Canadian Scientific Research Threatened

Canadian scientific research is under threat following the federal government making it more difficult to access scientific information and significantly down-sizing or closing federal science libraries. We are seeing a drastic reduction in accessibility to information and related literature research services needed by the Canadian scientific community, far exceeding library maintenance and restructuring that would typically be done to keep up with changing information, technology and standards.

Today CBC News reports that the main Health Canada science library has been closed. According to the news report, the closure was justified by a drop in in-house staff use of the library which followed severe reduction in accessibility to the library’s materials. From the CBC News article:

“I look at it as an insidious plan to discourage people from using libraries,” said Dr. Rudi Mueller, who left the department in 2012.

“If you want to justify closing a library, you make access difficult and then you say it is hardly used.”

Health Canada staff have been stock-piling books and using other work-arounds to access the information needed, but still feel their work is suffering as a result.

This is only the latest in a string of reports about science information that has been discarded and librarians let go from their positions by the federal government. The Tyee, a British Columbia based news site, has been instrumental in reporting on and bringing these events to the forefront. If you click through some of their reports below you will also see links to news stories back to at least 2010 when scientists were already protesting changes made by the government.

When Cory Doctorow picked up on the latest report from The Tyee and wrote about it on the well-known website Boing Boing,  it helped to spread the news across the Internet. John Dupuis, science librarian at York University’s Steacie Science and Engineering Library, has also been tracking the changes on his blog Confessions of a Science Librarian.

John Dupuis, in an article posted Friday on, talks about the rush consolidation of Department of Fisheries and Oceans libraries from 11 to 4:

In the government’s mad rush to save only about $400,000 — a drop in the bucket at the scale of the federal government — they are turning a process that needs to be deliberate and carefully thought through into a careless exercise which threatens a valuable part of Canada’s documentary and scientific heritage.

Was the library staff given sufficient time and resources to properly consult with their research communities? How did DFO library staff ensure that nothing valuable was weeded from the collections? What criteria were applied to decide if something should be weeded? For particularly in-demand items, did they ensure that there were multiple copies at different locations?

In a more normal process, the library staff would work very closely with a researcher to carry out the weeding and collection consolidation projects. There is no evidence that this is what has happened.

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  1. The “savings” realized through reducing the service available to scientists, and moving the collections to the NRC are specious. Scientists who wish to access materials now have to place an ILL request. CISTI has outsourced document delivery to a US company, Infotrieve. This adds unneeded layers of complexity and significant cost (an article can now cost upwards of $60 through the new “service” model). Clients, who are sensitive to the cost issue, are developing workarounds, or not requesting articles at all.

    The long-term cost to Canadians is incalculable.

  2. Excellent point, Wendy. I have no doubt this move will cost more to Canadian taxpayers in the long run on the financial side, and will put us behind in terms of knowledge.

    And at what point will it endanger the health of Canadian citizens?