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Toronto Student Group’s Tour of the CBC Libraries and Archives

On October 6, 2011, the SLA: Toronto Student Group (SLA:TSG) started the fall semester with an exciting tour of the CBC Libraries and Archives for new and returning members. Our informative and engaging tour guides, Geoffrey Hopkinson (Director of Content Management, Special Programming and Library Partnerships) and Laura Warner (CBC Media Librarian) took us on a two-hour tour of the various media archives and libraries housed within the CBC. While they insisted that it was their first time hosting a large tour group, the SLA: TSG members were thoroughly impressed with Geoffrey and Laura’s knowledgeable and well-organized tour of the CBC.

The tour started off in the bowels of the CBC building, where we were guided through the various vaults and storage facilities for the Video Archives. Our first stop was the VTR library, which house literally shelves upon shelves of tapes. The CBC estimates that this area holds approximately 190,000 tapes. The primary goal of the Video Archives is to have a copy of each program the CBC has played a role in producing. This creates the need for specialized archive facilities and media content management systems. Part of the process consists of giving each tape its own unique ID and bar code, making these resources easy to retrieve and reshelve for CBC staff.

The next stop on the tour took us to the chilly Film Vault, where 115,000 cans of film are kept at 4°C. This is an extraordinary amount of film, as the CBC calculates that this amount of film would “span the distance from St. John’s, N.L., to Victoria, B.C., three times over” (CBC, 2011). We also saw the CBC’s StoragTek 5L8500 robotic system in action. This fully automated machine is part of the CBC’s DIVA archives solution for managing their media assets.

After exploring the various archives of the CBC, we then toured the newly integrated Reference Library at the CBC. This area includes not only the main Reference Library, but also the Visual Research Desk, and Music Library. We learned that reference librarians at the CBC are responsible for a variety of exciting and ever-changing research tasks. This can include providing answers to basic ready-reference questions, performing detailed research on companies and individuals, and also fact-checking during live TV programs and reporting back to producers and TV personalities via earpiece. Overall, the skills required of a media Reference Librarian include savvy research skills and an ability to meet the consistently shorter timelines of reporters and producers. For example, while CBC Reference Librarians used to have a couple days to fact check a story for producers, they may now have less than an hour to find and verify information. Understandably, this makes for an intense work environment, but the reference librarians at the CBC thrive in this type of break-neck atmosphere.

Geoffrey and Laura also took our group to see the Image Research library. We learned from the staff working at this library that researching and navigating copyright law is an important skill set for image librarians. In order to clear the use of photos and artwork in CBC TV shows and news broadcasts, image librarians need to track down the artist and obtain their permission. If they are unable to track the artist down or if they use an image taken from a database that did not record the proper citation information, the CBC will sometimes be sued by artists and end up paying significantly more for the right to use the image or artwork. Ultimately, speedy research skills and extensive knowledge of copyright issues is a must-have for image librarians.

Finally, we finished off the tour by going to the top floor of the CBC and saw the crew for Cover Me Canada preparing the set for filming. Some of the SLA:TSG members were excited to see the spot where Jordan Knight (of New Kids on the Block fame) sits during taping. After thanking Laura and Geoffrey for taking the time to put together such a fantastic tour, we took the elevator down to the main floor of the CBC and spotted Margaret Atwood entering the CBC. An honest-to-goodness Canadian celebrity sighting proved to be a fantastic finale to the SLA:TSG’s tour of the CBC Libraries and Archives.


Student Group at the CBC Libraries and Archives



Canada Broadcasting Corporation (2011). Virtual tour: A visit to the archives. Retrieved from

Front Porch Digital (2011). SAMMA robot. Retrieved from


Stephanie Quail is the co-chair of the SLA:TSG and is in her second year of graduate studies at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Information. If you have any tour suggestions for the SLA:TSG, please send an email to


Posted in V49-N1-Fall 2011, Volume 49Comments (0)

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