A newly-released Order Paper provides disturbing insight into the chaotic, poorly-managed “consolidation” of libraries at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
The initial question, posed by MP Lawrence MacAulay , asks:
With regard to the consolidation of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ library system, for each…[location]:
(a) how many items from the library’s collection have been retained for consolidation in another regional·library;
(b) how many items have been (i) deposited in other federal government collections, specifying which collections, (ii) offered to libraries outside the federal government, specifying which libraries and how many have been accepted, (iii) sold, (iv) discarded;
(c) for each location, how many items have been digitized, distinguishing government of Canada publications, other government publications and items other than government publications;
(d) for each location, what have been the costs associated with discarding surplus items; and
(e) what are the file numbers of any contracts or invoices for the removal and disposition of discarded material?
The response is chilling. The government reveals that the DFO offered a staggering 84,067 items to other libraries, including universities, but records indicate only 221 of those items were accepted - that’s about one out of every 380 items. Many of the DFO libraries reported that it is simply “unknown” how many items were accepted by other institutions; the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Centre in St. John’s, by contrast, indicates that not a single item of the 28,177 it offered found another home.
It is worth noting that items were offered to these external libraries only after being offered to other government departments; the response indicates that not a single item was accepted into the collection of any other federal institution or department, apparently including Library and Archives Canada. In other words, these items - all of which were bought and paid for with taxpayer money - have been lost forever from public ownership.
The document also reveals that of the seven closed libraries, only one kept a record of how many items it discarded - the others responded to the question about how many items they discarded (that’s “threw away” for laypersons) with the single word “unknown”.
Perhaps the most astonishing revelation, however, is the government’s response to the question about how many items were digitised - it reads, simply:
"The Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ systems do not enable us to determine the number of items digitized by location and category."
In other words? Digitisation, the much-touted panacaea being used as a catch-all way of dodging criticism for throwing away taxpayer-funded information, is being carried out in such a haphazard way that the government has no idea how much has been digitised, what collections digitised materials originate from, or even what those materials are.