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New Order Papers shed further light on DFO library crisis

Two Order Papers released this week paint a bleak picture of library closures at the department of Fisheries and Oceans - a process euphemistically termed “consolidation”.

Order Paper Q-266, a 37-point inquiry worth reading in full, delves into the specifics of consolidation with precise questions about the DFO’s digitisation programme. The Department has argued that this is an ongoing, intensive effort which will revolutionise service delivery while offsetting the loss of redundant materials from its collections. Instead, the figures show that digital titles comprise less than one per cent of the DFO’s collections.

And what of the digitisation programme itself, whereby unique DFO materials are to be made remotely accessible to the public? It sounds like an austere process; staff are described as using “multi-function office equipment” to digitise materials “as part of their tasks”.

These tasks, in recent years, have also included overseeing the closure of 7 of the DFO’s 11 branches while negotiating to discard tens of thousands of items from their collections. It all amounts to a near-impossible undertaking for a library system with fewer than 30 full-time staff and only one dedicated digitisation specialist.

Only four of the 11 libraries were granted any additional resources to support digitisation in 2012/2013, when consolidation efforts were at their peak. These additional funds comprised only $168,318. Another question asks how many staff have been specifically trained for digitisation every year over the last ten. The DFO declines to give numbers, saying only that:

"a set of digitization best practices for the libraries of the Department is provided to the staff, who receives on-the-job training on applying them."

The shorter Order Paper, Q-238, asks a fairly simple question: 

(a) was the general public given the opportunity to salvage or obtain library materials which would otherwise have been discarded during the consolidation process;

(b) if so, through what media or methods, and when was this opportunity communicated to the public; and

(c) on what dates and times did the public, or will the public, have that opportunity?

For each of the eleven libraries, the answer is substantially the same:

While there was no formal outreach to the general public, opportunity was provided to universities, libraries and other local partners. When items are being integrated into the library at the [name of receiving institution] there is an opportunity to identify surplus material, which is put on display and available to the general public.

I must admit I’m not quite sure what that means.

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