Open Letter regarding the future of DFO libraries

Hon. Gail Shea
Minister of Fisheries and Oceans
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6

March 21, 2014

Dear Minister:

The media has reported extensively on the recent closure of DFO libraries and the opposition to those closures, particularly by the scientists who used the collections and services daily in the performance of their professional duties and pursuit of their research.  The handling of the closures has been widely criticized and claims made that valuable materials of historical and scientific importance have been lost forever.  Concern has been expressed that this will impede science in Canada and around the world for years to come.   

The Atlantic Provinces Library Association (APLA) and the British Columbia Library Association (BCLA) together represent close to 1,300 personal and institutional members drawn from public, academic, school, and special libraries located on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of Canada.  While our members share many of the concerns expressed by certain witnesses to the dismantling of the DFO libraries, we are as concerned now with the future of the remaining libraries and their ability to fulfill their mission.  The DFO website suggests that consolidation was completed with the closure of the libraries in Fall 2013.  We would suggest that the work has just begun.  A reorganization of this scope requires ongoing planning and active management to be successful.  With the reduction in professional staff, how will this work be undertaken?

We are especially concerned with the ongoing building of comprehensive collections in relevant subject areas; with the long-term preservation of unique assets; and with the provision of access to the resources made possible by the creation of quality catalogue records and metadata and by robust delivery mechanisms such as online viewing and, for print, interlibrary loan.  Canada has had some of the finest fisheries, oceans and environmental libraries in the world.  APLA & BCLA members desire reassurance that a well-developed plan exists for the addition of new material to the remaining libraries as well as for the preservation of collections under the new service delivery model.

It is true that more Canadians are turning to online sources of information.  It is also true that only a fraction of the world’s recorded knowledge has been digitized.  The DFO website itself makes clear that only a fraction of Departmental reports and publications are available online.  The DFO website speaks to “on demand” digitizing.  How will that be carried out and what will be the turnaround time once a request is received?   Is the funding in place to cover the costs of digitization which from our own experience we know to be very high?  And what of material for which the Crown does not hold copyright?  Is there a process in place to request permission to digitize that is sufficiently timely for scientific practice?

An important mission of libraries is to preserve knowledge for future research.  What is the preservation plan for the digital objects that exist now and those that will be created over time?  Knowledgeable staff, careful planning, the latest technology, and adherence to international standards are all required to ensure responsible stewardship of valuable knowledge-based resources.  

Unique print materials remain vitally important and must also be preserved and made available.    Are all print materials that were designated for transfer to the remaining libraries on the shelves now and available for use?  If not, what is the plan to make them available as soon as possible?

The members of APLA and BCLA are disturbed that DFO has chosen to close more than half of its libraries.  In light of the decision, we urge the DFO to take its responsibilities seriously as regards the collection of and access to new scientific findings, the preservation of our scientific heritage and the provision of access to publicly-owned information.  We ask you, Minister, to share your plan to ensure the same.


Louise White

Gwen Bird