Canada’s librarians question Tories’ policy of closing government-run libraries


Librarians stereotypically value silence, but they're getting ready to speak up on the Conservative government's dismantling of several federal libraries in the name of cost-cutting and efficiency.

The 3,000-member Canadian Library Association (CLA) has been disturbed by Ottawa's dismantling of nine libraries, including seven regional facilities run by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).

"Our greatest concern is whether there was consultation with the communities these libraries served as well as the impact on service and access to content," Marie DeYoung, association president and a librarian at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, told The Tyee.

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The government is closing seven of its 11 DFO libraries by next year. Officials have said no information will be lost, claiming important information will be digitized and made publicly accessible, and only duplicate hard copy material will be destroyed. However critics point to dumpsters full of books and have raised concerns important historical data could be lost.

Cuts and layoffs have also affected Library and Archives Canada, with 400 staff receiving layoff notices in 2012, CBC News reported at the time. Libraries at the departments of transport, citizenship and immigration and public workers were also being chopped.

"Professionals and scientists who work in those departments need access to those specialized libraries to develop policy," James Turk, president of the Canadian Association of University Professors, told CBC News.

"As well, other Canadians rely on those specialized libraries and there aren't other libraries that have those people and can make up for that."

DeYoung said the closure of DFO libraries should be scrutinized because they form part of the critical public infrastructure needed to protect Canada's long expanses of coastline.

"We are also concerned about insuring that the content, wherever it is digitized, is made available to the public and done in a timely fashion," DeYoung also told the Tyee.

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The association plans to release a formal position statement on the closures after further consultation with its members, she said.

Turk said cutting digitization and circulation staff at Library and Archives Canada will undermine its ability to "fulfill its legislated mandate to acquire, preserve and make accessible Canada's history."

Other closures include the National Capital Commission Library in Ottawa, the library of the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, the Public Service Commission library, the Canadian Cultural Centre library in Paris and the Transport Canada library, the Tyee said.

The National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates accidents such as the recent spate of railway oil tank-car derailments and explosions, could also see its library downsized, the Tyee noted.

An unnamed DFO scientist told the Tyee cuts to the department's libraries were made by senior officials within the department without consulting fisheries researchers.

"The cuts were carried out in great haste apparently in order to meet some unknown agenda," the scientist said. "No records have been provided with regard to what material has been dumped or the value of this public property. No formal attempt was made to transfer material to libraries of existing academic institutions."

The process has been haphazard, critics say, adding they're skeptical key material will be digitized.

DeYoung noted the government promised to digitize collections housed at Library and Archives Canada after making cuts there.

"But there is nothing in that example that shows a clear strategy with a timeline and commitment of resources to achieve that," she said.