Many librarians and researchers across Canada are concerned about what they see as the destruction of intellectual resources and government-funded studies after the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ closure of several libraries.
Francesca Holyoke, the head of archives and special collections at the University of New Brunswick libraries, says that eliminating the way certain libraries collect information and data also eliminates them as sources.
“It really is destroying the record of Canada’s scientific work, the record that would still be valuable to people doing research today,” she says.
“You had people who were very knowledgeable about the collections. They would know that a region had a particular report and it was always available in [a certain month],” she says. But now, those people are no longer there.
In her previous position with the university’s forestry and science library, Holyoke spent a lot of time at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Nova Scotia (which remains open), as well as another DFO library which has since closed. She says one of the things that’s distinct about the DFO libraries is that so-called grey literature gets collected there, such as local fisherman’s organization’s newsletters, difficult weather reports, ship logs or first person narratives on how fishing went on a particular day.
While the grey literature may not seem important, reports like these are ones that citizen science projects, like Zooniverse’s Old Weather project, are examining in order to map weather in the Arctic regions to potentially get a better picture on climate change.
The government says that grey literature will still be available, but Holyoke worries that information will be lost.
A DFO Frequently Asked Questions webpage says that modernizing the library resources “allows for easier search and access to clients no matter their location.” It also says that materials not available digitally “can be requested by external users through their home library, and sent via mail to that library.”
But Holyoke says that with the loss of the librarians who know the information, only a select few will know what to ask for.
Holyoke also worries about the sense of intellectual community that will be lost. “When you take libraries from their institutions, you lose an obvious centre for intellectual discourse,” she says. “That’s very hard to recreate.”
The DFO’s website says that the consolidation of its libraries has resulted in minimal change for external users with little alteration to the size or scope of the collection.
But a number of news reports suggest problems with the consolidation process, with one detailing a chaotic operation where documents are being lost forever, and another describing hundreds of books and periodicals being tossed into a dumpster at a library closing in Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula.
The DFO’s website says that it followed a number of processes and guidelines, though there are no details on what those are. It states that Library and Archives Canada took 79 titles and that “the written consent of the Librarian and Archivist was granted to Fisheries and Oceans in 2011 to dispose of publications that are surplus to the Department’s requirements.”
The website also says that duplicates were removed from collections as well as “content not required to support the department’s mandate.”