who wants to learn more about Canada’s history and culture, this is the place to go.

History of the Library and Archives of Canada

History of the Library and Archives of Canada

During the mid-1900s, the members of Parliament and the government realized they needed a library. As such, they established the Parliamentary Library in Ottawa in 1856. 

Over time, this library grew in size and importance. It would acquire a diverse collection of materials related to Canadian history, culture, and politics.

Because of this, the Dominion Archivist was established in 1953. It was tasked with collecting and preserving materials about Canadian history.

This culmination of events would lead to the founding of the Public Archives of Canada. It was in charge of collecting, preserving, and making archival materials from Canada on a much larger scale.

When 2004 arrived, it would be the year when a historic merger would occur. The National Library of Canada and the National Archives would become one entity, giving birth to the Library and Archives of Canada. 

The new organization combined the roles of the two facilities. Its mission was to acquire, preserve, and make accessible Canada’s documentary heritage to the public.

Today, the LAC is one of Canada’s largest and most comprehensive cultural institutions. Millions of books, documents, photographs, and other materials related to Canadian history, literature, science, and culture are housed in its collections. 

The LAC is also vital in preserving and promoting Indigenous knowledge and heritage, as well as supporting research and scholarship in a variety of fields.

Services Offered at the Library and Archives of Canada

Services Offered at the Library and Archives of Canada

The LAC offers a pretty wide range of services. It supports research, scholarship, and public access to Canada’s documentary heritage. 

These are some of the main services that the facility provides:

Reference and Research Services

For anyone who needs access to specific materials, the LAC has a reference and research service that you can use. 

It’s great for anything related to research, such as identifying resources and answering specific questions. 

Access to Collections

Once you’re inside the library, you can access the collections of the LAC through a variety of means. This includes in-person visits to its reading rooms, online databases and resources, and digitization services.

Preservation and Conservation

The LAC is responsible for preserving and conserving Canada’s documentary heritage, including books, documents, photographs, and other materials. 

This involves a range of activities, including digitization, conservation treatment, and storage in climate-controlled facilities.

Outreach and Education

Besides being a valuable facility for important documents, the LAC also plays an important role in promoting awareness and understanding of Canada’s documentary heritage. 

This includes offering educational programs, exhibitions, and public events to engage and inform audiences of all ages.

Indigenous Heritage

The LAC is committed to preserving and promoting Indigenous knowledge and heritage and works closely with Indigenous communities to support their cultural revitalization efforts.

Collections at the Library and Archives of Canada

Collections at the Library and Archives of Canada

In terms of its collection, the LAC has extensive and diverse materials related to Canada. They have incredibly detailed records of the country’s history, culture, and society that you can use. 

Here are a few examples of the material that they have. 

1. Government Records

The LAC is responsible for acquiring, preserving, and providing access to the records of the Government of Canada. 

This includes records from federal departments, agencies, and Crown corporations, as well as those from predecessor colonial and provincial governments.

2. Private Archives

The LAC collected documents made by individuals, families, and organizations to create private archives. 

These collections include personal and organizational papers, photographs, and audiovisual materials. If you want to do research on a specific person, this section would be your best choice.

3. Published Materials

Millions of books, periodicals, newspapers, maps, and other published materials about Canadian history, culture, and society are housed in the LAC. Here, you can find rare books, literary works, and government publications.

4. Audiovisual Materials

There is a large collection of audiovisual materials, including films, sound recordings, and videos, in the archives of the LAC. 

These materials provide documentation of a diverse range of aspects of Canadian life and culture, ranging from historical events to the music and entertainment of today. 

5. Art and Artifacts

The LAC isn’t just a place for books and other reading material. It also holds a collection of art and artifacts, including paintings, sculptures, and historical objects. 

For anyone doing papers and write-ups, this is the perfect place. The records offer a unique perspective on Canadian history and culture that can help you write as accurately as possible. 

