Confronting Computers: Debates about Computers at the Public Archives of Canada during the 1960s

  • Betsey Baldwin


During the 1960s, staff members of the Public Archives of Canada began to encounter two aspects of computerization that are of continued relevance today: automation as a tool of information retrieval, and the preservation of computer records. This paper explores the initial experiences and perceptions of computer use at the Public Archives through the lens of the institution’s first automated finding aid project, and from the perspective of early discussions about electronic records management. Archivists’ ideas and responses to computers during the 1960s included a mix of excitement and scepticism. The discourse of this original decade of computer use serves to remind us of the foundational intellectual debates pertaining to technological change and archives.


Au cours des années 1960, le personnel des Archives publiques du Canada a commencé à faire face à deux aspects de l’informatisation qui sont toujours aussi pertinents aujourd’hui : l’automatisation comme outil de repérage d’information et la préservation des documents informatisés. Ce texte examine les expériences et perceptions initiales de l’usage des ordinateurs aux Archives publiques telles que les révèlent le premier projet d’instrument de recherche automatisé et les discussions originelles au sujet de la gestion des documents électroniques. Les idées et réactions des archivistes par rapport aux ordinateurs durant les années 1960 comprenaient un mélange d’enthousiasme et de scepticisme. Le discours de cette première décennie d’usage des ordinateurs sert à nous rappeler les débats intellectuels fondamentaux au sujet des changements technologiques et des archives.

Author Biography

Betsey Baldwin
Betsey Baldwin has a Ph.D. from the University of Ottawa. This research forms part of her doctoral thesis, which examines the experience and perceptions of computer use at the Public Archives of Canada during the mainframe era. Betsey is also a part-owner of Public History Inc., a research firm in Ottawa, in which capacity she is both a frequent user of Library and Archives Canada (LAC), and has been engaged in LAC digitization efforts.
How to Cite
Baldwin, Betsey. 1. “Confronting Computers: Debates about Computers at the Public Archives of Canada During the 1960s”. Archivaria 62 (1), 159-78.
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