Library Association Requests 'Informed Dialogue' with Feds on Library Closures

freshwater institute in winnipeg, library

The Canadian Library Association (CLA) has requested the federal government engage in talks concerning the recent closures of and cuts to government libraries, according to a statement released Tuesday. 

In the three-page statement, the organization, which represents 1410 library workers, libraries, and library supporters, called for more transparency on the part of the federal government about the process of consolidation and digitization of Canada’s historical records and scientific data. The CLA claims it is “troubled” by the government's handling of budget cuts, which have led to library closures and the disposal of collections.

There has been much public debate and discussion about these reductions and very little information forthcoming from the government. CLA wishes to participate in informed dialogue regarding government library consolidation and closure,” the statement reads.

CLA agrees that collection management practices, such as withdrawal, are necessary in library management and that library consolidation is often an effective way to reduce costs while still maintaining service for clients; however, when implemented within the context of national public collections, such processes should be transparent and open.”

This statement addresses widespread fears over the loss of archival material, beginning with cut of $9.3 million over three years to the budget of Library and Archives Canada in 2012, which lead to a reduction in service hours and a 20 per cent reduction in staff.

It also speaks to the closure of seven of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ 11 libraries as well as further cuts impacting government libraries in departments as wide-reaching as Health Canada and Statistics Canada. “CLA has received reports that valuable materials are being lost due to the haste of these library closures.”

The organization is “concerned about the lack of communication and consultation in the decision-making process around the consolidation and closure of these libraries. Given the absence of such dialog, CLA is concerned that there will be a substantial reduction in access to the materials in these collections, resulting in an irrevocable loss of unique information.” It is also concerned cuts to Library and Archives Canada (LAC) will prevent the federal body from accomplishing its legislated task.

Excerpt from the Canadian Library Association statement on the role of Library and Archives Canada.

Throughout the process, the federal government has said its goal is to digitize information and make it accessible through online portals, but CLA calls these plans “unclear.”

CLA appreciates that digitization can provide enhanced access to materials for employees, researchers, and the broader public. However, digitization is a long-term, labour intensive process.”

They point out that the role of library and information professionals is “critical” given the volume of material slated for digitization. “It is essential that government use this expertise to manage and curate this material.”

On December 19, 2013 the federal government released a document of “Frequently Asked Questions” regarding the library closures. The CLA called this move a “good first step,” but say “the government’s plans for the preservation of and access to the valuable material remain unclear.”

In a January interview with the Tyee’s Andrew Nikiforuk, CLA president Marie DeYoung echoed these misgivings about the process, pointing out the lack of clarity about the intended outcomes was evidence that librarians were not involved in the planning of these closures. “That's what information professionals do well,” she said. “It is not apparent information professionals have been involved in the process.”