Canada's closure of science libraries riles researchers

Jan 11, 2014 by Clément Sabourin

Canada's closure of science libraries containing a vast repository of environmental data dating back more than a century has researchers worried that valuable books and reference materials are being lost in the name of cost-cutting.

Unique in its shore access to three oceans (Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific) and with the largest number of in the world, Canada over the years has amassed a huge cache of books and scientific reports on fisheries, meteorology and wildlife—on everything from beluga whales to songbirds.

Until recently they had been stored at seven Fisheries and Oceans and 12 Environment Canada libraries and reading rooms across the country.

But the last year ordered most of them closed and fired dozens of librarians as they began consolidating the materials at three locations—in Sydney, British Columbia and in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia (both Fisheries libraries), as well as at Environment Canada's National Hydrology Research Centre in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where a single librarian with the help of a couple of students have reportedly been tasked with sorting through and cataloguing hundreds of boxes of materials transferred there, to date.

The closure of a library at the Freshwater Institute in Winnipeg, Manitoba in particular was mourned by many marine scientists because it held unique data on freshwater lakes dating back to 1880.

More worrying, according to researchers, is that excess and outdated materials have ended up in dumpsters, which local media reports likened to book burning.

"This is a national tragedy," said Peter Wells, a professor at Dalhousie University and senior research fellow at the International Ocean Institute, both in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The government however says the impact of the closures has been exaggerated, and that the libraries were frequented by a mere dozen people (other than government staff) annually, and that it also plans to digitize much of the books to allow a larger audience to access them online, more cheaply.

"It is absolutely false to insinuate that any books were burnt," Fisheries Minister Gail Shea said in a statement.

Shea explained that the department's collections of information on fisheries, aquatic sciences and nautical sciences—which it claims are "one of the world's most comprehensive"—will be preserved and new materials will continue to be added.

Only duplicate books have been discarded after being rejected by other libraries, staff and the general public, Shea said.

The minister's reassurances however have done little to quell the controversy with scepticism running high, after several other controversial policies enacted by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government in recent years—including withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol and gagging government scientists—raised the ire of scientists. Researchers have called the measures attacks on science itself, and efforts aimed at silencing critics of the government's agenda, which is focused on jobs and the economy, with environmental stewardship arguably playing second fiddle.

This now widespread view—rightly or wrongly—that Harper has an anti-science bias even provoked a march on Parliament by scientists in laboratory coats, waving anti-Harper placards, in 2012, accusing the government of a lack of evidence-based decision-making.

"This government doesn't like scientific information (being out there) on environmental issues," Wells summed up.

The federal government has taken an "ideological decision" on the libraries, accused Jeff Hutchings, another maritime researcher at Dalhousie University and past chair of a Royal Society of Canada panel on marine biodiveristy.

"It's symbolic in a bad way," he said.

Hutchings told AFP he worries especially about the loss of marine data that stretches back before climate change and modern commercial fishing.

As well, he dismissed Shea's suggestion that the books and research would become more widely available online, as only works specifically requested have been scanned and digitized, according to him.

Explore further: Changes to fisheries legislation have removed habitat protection for most fish species in Canada

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5 / 5 (2) Jan 11, 2014
The Canadian government wants to be frugal, restrained in its use and access to the public purse. It wants to be responsible and austere, amendable to the will of the Canadian people. Who cannot understand that in these bitterly provocative times following the worst economic meltdown in over 75 years? It should also help if the Canadian government continue to do the right thing and ELECT its senators and FIRE these, not just tap them on the wrist:
http://www.thesta...eau.html ... AFTER they pay back all they stole and ALL involved see JAIL!
http://news.natio...st-them/

Then, you can reopen those libraries! (Knowledge is ALWAYS worth money! Senators....are NOT!)
word-to-ya-muthas
BSD
3.3 / 5 (3) Jan 11, 2014
It's just a typical right wing attack on science, we are suffering the same in Australia.
The conservatives here, have airbrushed science out of their cabinet by not having a science portfolio at all.

Don't forget, apathy and ignorance are the Right's best friends, they thrive on it when the electorate are hooked on reality TV and refuse to think.

Maybe the next step for the Canadian government are book burnings, it's happened before.
VENDItardE
1 / 5 (1) Jan 11, 2014
bsd....you are the least intelligent individual that I ever see comment on this site. Please stop embarrassing yourself.
Porgie
1 / 5 (2) Jan 13, 2014
What the extreme left is worried about is not being able to manipulate yet again pre 50s data. The 50s ended the geological cooling cycle and the left wingers after being humiliated with false, manufactured or redacted data, time and again want more data to confuse the issue or modify to their needs. I believe in science but not in partisan science by biased ineffectuals. The left is looking quite badly with the recent growth of the arctic and Antarctic ice packs.
rockwolf1000
2.5 / 5 (2) Jan 13, 2014
What the extreme left is worried about is not being able to manipulate yet again pre 50s data. The 50s ended the geological cooling cycle and the left wingers after being humiliated with false, manufactured or redacted data, time and again want more data to confuse the issue or modify to their needs. I believe in science but not in partisan science by biased ineffectuals. The left is looking quite badly with the recent growth of the arctic and Antarctic ice packs.

Actually the Arctic ice pack is not growing. Corporations have begun using Northwest passage for transport. This would not be possible unless the icepack was shrinking which it is. So your comment is total BS.