How about a new, modern, accessible Legislative Library?

May 3, 2007

The present Director of the Legislative Library makes a good argument for building a brand new library within the legislative precinct:

Save the library, in a new location

April 20, 2007

There has been much in the press lately about the fate of the legislative library. I want to acknowledge the concerns of the library community.

It is important for the library to maintain its collection, services and a location near the legislative chamber, not necessarily in the present location.

A new legislative library would be a welcome asset to the legislature and the province. It would provide for the long-term preservation of the collection, which has rightly been described as an irreplaceable provincial resource, the record of government from the earliest days, and the best collection of B.C. history under one roof.

The present building, though undeniably historic and beautiful, lacks climate control and any method of fire suppression and puts this remarkable treasure at risk.

The physical limitations of the present building present barriers to those with disabilities and access is heavily restricted during legislative sittings. Both restrictions would disappear in a new facility.

A modern, state of the art library building is a way to achieve all of these worthwhile goals: Preservation, service and access.

Jane Taylor, Director, B.C. Legislative Library.

I think the public would wholeheartedly support the building of a new Legislative Library next to the Legislature. If taxpayers can afford to give MLAs a 29% pay raise, surely we can afford a new library. If you haven’t already, do contact some of these people to suggest that this government has an opportunity to leave a lasting legacy for future generations of British Columbians while at the same time getting the prestige office space they so desire.


The Premier’s Bubble

April 2, 2007

It’s no secret that our elected representatives, especially high-ranking ones, do not read the vast majority of their mail. They simply don’t have the time, so they employ staff to reply to the letters and emails and summarize the general mood in the public. But when a provincial professional organization writes to the Premier about an issue that has caused much public outrage, don’t you think he should have a little look? Apparently not. According to a story (below, emphasis mine) in The Province, Mr. Campbell claims that he has not read last week’s letter from the B.C. Librarian’s Association about the closing of the Legislative Library. If the people with the most expertise and authority in the field can’t get through the Premier’s bubble, who can?

Library’s fate ‘undecided’
LEGISLATURE: Campbell says it’s too soon to say he’s moving in
Ian Bailey
The Province
Sunday, April 01, 2007

Premier Gordon Campbell says it’s too soon to say his offices will be moved into the space now occupied by the stately legislature library.

“There’s been no final plans brought forward,” Campbell said yesterday, when asked about the fate of the 144-year-old library.

Questions have been raised because half the 30 librarians have been notified they will be sent to other jobs in government, while the library and legislature undergo seismic upgrades.

The work will take two years. During that time, millions of books and documents will be sent to a warehouse.

News that Campbell was seen touring the library raised speculation the premier may be eyeing the stunning, five-storey marble-walled space for his own staff’s offices.

Campbell said yesterday that current speaker, Bill Barisoff, and the administrative committee of the legislature are making those decisions.

The premier acknowledged he did take a tour, but only as part of checking out various areas of the legislature grounds to hear about upgrades.

“I have visited the library. There were discussions about what we could do with the entire legislative precinct,” he said.

“The speaker took me around and talked about a number of initiatives we thought we were able to do.”

Campbell said the key issue now is making sure the provincial library collection is available to the public and its documents protected.

But B.C.’s librarians say in a letter to the premier the most important thing is for someone to come clean on the fate of the library.

“The situating of the legislature library within the legislature is symbolic of the importance of knowledge and learning to the founders of our province,” Inba Kehoe, president of the British Columbia Library Association, writes in a March 21 letter to Campbell, obtained by The Province.

The association is looking for assurances the library will remain intact and accessible after the renovations and that it will be restored to its “original prominence” after the work is done.

Campbell said he had not seen the letter.

Michael Burris, the association’s executive director, said the premier’s correspondence secretary had called him this past week to clarify a few points in the letter.

“Our concern is that, in the absence of a plan, we’re left to speculate on what is going to be the end result for the legislature library,” said Burris.

He said members of the Canadian Library Association have been calling his group, wondering what is going on with a facility that has some national prominence.

More Online Opposition

April 2, 2007

The British Columbia Library Association has an excellent summary of the situation with suggestions for action (see the news section on their front page). Print it out and share it with your friends!

The B.C. Teacher-Librarians’ Association has put together a collection of news stories and letters to the editor, topped off by a great Raeside cartoon.

Canoe News picked up the story from the beginning.

More mentions in the blogosphere: UBC Library Blog, Laurie the Librarian, and Sweet Byrd.

Finally, news of this problem has reached our neighbours to the south: American Libraries Online.