6. Indigenous Heritage

The LAC holds an extensive collection of materials related to Indigenous heritage, including oral traditions, photographs, and archival materials. The collection includes records related to residential schools and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Tips for Visiting the Library and Archives of Canada

If you are planning to visit the LAC in the future, I highly recommend that you follow the tips I’ve listed below. These can help make your visit as productive and enjoyable as possible.

1. Plan ahead.

Before your visit, determine the specific materials you want to access. Use the LAC’s online catalog to search for relevant items and note down their call numbers. 

This will help you locate and request the materials efficiently.

2. Check operating hours and location.

Verify the operating hours and location of the LAC facility you plan to visit. Different locations may have varying schedules, so ensure you have accurate information to plan your visit accordingly.

I’ve listed the schedules in a table below for your reference. 

Mondays - Fridays9 AM - 4 PM
Saturday - SundayNo Service
Statutory HolidaysNo Service

3. Obtain a user card.

If you don’t have a user card, apply for one in advance. The user card is required to access the LAC’s physical collections and services. 

Check the LAC’s website for the application process and required documentation.

4. Familiarize yourself with policies and guidelines.

Review the LAC’s policies and guidelines, including those related to handling materials, copyright, and usage restrictions. Adhere to these guidelines to ensure the preservation and security of the collections.

5. Bring all the needed identification and materials.

When visiting the LAC, bring a valid ID along with your user card. Additionally, consider bringing a notepad, pencils (pens are generally not permitted), and any research notes or reference materials you may need.

6. Consult with the reference staff.

The LAC has knowledgeable reference staff who can assist you with your research and provide guidance on accessing the collections. Don’t hesitate to approach them with questions or for assistance.

7. Follow the registration and access procedures.

Upon arrival, adhere to the LAC staff’s instructions regarding registration and access. This may involve signing in, obtaining a locker for personal belongings, and receiving instructions on accessing the materials.

8. Handle all materials with care.

When accessing physical materials, handle them carefully and follow any instructions provided by the staff. Use book supports and gloves (if required) to avoid damaging or marking the items.

9. Take breaks and plan for meals.

Doing your research can be intensive, so plan for breaks and meals during your visit. The LAC has designated areas for eating and resting, so you can eat without worrying about damaging any of the material. 

Consider bringing snacks or exploring nearby food options.

10. Explore additional resources and services in the venue. 

Take advantage of the LAC’s additional resources and services, such as digital collections, exhibitions, and research guides. These can supplement your research and provide further insights into Canadian history and culture.

Remember, the LAC is a valuable resource, and respecting its policies and procedures ensures a positive experience for everyone.

How to Access and Use the Library and Archives of Canada

Before you can access the Library and Archives of Canada, you will need a user card first. You can apply for it in person at the library itself or online through its website. 

Once you have your card, you can start planning your visit. 

Here are the full steps you need to take to access the LAC. 

1. Get a LAC user card.

To access the LAC’s physical collections, you will need to obtain a LAC user card. You can apply for a card online or in person at the LAC’s Ottawa location. 

The application process typically takes a few days.

2. Plan your visit at least 2 weeks in advance. 

Before visiting the LAC, it’s a good idea to plan your research and determine what materials you need to consult. You can search the LAC’s online catalog and make a list of the items you would like to view.

3. Visit the LAC location of your choice. 

The LAC’s main location is in Ottawa, but it also has regional offices and affiliate libraries across Canada. Once you have your user card and research plan, you can visit the LAC during its regular operating hours.

4. Consult the reference desk or online catalog. 

You can request materials through the LAC’s online catalog or in person at the LAC’s reference desk. Some materials may be restricted or require special permission to access.

5. Use online resources.

The LAC also provides online access to many of its collections through its website. You can search digitized materials, browse exhibitions, and access research guides and tools.

It’s important to note that the LAC’s collections are primarily in English and French, but they also contain materials in other languages. Additionally, some materials may be subject to copyright or privacy restrictions. 

If you want to credit the LAC, the library offers guidance on copyright and other legal issues related to using its collections on its website.

Frequently Asked Questions