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<nettime> What's Driving Chaotic Dismantling of Canada's Science Libraries?


< http://thetyee.ca/News/2013/12/23/Canadian-Science-Libraries/ >   

What's Driving Chaotic Dismantling of Canada's Science Libraries?


   Scientists reject Harper gov't claims vital material is being saved
   digitally.

   By Andrew Nikiforuk, 23 Dec 2013, TheTyee.ca

   Shelves in Winnipeg's Freshwater Institute library showing, according
   to the scientist who shared this photo with The Tyee, vital records
   left in disarray and destined for further destruction.

   Scientists say the closure of some of the world's finest fishery, ocean
   and environmental libraries by the Harper government has been so
   chaotic that irreplaceable collections of intellectual capital built by
   Canadian taxpayers for future generations has been lost forever.

   Many collections such as the Maurice Lamontagne Institute Library in
   Mont-Joli, Quebec ended up in dumpsters while others such as Winnipeg's
   historic Freshwater Institute library were scavenged by citizens,
   scientists and local environmental consultants. Others were burned or
   went to landfills, say scientists.

   Furthermore, the government is falsely claiming that vital content is
   being retained by extensively digitizing material from nine regional
   libraries that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) whittled
   down to two.

   "The Department has claimed that all useful information from the closed
   libraries is available in digital form. This is simply not true. Much
   of the material is lost forever," reports one DFO scientist who
   requested not to be named.

   That picture of a taxpayer-funded treasure trove of information laid
   waste emerges from interviews by The Tyee with half a dozen prominent
   scientists, many of whom asked to remain anonymous for fear that their
   funding or other government support could be hurt if their names were
   connected with the concerns they were eager to share.

   Some of the research scientists interviewed questioned the legality of
   what they saw happening, accusing the Harper government of "libricide."

   Not only has the Canadian public lost critical environmental and
   cultural baseline data more than 100 years old, but scientists have
   lost the symbolic heart of their research operations.

   A DFO scientist told The Tyee, "The cuts were carried out in great
   haste apparently in order to meet some unknown agenda. 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." (See
   sidebar.)

   One scientist after another struggled to make sense of the shuttering
   of libraries devoted to water and fish in a nation that guards the
   world's largest coastline and roughly 18 per cent of the world's
   surface freshwater. Most saw in the actions a political agenda by the
   Harper government to reduce the role of government in Canadian society,
   as well as the use of scientific evidence in making policy.

   According to an analysis by Bill Curry published by the Globe and
   Mail, the Harper government will reduce the size of the Canadian
   government to its smallest level in 50 years by 2015.

   Closing libraries, stopping research

   As reported by The Tyee earlier this month, key libraries
   dismantled by the government included the famous Freshwater Institute
   library in Winnipeg; the historic St. Andrews Biological Station (SABS)
   in St. Andrews, New Brunswick (Rachel Carson, the celebrated
   environmental scientist, corresponded with researchers there for her
   book, Silent Spring) and one of the world's finest ocean collections at
   Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Centre in St. John's, Newfoundland.

   At the same time the government has killed research groups that
   depended on those libraries such as the Experimental Lakes Area, the
   Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission and the DFO's entire
   contaminants research program. The Freshwater Institute as well as the
   Centre for Offshore Oil, Gas and Energy Research (COOGER) has lost much
   of their funding and staff, too.

   Ken Lee, a world authority on oil spills and COOGER's former director,
   saw the writing on the wall and took a prestigious job in
   Australia.

   In a private email originally sent to a colleague and then shared with
   The Tyee, one scientist compared the dismemberment of the Freshwater
   Institute library last week to a rummage sale: "I did manage to salvage
   a few bits and pieces, one of which was a three volume print version of
   the data that went into the now extinct DFO toxins database."

   The scientist suggested "that interested individuals should drop-in and
   loot [the] library before the bonfires begin."

   Kelly Whelan-Enns, head of media and policy research for Manitoba
   Wildlands, spent two days at the library trying to salvage maps from
   the 1900s and wildlife data from the 1920s.

