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  • Canada’s Fahrenheit 451?

    photo: Jason Verwey

    photo: Jason Verwey

    - The closure of Canada’s fishery, ocean and environmental libraries by the government has been done so chaotically that irreplaceable collections have been lost forever, Canadian scientists report. The government claims vital content has been digitized. Librarians however, state it was an act of ‘libricide’.

    The closure of Canada’s fishery, ocean and environmental library is part of the Canadian administration’s efforts to reduce the size of government. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) states that merging nine regional facilities into two central libraries "allows for easier search and access to clients no matter their location."

    Death of Evidence

    The closure of these institutes might have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. Ever since the Harper administration took office in 2006, there has been a lot of friction between scientists and the government. In May 2013, Canadian scientists were so frustrated with the government’s scientific communications policies and cuts to research programs that they took to the streets to decry the “Death of Evidence.”

    Canadian Nobel Prize winner and climate scientist Andrew Weaver argued that there is a crisis “in terms of the development of information and science to inform decision-making. What we have replaced that with is an ideological approach to decision-making.”

    Burn the Evidence

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

    “Many collections 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”, scientists stated.

    Budget cut or libricide?

    "The Department of Fisheries and Oceans 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," an anonymous researcher from DFO reported to The Tyee.

    “The consolidation of DFO’s scientific research libraries from nine to only two (Institute of Ocean Sciences and at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in the fall of 2013 has a dealt a major blow to DFO’s research capacity and the morale of its scientists.  The decision was made by executives within the Department as a cost-cutting exercise without any consultation with research scientists or any consideration of the impact it would have, both psychologically and materially, on research in the Department.”

    “Each of the nine libraries had holdings totaling many hundreds of thousands of items, many of which were unique to that region documenting the early studies on local fisheries and marine ecosystems.  As well, distributed across the libraries were early monographs and expedition reports that have wonderful hand tinted illustrations – collectors’ items worth thousands of dollars.  There were also thousands of textbooks and manuals related to fisheries and marine sciences.  In the rush to implement the executive decision the library holdings are being unceremoniously dumped without any public record of what we are losing and what will be left.  This amounts to ‘libricide’,” an anonymous scientist from DFO concludes. The discussion whether it was libricide will continue, but it is clear that the impact of these library closures on the operations and morale of the researchers has been immense.