Announcement of the 2015  Emmett Leahy Award to Victoria Lemieux

by Professor Luciana Duranti

Each year the Emmett Leahy Award recognizes an individual whose contributions and accomplishments have had a major impact on the records and information management profession. The award was established in 1967 to honour the spirit of innovation, dedication, and excellence in records and information management demonstrated by Emmett Leahy, who pioneered the development of the lifecycle approach to managing records and information in the US Government.  The Emmett Leahy Adjudication Committee looks for evidence of high quality original concepts, approaches or methodologies and their impact on programme development and management, innovation, education, and professional and organisational leadership.

The 2015 Emmett Leahy Award winner is Victoria (Vicki) Lemieux, Associate Professor in Archival Studies at the University of British Columbia. The Committee believes that Vicki’s sustained professional, academic, and scholarly leadership in records management has, and will continue to have, a major impact on how private and public sector organizations around the world manage their information assets.
Vicki’s career as a records and information management professional, educator and innovator began nearly 30 years ago after graduation from the Masters of Archival Studies Programme at the University of British Columbia. Since that time, she has made several contributions in the area of program development and management in the public, private and educational sectors. Currently, in addition to being an Associate Professor at UBC, she is a Senior Public Sector Specialist at the World Bank advising on transparency and information management to the Bank, international development agencies with which the Bank interacts, and the Bank’s client developing countries. Previously, she held positions as a professional archivist, records manager and risk manager within the public and private sectors, and in higher education as an administrator and educator.

While at the City of Edmonton as Director of Information Services, she made improvements to how the records of the City Clerk’s Office were managed and was rewarded with a promotion to the role of Director of Corporate Records and Information Services with responsibility for managing records city-wide.  Later, as University Archivist at the University of the West Indies, she initiated and oversaw the restructuring of the University’s registry systems on three campuses, which introduced modern records and information approaches to outdated records systems. As a Vice-President at Credit Suisse, in 2007 Vicki led the IT Risk and Security components of a 1.6 billion Swiss Franc strategic outsourcing of the Bank’s network infrastructure for which she received a Credit Suisse “Change the Game” Award. In recognition of her achievements she was asked by the United Nations, the Commonwealth Secretariat, and the World Bank among others, to consult in Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad, Guyana, St. Kitts & Nevis, Grenada, British Virgin Islands, Belize, Burkina Faso, Tanzania, India, Chile and South Africa with the aim of helping the governments of these countries, or their tertiary educational institutions, restructure their recordkeeping systems to achieve more efficient and accountable operations.  But she is also, and primarily, an educator and educational leader.

As University Archivist at the University of the West Indies, she led the expansion of a Certificate Programme in Records Management that built records and information management capacity in public sector staff throughout the Caribbean region. Many of her UBC students have gone on to win awards and become leaders in the records and information management profession on their own right. At UBC, Vicki has also been the Director of the Media and Graphics Interdisciplinary Centre, where she led the establishment of UBC’s Digital Salon, an interdisciplinary research group focused on the Digital Humanities, Social Sciences and Arts.

Vicki was an early innovator in developing a risk-based approach to managing records and has successfully applied it, most notably in the 2007 outsourcing of Credit Suisse’s network infrastructure. She developed an Organizational and Human Behavioural Risk Assessment tool, to assess specific types of risks in the context of implementing EDRM systems. More recently, she has brought new approaches to professional practice, such as information visualization and visual analytics. She has worked with the US Treasury, Office of Financial Research to introduce ideas and approaches from records management into the thinking of financial regulators and to raise awareness about and address transparency gaps in the global financial system following the financial crisis of 2007-2009.  

Most importantly, Vicki has been an educational innovator and has brought her knowledge and experience to bear on the design of new course offerings for the UBC Masters of Archival Studies Programme at UBC to ensure that its graduates remain at the cutting edge of the records and information management profession.  These courses include: IT Security, Information Assurance and Risk Management; Financial Records: Theory and Practice; and Information Visualization and Visual Analytics. It is primarily for this contribution to the education of the next generation of records managers and archivists that the Emmett Leahy Committee has bestowed on Dr. Victoria Lemieux the 2015 Emmett Leahy Award.