   "I saw a private consultant firm working for Manitoba Hydro back up a
   truck and fill it with Manitoba data and materials that the public had
   paid for. I was profoundly saddened and appalled."

   "It's obvious that this government cares little for public discourse."

   The scene at the Freshwater Institute's library shocked another
   scientist with 30 years of experience in the federal government.

   "Hundreds of bound journals, technical reports and texts still on the
   shelves, presumably meant for the garbage or shredding. I saw one
   famous monograph on zooplankton, which would probably fetch a pretty
   penny at a used science bookstore... anybody could go in and help
   themselves, with no record kept of who got what."

   'Heartbreaking'

   Although some books have been transferred to libraries in Sidney, B.C.,
   and Halifax, Nova Scotia, the dismemberment of priceless library
   collections has stunned freshwater and marine scientists and ordinary
   citizens.

   "The fact that many materials were thrown away or given away is
   heartbreaking to those of us who are dedicated to this field of
   research [marine science and fisheries] and the history of science in
   Canada," says Peter Wells, a prominent marine environmental scientist
   at Dalhousie University.

   Wells, who is also an aquatic toxicologist, spent a career working as a
   public servant for Environment Canada (1974-2006) on a variety of
   environmental issues.

   "That we as a society are condoning information destruction and core
   library closures in Canada is unbelievable, and in my view,
   undemocratic and probably criminal... that would be an interesting
   aspect to investigate," adds the scientist.

   "Through a misguided policy purportedly driven by the desire for cost
   savings in the public service, and I believe this was only one reason
   for this action, we have trashed a network of world-class marine and
   fisheries libraries, the envy around the world. The rest of the world
   cannot believe what is happening in Canada on this issue."

   Concludes Wells: "If I were still working for the government, I
   probably would be fired for being concerned and outspoken about the
   future of aquatic science in Canada and the impact of current federal
   policies."

   According to an infographic made by Environment Canada (another
   agency that has witnessed severe science cuts) "about 14 per cent of
   Canada" is covered by lakes, rivers, wetlands, marshes and the marine
   waters of estuaries.

   Moreover "these fragile freshwater habitats, vital to the ecology and
   the Canadian economy, are under severe threat by drainage, land
   reclamation, pollution, overuse and development."

   Scientists blast claim material adequately digitized

   A DFO website claims that the library closures and consolidation of
   nine regional facilities into just two central libraries somehow
   "allows for easier search and access to clients no matter their
   location."

   The site also defends the closures by claiming that few citizens ever
   used the libraries anyway, and that most material will be digitized.

   An agency spokesperson did not answer a series of questions posed by
   The Tyee. Instead David Walters referred The Tyee to a government
   propaganda site.

   Six scientists contacted by The Tyee all refuted various claims on the
   website.

   They argue that DFO statistics show that only one out of 20 books in
   the department's 600,000 plus collection have been digitized. Moreover
   records on library usage were overtly biased and based on who asked for
   help, said Burton Ayles, a retired director general for DFO who lives
   in Winnipeg and has used the Freshwater Institute library frequently.

   "Most people that come in to the library don't have to request help.
   They just use the material. Just look at any regular library."

   Ayles had no doubt that the closures will severely restrict public and
   scientific access permanently.

   "Previously one could walk in, scan the shelf of such material, select
   one publication and see if it is relevant to one's needs. Now you have
   to get an inter-library loan to even look at material that may be
   stored away in some vault."

   'Losing libraries not a neutral act': scientist Hutchings

   The Freshwater Institute library held collections dating back 100
   years, on the quality and state of freshwater systems in central
   Canada, the Great Lakes and the Arctic.

   Acclaimed Dalhousie University biologist Jeff Hutchings, who recently
   chaired the Royal Society of Canada's Expert Panel on the future of
   marine biodiversity, calls the closures scientifically disastrous and
   an assault on civil society.

   "It is always unnerving from a research and scientist perspective to
   watch a government undermine basic research. There are many materials
   online but just as many books and materials that are not. The idea that
   you can send an email to Ottawa and get a book somewhere down the road
   is a myth. The idea that all requests will be honored also won't
   happen."

