In 2012, the Canadian federal government began closing and consolidating many of its departmental libraries. More than a dozen research libraries have closed at Parks Canada, Environment Canada, Natural Resources Canada, Foreign Affairs, Citizenship and Immigration, Human Resources and Skills Development, the National Capital Commission, Intergovernmental Affairs, Public Works and Government Services, Canada Revenue Agency, Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, and Canadian Heritage (click here for a timeline of closures).
In December, the government began to close all but four of its eleven Department of Fisheries and Oceans libraries. News reports across the country showed startling images of books and other documents lying in dumpsters with rumors that others may have been burned. The culling of these libraries involved what has been described as a haphazard free-for-all with members of the public and industry scooping up abandoned books and valuable so-called “grey literature,” unique internal government publications. The process of library consolidation and closure seems to have happened so quickly that books that were still out on loan were never recalled. And beyond the loss of material, we still do not know the extent of the personnel losses. As library staff get laid off, valuable human knowledge vanishes along with the books.
One thing that stands out in this troubling story is the degree to which the library closures have targeted scientific and environmental research branches of the government. These libraries housed historical research materials of great relevance to Canada’s environmental history. As such, they are likely to have a detrimental impact on our ability to know about the past.
We decided then to find out more about this issue by speaking with Andrew Nikiforuk, a writer and journalist for thetyee.ca who has written extensively on this topic. I also sat down with a panel of environmental historians to get their take on the potential impact these closures might have on Canadian environmental history.
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