Canadian libricide: The destruction of Canada’s aquatic science libraries

There’s little I can say about the culling of the DFO (Department of Fisheries and Oceans) library collection that isn’t already covered in recent excellent reporting by Andrew Nikiforuk at the Tyee (here, and here), except to say that it alone should be enough to have the federal Conservatives removed from power. Forget the Senate scandal: the destruction of valuable scientific research and data is far more abhorrent, and unforgivable.

There’s nothing like a modern day book-burning (in some cases, literally) to support the accusation that the Conservatives are waging war on science—and environmental and climate science in particular.

On April 15 of last year, the Conservatives announced they were closing seven out of the eleven DFO science libraries across the country by autumn. The libraries were used for aquatic science research, and represented one of the world’s most comprehensive collections in the field, including 600,000 volumes, rare books, and hundreds-year-old data. But have no fear: the library collections were merely being “consolidated” and the information digitized, resulting in a more efficient system and annual savings of $443,000.

Those kinds of savings, however, barely register on government budgets. Besides, any discussion of savings becomes moot when you consider that the Conservatives just finished spending 100 times that, or $44.8 million, modernizing one of libraries they’ve now closed: the refurbished St. Andrews Biological Station (where Rachel Carson researched much of her book Silent Spring), which only re-opened last year.

But this is not, and never should be, about money.

The government originally suggested that all library material would remain available, either digitally or through inter-library loan. Then “all” got downgraded to “most.” Now it seems that “some” is something of an overstatement: it’s been suggested only 5% of the collection was digitized before the cull.

According to the Tyee report (with comments from scientists who remained anonymous out of fear they’d lose their funding), the culling of library collections was rushed and chaotic, with massive amounts of materials thrown into dumpsters bound for landfills, and others burned. Just how many volumes, and which research and data, were destroyed may never be known: no records were kept of what was being destroyed.

These libraries were used for science research—research that falls under the realm of environmental and climate science. The same kind of research done at such world-renowned research stations as the high-arctic Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory and the Experimental Lakes Area, both of which are on life support after attempts by the Conservatives to shut them down. The kind of research done by federal scientists who’ve been pressured not to speak to the media directly, and to modify their conclusions to fit government policy.

It’s either complete ignorance about the sheer importance of science research (a generous conclusion) or a shutting down, a muzzling, a vicious attack on any science that might stand in the way of natural resource extraction.

Or as retired research scientist Burt Ayles told the Tyee: “The government is either incompetent or malevolent or both.”

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