   "From a science and research perspective these closures will have no
   positive impact on the quality of research but they will have a
   negative impact. Losing libraries is not a neutral act."

   He notes that the closures have also demoralized researchers. "This is
   a department that has suffered cutbacks and been stripped of its
   responsibilities. For scientists, technicians and biologists, for
   people who have gone to university, the library symbolically represents
   knowledge and wisdom. It's key to research. Taking it out of a building
   is not easy."

   'It must be about ideology': Hutchings

   Hutchings said none of the closures has anything to do with saving
   money, due to the small cost of maintaining the collections. He, like
   many scientists, concludes that Harper's political convictions are
   driving the unprecedented consolidation.

   "It must be about ideology. Nothing else fits," said Hutchings. "What
   that ideology is, is not clear. Does it reflect that part of the Harper
   government that doesn't think government should be involved in the very
   things that affect our lives? Or is it that the role of government is
   not to collect books or fund science? Or is it the idea that a good
   government is stripped down government? "

   Hutchings saw the library closures fitting a larger pattern of "fear
   and insecurity" within the Harper government, "about how to deal with
   science and knowledge."

   That pattern includes the gutting of the Fisheries Act, the muzzling of
   scientists, the abandonment of climate change research and the
   dismantling of countless research programs, including the world famous
   Experimental Lakes Area. All these examples indicate that the Harper
   government strongly regards environmental science as a threat to
   unfettered resource exploitation.

   "There is a group of people who don't know how to deal with science and
   evidence. They see it as a problem and the best way to deal with it is
   to cut it off at the knees and make it ineffective," explained
   Hutchings.

   "The other worrying thing is that no one seems to care a great deal
   about it. There is minimal political cost for doing these things just
   as there is no political cost to making bad decisions about ocean
   management."

   Many scientists, including Hutchings and world famous water ecologist
   David Schindler, compared the government's concerted attacks on
   environmental science to the rise of fascism and the total alignment of
   state and corporate interests in 1930s Europe.

   "You look at the rise of certain political parties in the 1930s," noted
   Hutchings, "and have to ask how could that happen and how did they
   adopt such extreme ideologies so quickly, and how could that happen in
   a democracy today?"

   A recent Sunday editorial in the New York Times condemned the
   suppression and monitoring of environmental science in Canada by the
   Harper government:

   "This is more than an attack on academic freedom. It is an attempt to
   guarantee public ignorance," said the editorial.

   "It is also designed to make sure that nothing gets in the way of the
   northern resource rush -- the feverish effort to mine the earth and the
   ocean with little regard for environmental consequences." [Tyee]


   Calgary resident Andrew Nikiforuk is an award-winning journalist who
   has been writing about the energy industry for two decades and is a
   contributing editor to The Tyee. Find his previous articles published
   in The Tyee here.


ANATOMY OF A 'LIBRICIDE'

   [Editor's note: This is verbatim text from a DFO scientist sent to The
   Tyee.]

   The loss of seven out of nine DFO regional science libraries is a big
   tragedy.

   Here is a link to one comment suggesting it was an act of
   "Libricide."

   The first step in the process was to move the libraries from Science
   into Information Management and Technology Services (IMTS) several
   years ago. At that point DFO Science became merely a client of another
   sector of the department for library services. It is not known whether
   DFO Science management put up any opposition to the cuts when IMTS
   announced their plans last year.

   IMTS operates under a corporate business model. Under this model, one
   sector of government sells its services to another sector of government
   with the objective of providing the least amount of service for the
   largest possible service fee. This would seem to be a very bad business
   model for running a government department that has the prime objective
   of long-term public good -- giving the public the best return possible
   on their tax dollar across all sectors of government though working
   co-operatively.

   The decision to cut the libraries was made by executives within DFO
   rather than imposed by higher levels of government. It was done without
   any prior consultation with the DFO research community and researchers
   have been kept largely in the dark throughout the process. There has
   been very little information provided to DFO science staff or the
   public throughout the process.

