AAFC Lethbridge library takes a hit

The department says it is modernizing information delivery, the union says it is trashing valuable research

The library at the Lethbridge Research Centre of Agriculture Canada has been stripped of years of valuable research documents in the Harper government’s latest purge of science, says the union representing 15,000 federal scientists.

However, the department insists the dispatch of the library’s collection for recycling is part of “modernizing the delivery of library services by moving towards a digital service delivery model, while keeping all materials of business value to all employees, including our scientists. This will allow for easier and cost-efficient search and access to library resources by employees, no matter their location.”

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The email from the department was not attributed to anyone and didn’t say how much of the discarded material had been transferred to electronic records.

Serge Buy, president of the Agriculture Institute of Canada, the national organization of agriculture scientists and researchers, couldn’t comment on the specifics of the Lethbridge library.

“However, we strongly believe that there is a need to preserve past research and archive information for future research. Canada is well positioned to become a global leader in agricultural research, and it is vital that past information be accessible for future scientists and researchers.”

Debi Daviau, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, said digital subscriptions don’t replace everything and are more susceptible to future budget cuts. “It doesn’t make access easier for either scientists or the public when remaining physical copies — the work of decades of accumulation of published science and research — are deliberately dumped in the trash or removed from a local centre’s library,” she said.

The library served 48 Agriculture Canada scientists, 85 technicians, and numerous visiting workers and students access to decades of valuable, specialized agricultural and scientific information, she said.

“While some items appear to have been shipped to government facilities in Ottawa, most of the library’s contents had been either discarded in a dumpster outside the building or sent to recycling. The loss will make access to relevant research more difficult for scientists working in areas as varied as the study of beef, soil chemistry and ecology, rangeland, wheat, canola, potatoes, beans, insect pests, and greenhouse gases.”

The elimination of the Lethbridge Research Centre’s library brings to 16 the number of federal science libraries lost due to cuts, closures and consolidations since 2012, when the Harper government introduced sweeping cuts to federal jobs, programs and services.

“The Harper government continues to target government science at every turn,” she continued. “It is time Canadians understood the cumulative loss to federal science — and this week to agricultural science, in particular — of a government whose priorities are clearly out of step with both public scientists and the public interest.”

The department said its employees were offered documents no longer considered relevant or were duplicates. It said there was an established government retention policy that “strictly adhered to in the completion of the exercise to consolidate the Lethbridge Research Centre library collection.

“More and more Canadians and scientists are turning to electronic sources for information. The increasing presence of information online, including electronic scientific journals, enables the department to consolidate and enhance its library resources by adding new material on an ongoing basis.

“Loans and requests from the print collections have declined by more than 83 per cent from both AAFC and external clients. Traditional library services are changing and AAFC is moving towards services being delivered virtually and as a self-service feature.”

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