Consolidation at Alberta Government Libraries

I am a regular user of the services and collection of the Alberta Government Library. The library organization has changed significantly over the years from embedded department libraries to a centralized model under the service branch of the government. The “significant change” trend is continuing in 2010.

There was a library group email list announcement recently that confirmed earlier rumours that three of seven branches (or sites as they are referred to) are closing as of October 1, 2010. Given that this consolidation will have a direct (likely negative) impact on my ability to gather information for my clients, and our law firm clients, I asked Frank Buckreus, Acting Executive Director, Service Delivery at Service Alberta about the consolidation plan in order to share this information with Slaw readers and he very kindly responded with the information below.

Questions and Responses

1. I understand that three Alberta Government Library (AGL) sites are closing. How did you decide which of the seven sites to close?

Answer: A number of factors drove our decisions. We strove to:

  • close the fewest sites while still achieving a reduction in floor space and cost savings,
  • preserve sites containing the most specialized (unique) collections,
  • minimize disruption of sites with the most extensively used collections,
  • maintain sites used for highest value (policy level decision-making) services, and
  • preserve the most recently rationalized/consolidated collection – the energy and science holdings at the successfully consolidated Great West Life AGL site.

2. I understand that priority library materials from the three collections will be transferred to the remaining sites with consultation from users. How will user consultations be handled given the size of the collections involved?

Answer: Key user groups will be presented with initial listings of materials and asked to confirm or modify the listings. A variety of engagements are being planned, including meetings and emails. The initial listings will help determine the specific user groups to be engaged and the methods of engagement.

3. Are any of the remaining four Alberta Government Library sites being given more physical space to accommodate additional staff and materials?

Answer: No additional space is available at this time. Space for staff and materials moving into the four remaining libraries will be made by removing materials with low usage and of low value from these libraries.

4. Have there been any suggestions that some material from the Alberta Government Libraries be sent to the Provincial Archives?

Answer: The Provincial Archives has been identified as one of the options for government documents. Some material may be sent to the Provincial Archives in accordance with its collection policy.

5. Is there a long-term plan for the Alberta Government Libraries that you can share with us (for example, further site consolidation)?

Answer:
Library resources are increasingly being accessed by users directly from their desktops. In fact, in 2009-10 the number of electronic articles and newsletters downloaded from subscriptions and services managed by the Alberta Government Library exceeded the number of physical materials circulated for the first time. The swing to electronic services in the last year has been dramatic.

  • We also recognize that on-line access to our electronic catalogue means that even our physical materials can be readily ordered and sent to users without the need for users to travel to the libraries.
  • So it makes sense, as electronic access becomes even more prevalent, to consider the possibility of moving the physical presence of libraries to a single space which is: (i) capable of holding all remaining materials, (ii) readily accessible to walk-in patrons and (iii) more economical than the prime office space occupied by some libraries.
  • In summary, further site consolidation over the long term may be desirable and would depend upon several factors including continued advancements in electronic access and the availability of a suitable site.

While I generally have a personal trend of embracing change, I just can’t feel good about this one. Why? I have felt the long term effects of decisions like these in the past. There used to be an Alberta Transportation department library. I recall that it disappeared sometime in the early 90s. I tried to get some information that would have been in that library’s collection in the mid-2000s. It’s been recycled. Knowledge lost.

Comments

  1. I share your concern, Shaunna. The federal government libraries are going through some pains right now, and it’s really just a matter of time before government libraries across the country come under the microscope, I fear.

    The concerns within government are many, but for you outside in “the real world”, there should be equal worry. Many of you have weeded your collections based on the assumption (hope?) that the Ministry library would be able to supplement your collection. Thinking to partner with the universities? They’re changing too.

    I can’t see this kind of change being stopped or avoided, but perhaps libraries need to think about how to get ahead of this. Can we coordinate the decisions related to collections – a registry of unique collections, perhaps? Is there a role for the Library and Archives Canada? Our associations?

    The Ontario government libraries went through a huge contraction in the 1990s. Some significant collections were broken up and donated to other libraries. Policy makers in Labour and Transportation are now without access to their own corporate memory. I remember a few years back, I gave a collection tour to some staff members from a group within the Ministry of Labour. They were thrilled to discover that we had documents related to their corporate history and the development of their statute – documents which we had inherited when the Ministry library was broken up. For years, they had been operating in an informational void.

    Yes, the physical space may be diminishing in importance, but that does not diminish the necessity for libraries. I hope this message doesn’t get lost in the rush to save money.