Dr. Luciana Duranti, Chair and Professor or Archival Studies at the University of British Columbia and 2006 Emmett Leahy Award Winner, presenting the 2015 Leahy Award to Dr. Lemieux

Victoria Lemieux Emmett Leahy Award Acceptance Speech

Thank you so much Luciana for that wonderful introduction, and my thanks and appreciation to the members of the Leahy Committee for this honour and recognition.

I'd like to take this opportunity to share a few personal reflections. I'll begin by saying that the path to my receiving this award today began in the University of British Columbia’s Masters of Archival Studies (MAS) Programme.  While enrolled in the MAS I took many excellent courses, but the one I loved the most was records management, with my professor Reuben Ware.

At this time in North America, the field of archivists was just emerging as a profession separate from history or library science (as some of you may recall) and there was a debate between those who adhered to the tradition of historian / archivist and those who saw themselves as an administrator/ archivist.

Inspired by my course in records management and the ideas of Margaret Cross Norton, I formed a professional identity as a records/manager archivist managing and preserving archives to enable efficient administration and public accountability.  

Today, the MAS programme at UBC has launched the professional archival careers of hundreds of students who are already recognized leaders in our field and beyond. There is also the Certificate Programme in Records Management, which I launched with former University of the West Indies Archivist, Brian Speirs in 1997, and which the current University Archivist of the West Indies, Sharon Alexander-Gooding, who is herself a graduate of UBC’s MAS programme, observes has been going strong and has provided professional education and launched the careers of hundreds of Caribbean records and information management professionals My education has given me a wonderful career as a records professional, and I know from the messages and achievements of my former students that their educations have similarly unlocked their potential as individuals, as records professionals and as contributors to society.  Education is key.

In a Guinea Pig's perspective on the MAS programme, written in 1983, Shelley Sweeney wrote, “We are at a turning point in our profession.  From this point we can forge ahead by continuing to support advanced education for the archivist, we can dither in indecision and go nowhere, or we can languish and begin to regress by lowering our standards.”  Her words are still relevant today. We must continue to forge ahead on advanced education for our profession by strengthening the programs we already have and by developing new programs, and we must articulate high standards of education for the records profession.  We must not be complacent.  

Just as we cannot afford to be complacent about education, we cannot afford to be complacent about transparency and public accountability, the bedrock of democratic society.

As every archivist will appreciate, transparency, which enables public accountability, is predicated upon capturing and preserving authentic public records.

From my vantage point at the World Bank this year, I have seen many examples of the erosion of public transparency and transparency mechanisms.  Take the country of Yemen as an example.  The country recently passed one of the strongest right to Information laws in the world.  I had the privilege of supporting the Yemeni Information Commissioner with implementation of the law earlier this year.  In late January, however, Houthi rebels seized the Presidential palace, kidnapped the President's chief of staff and held the President captive.  These actions led the country's government to collapse.  Now the country is afflicted with strife and conflict, and there is a growing humanitarian crisis. I hope that soon the situation in the country will improve again, and that efforts can continue to make Yemen a peaceful, just and inclusive society.

We are so lucky in Canada.  We have none of the problems Yemen now faces.  We have transparency, public accountability and the rule of law.  Or so we think, until one considers the destruction of the long gun registry and the flouting of the National Archives of Canada Act and recent allegations of systemic destruction of records that should be available under BC's Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.  When I look around, I see so many examples of public officials – not just in Canada - exploiting new forms of digital communication to hide from accountability.  Are we sleepwalking into the death of our democratic rights?

As individual records professionals, we have a role to play in ensuring this does not happen by fulfilling our profession duty to capture and preserve authentic records. Public archival institutions have a role to play in instituting the policy and legal frameworks that enable us to perform our responsibilities as public records professionals.  Public archives function as key public accountability mechanisms.  Indeed, modern public archives emerged out of the French Revolution and the Messidor decree of 1793.   While other public accountability mechanisms, such as FOI, have independent oversight bodies that report to legislatures and sit outside of the executive branch of governments, public archives lack such independent oversight.  This makes them unable to resist such actions as deliberate and obvious flouting of archives and public records laws and to develop and enforce better digital record keeping practices.  In some jurisdictions, information commissioners are playing this role on a de facto basis. So, I urge the community of records professionals to develop more formal relations with information commissioners, and to call collectively for independent oversight of public archives.

Luciana, thank you again for this honour.  Colleagues, thank you for your attention.  I wish you all a wonderful conference, and bright “Archival Horizons.”