Vancouver Association of Law Libraries addresses the Premier

April 1, 2007

The Vancouver Association of Law Libraries has formally expressed its concerns about the downsizing and splitting up of the Legislative Library in this letter (original online version here):

Vancouver Association of Law Libraries
Box 48663, Bentall Centre
Vancouver, B.C. V7X 1A1

March 29, 2007

The Honourable Gordon Campbell
Premier of British Columbia
Parliament Buildings
Victoria BC V8V 1X4
Re: Legislative Library

Dear Mr. Premier:

I am writing on behalf of the Vancouver Association of Law Libraries (VALL) to address the recent announcement about the relocation and service reduction of the Legislative Library for the purpose of seismic upgrades.

The Legislative Library has played a pivotal role in providing access to government information to the citizens of British Columbia since its inception in 1863. Prior to the creation of public libraries throughout the province, the library was the sole provider of access to government information. As public and ministry libraries developed, the library focused on its statutory mandate, namely, the provision of services to the legislature.

Notwithstanding the legislative focus, the library continued to serve the public interest by collecting, organizing and making accessible government documents. The library has provided access to government related information for all the other libraries in British Columbia as well as members of the public, academics, press and MLA’s who use the library on site. With the development of the internet, public access to government information has been enhanced. However, much of this government information is only available via the internet for a limited period of time thus making it more difficult for the public to access this information. The library has continued its core service by downloading and archiving all of these valuable government documents, thereby preserving them for future use, and making them available for the public.

The historical collection is unique. Many libraries, archives and academic institutions rely upon it as the central depository of our cultural heritage. The absence of a central location for this information with a staff to facilitate access will oblige a plethora of libraries to maintain collections of documents that are more effectively located in one central repository. While we appreciate the need for seismic upgrades we urge you to make appropriate arrangements to maintain the collection and the services provided by library staff during this process. We also encourage you to have a long term plan for this large collection and related services before undertaking the seismic upgrade. Moving a library of this size and nature is a very significant undertaking.

The bulk of the collection is not available online. Books that are packed in boxes in offsite warehouses are not easily accessed. Staff will not be in a position to answer questions from legislative staff, members of the press, or other government staff with any degree of confidence. While opportunities to digitize parts of the collection exist, they require staff and the use of the collection to succeed. Digitization may help reduce the space required for this library but it also requires careful planning and funding.

In closing, we would encourage you to consider this temporary closure as an opportunity to reevaluate and enhance the Legislative Library as a cornerstone of our cultural heritage.

Yours truly,

Johanne A.C. Blenkin, LL.B., M.L.S.

President, Vancouver Association of Law Libraries
cc: Hon. Bill Barisoff, Speaker of the House
E. George MacMinn, Clerk of the House
Hon. Caroles James, Leader of the Official Opposition
Hon. Michael De Jong, Legislative Assembly Member Services Committee (LAMSC)
Randy Hawes, LAMSC
John Yap, LAMSC
Jenny Kwan, LAMSC
Mike Farnworth, LAMSC

Scholars, MLAs, Citizens Oppose Library Closure

April 1, 2007

Here are some recent letters to the Victoria Times-Colonist:

Closure threatens research
Times Colonist
Sunday, March 25, 2007

The long-term or permanent closure of the legislative library will seriously undermine the ability of historians to investigate the many aspects of B.C.’s past.

A heavy price for any extended closure would also be paid by current and future graduate students attending the University of Victoria and other B.C. universities. The library holds a vast amount of historical material available nowhere else in the province. The legislative library, in short, is vital to the way historians practise their craft here.

As someone who has relied upon the facility for nearly 20 years, I view any reduction of service with great concern. Journalists, scholars and concerned citizens, to say nothing of bureaucrats and policy-makers, should resist any threat to the institution.

Dr. Richard A. Rajala,
History department,
University of Victoria.

Library closing a shameful contradiction
Times Colonist
Thursday, March 29, 2007

Coverage of the pending closure or relocation of the legislative library reminded me of another closure of another important source of our provincial heritage records.

Doesn’t this remind you of how the Land Title Office was closed and moved out of Victoria? Considering that our city is deemed to be the capital of British Columbia, and therefore, keepers of the province’s treasured historical records, I find this latest pending action to be a travesty of the same impact, and a total contradiction to our responsibility.

I’ve heard that our premier is extremely supportive of the importance of literature in the life of every British Columbian, of any and every age.

I’m disappointed that schools are cutting back or phasing out professional school librarians (and relying on parent volunteers instead) and the closure or moves of these other important treasures and records in provincial care are being stored or otherwise unavailable.

From what I’ve seen of these “changes,” it’s a shameful contradiction and one that I’m sure will cause much regret in the future.

