by Alden Ludlow
Myron Groover is the Archives and Rare Books Librarian at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. He received his Master of Archival Studies and MLIS degree from University of British Columbia, Vancouver in 2012. He also holds a MA Honors in History from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland (2006). We spoke with him on issues of advocacy and outreach in a phone interview on September 29, 2017.
For Myron Groover, advocacy in the archives field is an overtly political project. Having graduated with his MLIS degree in 2012, he found the situation within Libraries and Archives Canada (LAC), at the national level, to be dangerously in disarray. With the appointment of Daniel J. Caron as Librarian and Archivist of Canada in 2009, government employees found themselves under siege, with budgets being cut and information professionals being fired.
Groover’s advocacy work grew out of budget cuts to LAC during the administration of Prime Minister Stephen Harper (in office 2006-2015). Defunding of cultural heritage institutions during the administration led to the firing of many LAC professionals, and those that remained were further pressured in their jobs, including requirements that they sign non-disclosure agreements, effectively muzzling them and preventing them from discussing their work in publications and at conferences.
“What I was experiencing was this incredulity that there was this systematic dismantling of knowledge infrastructure which was essential to the core functioning of government and its ability to be accountable to its own citizens, and hardly anyone was saying anything at all,” Groover noted in a recent interview for this profile. “The professional organizations were all afraid to say anything, and the people who worked in the institution were terrified to speak up.” He found himself taking on advocacy on behalf of an archives and library meta-discourse at the national level.
Groover has a broad and varied background which put him on the trajectory to taking up the cause on behalf of his fellow Canadian professionals. Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, he grew up in the United States; at fourteen he attended high school in Switzerland, and after that university in the United Kingdom. He left the UK for Canada in 2007 to attend library school.
Groover’s vision of advocacy is broad, yet nuanced. It looks beyond institutions, seeking to work within the social fabric itself. “The business of advocacy, if it is anything, is working together to build a shared narrative of a society wherein libraries and archives are valued and contribute to the well-being of the people that live in it,” he argues. “Advocacy is the process of building that shared narrative, or repairing it when it gets frayed, and making sure everyone can participate in it.”
His advocacy on behalf of LAC employees began to come to the fore in 2012. “I was desperately underemployed at the time, and I did that on my own without any institutional support from anyone,” he says. While in school, Groover had been maintaining a listserve to promulgate his advocacy ideas; in 2012, at the Canadian Library Association (CLA) conference, he took his fight to the top. Caron, “the hatchet-man the right wing had brought in to shepherd through the destruction of the national library, was the keynote speaker,” Groover recalls. The speech was not well received. “Later that day he had a Q&A panel, and I did the unthinkable thing and got up in his face, and asked him some detailed questions; he couldn’t answer them all, and it was a disaster.”
However, that was not enough. “What started out as this impassioned political project of getting people to care morphed into chronicling the decline,” he says. “I thought, we may not win, but I’ll be damned if they are the only ones getting their line of rhetoric out there.” While his message coalesced around issues of accountability, it was draconian LAC employee speech policies introduced in 2013 which drove him to take his advocacy to the next level. “The employee free speech issue ended up getting a lot of attention, because that was where it was easy to connect what was happening at Library and Archives Canada with regular people,” he says. “Everybody has some conception of what it would be like not to have freedom of expression. Everyone has an intuitive understanding that having your participation in mainstream politics curtailed by your employer is outrageous.”
Groover turned to social media to broaden his audience and increase awareness, and that turned out to be the missing piece. “Social media is a way of reaching people who can help you out, and who want to hear what you have to say,” he relates, adding, “what Twitter did was give me an opportunity to take those longer blog posts, encapsulate them, and get them into a broader sphere where you are able to interact with journalists and policymakers directly.” Members of Parliament were taking notice, and Groover was given the opportunity to shape discourse, noting that all the policy work he was doing was a “heavy lift.”
All that lifting paid off. Caron was fired in 2013; the pressure against him finally reached a peak, and what finally did him in was cheating on expenses. “It was a Pyrrhic victory,” Groover notes, adding, “there was never any accountability for any of the things he did in LAC. As I predicted early on, if they got away with it for long enough, then it wouldn’t be possible to rebuild, and indeed that’s exactly what happened.” Despite continuing issues at LAC, morale has improved; Guy Berthiaume was appointed in 2014. “Just by bringing in someone with a different personality, who is willing to take a more conciliatory rhetorical line, that has made a huge difference.”
Another casualty of this upheaval was the CLA, which disbanded in June 2016. In the end, they did not live up to their mission. “They never had vision on anything, never took to advocacy on these issues,” Groover says. “They gave no value back to the community at all.”
Advocacy on behalf of the profession has been taken up by several smaller organizations, and individuals like Groover. “We don’t have whistleblowers in Canada,” he notes. “There is no tradition of that here. You really do need rogue actors, or at least people who have the autonomy to say what they really think. I was lucky enough to be able to do that … I built my standing in the community through unremunerated advocacy work,” he jokes. A new advocacy and culture of transparency within LAC is taking root in Canada, led by professionals in the field, using social media as a tool to connect with journalists, politicians, and citizens.
“It turned into something I didn’t expect,” Groover concludes. “I think back on it, where it started and where it ended up, it is not always clear to me how I got from point A to point B.” This opportunism–addressing needs where they are most pressing–is at the very heart of advocacy.
McMaster University William Ready Division of Archives and Research Collections – https://library.mcmaster.ca/archives/
McMaster Rare Books on Twitter – https://twitter.com/MacResColls
Bibliocracy blog – http://bibliocracy-now.tumblr.com/
Bibliocracy on Twitter – https://twitter.com/@Bibliocracy