DFO provides Christmas gifts for scientists

Yes, it’s that time of year again, and to celebrate the holidays, Fisheries and Oceans Canada generously opened the doors of it’s Eric Marshall library earlier this month for any and all to pillage.

“BF Manly’s Randomization, Bootstrap and Monte Carlo Methods in Biology? Aw, Mom, you shouldn’t have!!” Yes, imagine the glee on so many children’s faces this Christmas as they light up having been given the cast-offs of DFO’s library holdings.

While the Department has issued numerous statements indicating that the material in the library is digitized, and “rare” texts are being consolidated at other institutions, the fact of the matter is that when the current librarian retired in July, she was nowhere near completed her task of digitizing material or of even simply cataloguing what was held at the library, and the “closure” at this particular facility has been a total gong-show. However, this seems to be par for the course, as DFO showed us what consolidation looked like at the Maurice Lamontange Institute earlier this year.

When the doors were swung open at the Eric Marshall Library for anyone to help themselves, a majority of the collection to be shipped still wasn’t packed; shelves that were supposed to be “off limits” were marked clearly with- clear packing tape. Yes, a single strip of clear packing tape across an entire shelf, much of which was falling off the first day. The person supervising on that first day was prompted to put up some signs when it was clear people were walking off with this (yet uncatalogued, unpacked but supposedly rare enough to be designated to ship somewhere else) valuable material.

The taking was mostly unmonitored- there was someone at the desk for the first day, who was not interested in seeing what people had in their boxes as they walked out the door, and people were in and out all week under no supervision whatsoever.

What has been lost with the closure of the Eric Marshall Library? Because the physical catalogue was incomplete, it’s a shame that we’ll never know. Even if people walked off with catalogued books, there’d be no way to trace them because the pillaging was unmonitored. Most scientists in the building are still trying to find room on their office bookshelves for what they managed to pillage. As are the many consultants and researchers from the province and other NGOs who grabbed what they could.

Keeping with the Christmas spirit, we hope that DFO will generously donate the remainder of the collection to pensioners to ward off the cold Winnipeg winter.

Ho, ho, ho.

In conclusion, I thought I’d finish off with another perspective on all of this. While they aren’t my words, I thought I’d use this space to republish the musings of another anonymous government scientist concerned about the loss of this irreplaceable resource. The text was originally published here.

The loss of seven out of nine DFO regional science libraries is a big tragedy.

Here is a link to one comment suggesting it was an act of “Libricide.”

The first step in the process was to move the libraries from Science into Information Management and Technology Services (IMTS) several years ago. At that point DFO Science became merely a client of another sector of the department for library services. It is not known whether DFO Science management put up any opposition to the cuts when IMTS announced their plans last year.

IMTS operates under a corporate business model. Under this model, one sector of government sells its services to another sector of government with the objective of providing the least amount of service for the largest possible service fee. This would seem to be a very bad business model for running a government department that has the prime objective of long-term public good — giving the public the best return possible on their tax dollar across all sectors of government though working co-operatively.

The decision to cut the libraries was made by executives within DFO rather than imposed by higher levels of government. It was done without any prior consultation with the DFO research community and researchers have been kept largely in the dark throughout the process. There has been very little information provided to DFO science staff or the public throughout the process.

The cuts were carried out in great haste apparently in order to meet some unknown agenda. No records have been provided with regard to what material has been dumped or the value of this public property. No formal attempt was made to transfer material to libraries of existing academic institutions.

Each of the seven regional libraries had thousands upon thousands of items in their holdings including unique valuable material of local regional significance documenting research into aquatic systems, fish stocks and fisheries carried out in the 1800s and early 1900s, as well as more recent grey literature such as laboratory reports, consultants reports, research vessel survey reports, reports of commissions of enquiries into fisheries etc.

The Department 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.

Local staff in the regions were given a brief opportunity to scavenge through the piles of books, journals and documents not wanted by the remaining two DFO Science libraries. Books and other library material already on loan to researches were never recalled, indicating a chaotic and haphazard process.

No explanations have been provided with regard to how the limited space in the remaining two DFO Science libraries will accommodate material from the regions deemed (by whom?) too important to destroy. One can only assume that the amount of material not being dumped is relatively small.

The official DFO statements have indicated that an “alternate service delivery system” is to be put in place to meet the library needs of the regions and that operations will not be affected by the library closures. To date this alternate service delivery system is not in place and no information has been provided on what form it will take.

The impact of the library closures on both the operations and the morale of DFO research staff have been immense.