Anne Carlson,

Move the library to a new building
Times Colonist
Thursday, March 29, 2007

Instead of simply saying no to the proposed closure of the legislative library, I think there is an opportunity here for us to have an eyesore removed from near our cherished legislature.

I am speaking about the hideously ugly “temporary” buildings erected behind the legislature in the 1950s.

The clear win/win is to tear down these 50-year-old temporary tin and clapboard structures and build a new office building that would house a larger and more publicly accessible legislative library while at the same time allow for the required expansion of office space for the politicians and their staff within the legislature.

Michael Geoghegan,

Don’t desecrate this historic site
Times Colonist
Thursday, March 29, 2007

Perhaps the provincial government has decided against destroying the purpose of Francis Rattenbury’s magnificent legislative library. If more room is required for MLAs and staff then the government and opposition should use a bit of imagination.

The current elected members are but fleeting users of the parliament buildings. The legislative library has a 144-year occupancy and is one of the treasures of the people of B.C.

Common sense and respect, please, members of the assembly. No desecration of one of our important historical sites.

Jim Nielsen,
MLA 1975-1986,

Wonderful resource with excellent staff
Times Colonist
Friday, March 30, 2007

I wish to express my deep concern at the provincial government’s plan to change the legislative library from its original purpose as a wonderful reference source with excellent staff.It was always a delight to walk into that beautiful room. I know that many other former members also share my concern.

Eileen Dailly,
MLA 1966-1986,

A Portrait of a Librarian

March 29, 2007

One of the strongest voices against the current government’s plans for the Legislative Library is that of Joan Barton, former Director of the library for over 30 years. Ms. Barton speaks with an authority that few people concerned with this issue possess and a frankness that current Library employees are not permitted to employ. Victoria columnists Jim and Nic Hume have written a short biography of this outspoken and admirable public servant:

Protecting our books, our history

Jim and Nic Hume
Times Colonist 

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Joan Barton
CREDIT: Times Colonist file
Retired legislature librarian Joan Barton: “It’s pretty obvious the politicians covet the historic spot for their own comforts.”

It is the calm in the eye of the storm. A few metres away hot winds of rhetoric may blow and angry shouts echo in the great debating chamber of the B.C. legislature. Sometimes political wrath has spilled beyond the chamber with physical altercations in the Speaker’s corridor.

But always, just beyond the tumult and the shouting, the legislative library offered the calm of a monastery’s cloisters. Under its own domed ceiling, overlooked by gargoyles designed to ward off evil spirits, the keepers of British Columbia’s political history and heritage ply their trade in close to silence.

Their place of work is where it is by statute that states: “The [legislative] library must be kept conveniently near the legislative chamber.”

It is a statute Premier Gordon Campbell appears prepared to ignore as he — via Speaker Bill Barisoff, who has jurisdiction over the library — plans to “make space” for more politicians and create a new area for fancy receptions and celebrations. It is a proposal that moves former legislative library director Joan Barton to uncharacteristic anger.

Born in Browns Town, Jamaica, on June 16, 1941, to Mervyn and Hyacinth Wright, Barton grew up with lively siblings, brother Anthony and sister Patricia. Her father was in charge of gasoline rationing during the Second World War. After the war, he became the government’s chief inspector of produce. Her brother and mother, now 92, still live in Jamaica, as do several aunts and uncles.

Barton’s early education was in the Jamaican private school system and at University College of the West Indies. She left the university college with a diploma in education and joined the teaching staff at Jamaica College. While at West Indies she met and later married a medical student who, on graduation, found a position in Vancouver where Barton joined the staff of the Greater Vancouver Library as children’s librarian. The marriage ended in divorce as she took the first steps on a long road that led to the directorship of the legislative library, a position she held for many years until retirement a few years ago.

Along the way, she added a bachelor’s of arts from the University of London, a master of public administration from the University of Victoria, a master’s of library science from the University of B.C. and a certificate for teaching English as a second language from Camosun College. In 1993 and 1996, Barton was the recipient of the award of merit from the Institute of Public Administration of Canada, in 2001 she received a citation from the Certified General Accountants of B.C. and in 2002 she was honoured with the Queen Elizabeth Royal Jubilee Medal for outstanding public service.

As befits a woman who has spent her working life in the muted world of libraries, Barton is soft-spoken, with a whisper of the Caribbean in her phrases — until you mention the Campbell plan to pack rare books and documents in boxes and store the documents in a warehouse in Saanich and the books in a makeshift library that is less than “conveniently near the legislative chamber.”

Then dark eyes flash and her voice takes on a hard edge as she challenges government thinking. She doesn’t trust promises easily made but without written guarantees.

