Federal Libraries and why closing them should not be business as usual

By Jennifer Dekker.

I received an anonymous email from someone who works for the government and who is tabulating information regarding the closures or downsizing of federal libraries. The email, which was an analysis of a 90 page return on federal departments (excluding crown corporations, etc.) intending to close, restructure, or review their current library operations.

The analysis implicated 13 federal departments and agencies.  Those that are closing or restructuring services according to latest information (September 2012) are as follows:

  • Canada Revenue Agency—-it will consolidate its nine libraries into one, location to be determined.
  • Library and Archives Canada—-it is closing its Staff Resource Centre on 1 Nov. 2012.
  • Public Service Commission—-will close its library.
  • Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism—-will close its library by 31 March 2013 but retain core mandate materials.
  • Parks Canada—-consolidating five regional libraries into one at Cornwall (closures at Calgary, Winnipeg, Haifax, Quebec City).
  • National Round Table on the Environment and Economy—-closing by March 2013.
  • Fisheries and Oceans—-it will consolidate library services into two principal and two subsidiary locations to be complete by September 30, 2013.
  • International Trade and Foreign Affairs—-Documentation Service and library of the Canadian Cultural Centre at the Canadian Embassy in Paris have been closed to the public since 21 June 2012.
  • Human Resources and Skills Development Canada—-will close its libraries located in Gatineau and Montreal as of 31 March 2013.
  • Natural Resources—-currently the department has 14 libraries. It will be closing six libraries in 2012-2013: two in Ottawa; one in Varennes, Edmonton, and another in western Canada. In 2014, another Ottawa library will close.
  • Transportation Safety Board of Canada—-it will downsize and perhaps close its library after a review which commenced in July 2012.
  • Public Works and Government Services—-already closed its library on 31 May 2012.
  • Transport Canada—-will close its library during fiscal 2012-13.

Unlike others in the Canadian library and information community, I don’t feel that closing federal libraries is business as usual. In case Canadians are not aware of the impact that closure of or cuts to federal libraries have on their everyday lives, let me I’d like to outline the way law are made in Canada, as one potential area that stands to be affected by the above cuts to libraries.

How laws are made (Also Known As “Why federal libraries are important”)

Policy advisors and lawyers perform research and consultations and based on what they find in their research, they write memoranda to cabinet ministers which, upon approval by the Privy Council Office go to Cabinet Committee for final approval. Once approved at Cabinet Committee, government lawyers start drafting a bill. The bill has to go through parliamentary committees, three readings in the House, royal assent and then to the Senate for approval. Finally, the bill is enacted and becomes law. Once the bill is actual legislation, then a department or agency of Government reacts by drafting new policy that is in keeping with the new laws.

Where do libraries fit into this process? I dropped a couple of clues in the paragraph above. Yes, when policy advisors and lawyers perform their research, they use federal libraries. With no federal libraries, or under-resourced libraries do our laws change? Yes. Most definitely. Does Canadian policy change? Yes. Does that affect our lives? I should think so. Most federal libraries are highly specialized and correspond to what policy advisors and others need to perform solid research. Federal librarians work very closely with researchers and policy people to develop relevant, trusted collections that ultimately are reflected in the quality of laws and policies that our governments produce.

I’m veering toward the dramatic to make my point but how might immigration law or policy be different without good research underpinning it? Transportation laws and safety? Taxation? Environment? We all know what happens when students try and pull their “research” from the internet…God help us if that’s what laws will eventually be based on without strong libraries supporting the research on issues that do eventually become law in this country.

I don’t think that closing federal libraries are a matter of business as usual, or of simply reallocating resources. We Canadians need to take the longer view. We need to see how essential libraries are to the business of government and down the road, to the quality of our own lives and laws here in this country.

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