   The cuts were carried out in great haste apparently in order to meet
   some unknown agenda. 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.

   Each of the seven regional libraries had thousands upon thousands of
   items in their holdings including unique valuable material of local
   regional significance documenting research into aquatic systems, fish
   stocks and fisheries carried out in the 1800s and early 1900s, as well
   as more recent grey literature such as laboratory reports, consultants
   reports, research vessel survey reports, reports of commissions of
   enquiries into fisheries etc.

   The Department has claimed that all useful information from the closed
   libraries is available in digital form. This is simply not true. Much
   of the material is lost forever.

   Local staff in the regions were given a brief opportunity to scavenge
   through the piles of books, journals and documents not wanted by the
   remaining two DFO Science libraries. Books and other library material
   already on loan to researches were never recalled, indicating a chaotic
   and haphazard process.

   No explanations have been provided with regard to how the limited space
   in the remaining two DFO Science libraries will accommodate material
   from the regions deemed (by whom?) too important to destroy. One can
   only assume that the amount of material not being dumped is relatively
   small.

   The official DFO statements have indicated that an "alternate service
   delivery system" is to be put in place to meet the library needs of the
   regions and that operations will not be affected by the library
   closures. To date this alternate service delivery system is not in
   place and no information has been provided on what form it will take.

   The impact of the library closures on both the operations and the
   morale of DFO research staff have been immense.


          ANATOMY OF A 'LIBRICIDE'

          [Editor's note: This is verbatim text from a DFO scientist
          sent to The Tyee.]

          The loss of seven out of nine DFO regional science libraries
          is a big tragedy.

          Here is a link to one comment suggesting it was an act of
          "Libricide."

          The first step in the process was to move the libraries from
          Science into Information Management and Technology Services
          (IMTS) several years ago. At that point DFO Science became
          merely a client of another sector of the department for
          library services. It is not known whether DFO Science
          management put up any opposition to the cuts when IMTS
          announced their plans last year.

          IMTS operates under a corporate business model. Under this
          model, one sector of government sells its services to
          another sector of government with the objective of providing
          the least amount of service for the largest possible service
          fee. This would seem to be a very bad business model for
          running a government department that has the prime objective
          of long-term public good -- giving the public the best
          return possible on their tax dollar across all sectors of
          government though working co-operatively.

          The decision to cut the libraries was made by executives
          within DFO rather than imposed by higher levels of
          government. It was done without any prior consultation with
          the DFO research community and researchers have been kept
          largely in the dark throughout the process. There has been
          very little information provided to DFO science staff or the
          public throughout the process.

          The cuts were carried out in great haste apparently in order
          to meet some unknown agenda. 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.

          Each of the seven regional libraries had thousands upon
          thousands of items in their holdings including unique
          valuable material of local regional significance documenting
          research into aquatic systems, fish stocks and fisheries
          carried out in the 1800s and early 1900s, as well as more
          recent grey literature such as laboratory reports,
          consultants reports, research vessel survey reports, reports
          of commissions of enquiries into fisheries etc.

          The Department has claimed that all useful information from
          the closed libraries is available in digital form. This is
          simply not true. Much of the material is lost forever.

          Local staff in the regions were given a brief opportunity to
          scavenge through the piles of books, journals and documents
          not wanted by the remaining two DFO Science libraries. Books
          and other library material already on loan to researches
          were never recalled, indicating a chaotic and haphazard
          process.

          No explanations have been provided with regard to how the
          limited space in the remaining two DFO Science libraries
          will accommodate material from the regions deemed (by whom?)
          too important to destroy. One can only assume that the
          amount of material not being dumped is relatively small.

          The official DFO statements have indicated that an
          "alternate service delivery system" is to be put in place to
          meet the library needs of the regions and that operations
          will not be affected by the library closures. To date this
          alternate service delivery system is not in place and no
          information has been provided on what form it will take.

          The impact of the library closures on both the operations
          and the morale of DFO research staff have been immense.



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