“They say the library and records collection will be displaced only temporarily for a couple of years while earthquake protection work is carried out,” Barton says. “But if you ask for a guaranteed date for a return, you won’t get a response. It’s pretty obvious the politicians covet the historic spot for their own comforts. Once they get the library out I have the feeling it won’t be coming back. You have to wonder what will be next when they need more space. The provincial archives, maybe?”

The legislative library has been the carefully catalogued depository of all things political, provincially and federally since 1863 — eight years before Vancouver Island became part of British Columbia. Joan says the government suggestion that the vast reservoir of accrued knowledge is available on the Internet is ridiculous. And she shudders at the thought of reports and reference works being stuffed in boxes and warehoused for years.

“Maybe,” she adds with a twinkle in her eye, knowing she’s talking to a life member, “they could find some extra room by evicting the press gallery.”

(The press gallery is located on the third floor of the main legislature with private access from the working gallery to the legislative chamber. Like the library, it is under the jurisdiction of the Speaker’s office. It was arbitrarily “evicted” by Speaker’s orders from its traditional place on the Speaker’s corridor in 1975 and kicked upstairs one floor to make office space available for legislative clerks.)

The righteous indignation of this 65-year-old, now retired but still a fierce protector of her old books and records, softens when she talks of other work, past and present — of Silver Threads, the Swan Lake-

Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary, Saanich advisory planning commission, the Institute of Public Administration and half a dozen other organizations ranging from being a lay member on the board of governors for the Certified General Accountants of B.C. to president of the Association of Parliamentary Librarians in Canada.

Some of those positions are in the past but her community activity calendar remains, well, active. Her trim condo in the high Quadra, which survived the leaky condo era at enormous personal expense, is as orderly as her libraries always were and as bright as a Caribbean summer day. I ask her what it cost to fix the leaks. “Let’s just say I bought the condo twice and haven’t — yet — received a penny in compensation.”

Several times a week she works out at Cedar Hill Recreation Centre and cheerfully admits becoming a late addict to golf. She says one day she picked up a leaflet advertising golf lessons. “I phoned the pro and he said come over and give it a try. So I did — and I’m addicted.”

We leave with the impression that the next time Joan tees off, the golf ball will have Campbell or Barisoff scratched on it — and the drive could make the Guinness World Records.

Legislative Library the Brains of Our Democracay

March 29, 2007

Stephen Hume lambastes the government for it’s underhanded library “land grab” in the Vancouver Sun:

Conspiring politicians and the land grab at the legislature
Stephen Hume
Vancouver Sun

Friday, March 23, 2007

Philistinism — actually, the street term “creeping meatballism” sounds better — spreads through British Columbia’s political class like some zombie virus in a B-grade movie.

Consider plans to abruptly close the 144-year-old legislature library for up to two years and warehouse its irreplaceable collections.

Now, a case for moving the library can be made — if it goes into a new building with the provincial archive and creates a leading-edge research facility for both politicians and public in the 21st century.

But what’s underway is diminishment, not enhancement. The legislative chamber is the heart of democracy, the library its brain. These collections are B.C.’s memory. Making it less accessible invites political Alzheimer’s disease.

This sorry process began when the provincial archive was rolled into the Royal B.C. Museum and saddled with cost-recovery demands that resulted in fee schedules that discourage public use.

Want a copy of a historic map? The fee is $35 to $75. Want a simple photocopy? Forty cents a page, twice what Vancouver Public Library charges, four times the fee at UBC’s library. Want to review some cabinet minister’s briefing notes or some society’s annual report? That might cost $50 an hour.

And don’t expect research help –unless you can afford a day off work. Cost constraints mean archivists are there only four days a week between 9:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

Recently, Premier Gordon Campbell raised the importance to literacy of early reading. He pontificated as elementary school librarians became an endangered species. The Vancouver Elementary School Teachers’ Association reported in 2005 that 96 per cent of public elementary schools didn’t meet the recommended student-to-librarian ratio. More than 50 per cent operated with fewer than half the recommended ratio.

Meanwhile, Mr. Literacy has flitted to a new enthusiasm. Now he’s Mr. Green. Hybrid cars are in and the library is out, the specialized staff is to be cut by half and collections boxed up and shipped out. Documents will supposedly be available “within 24 hours.” Note the wording. A working day is eight hours. Does that mean round-the-clock service from half the staff? I doubt it. Bet on “24 hours” meaning within three working days. That will be a joy on deadline.

Remember the sizzle about cost overruns on the Coquihalla Highway? Those stories sprang from engineering reports in the legislature library. Soon we’ll again be debating hydro development at Site C on the Peace River.

Where will those engineering reports be — buried in some warehouse? How convenient for any government that might find them embarrassing. How inconvenient for a public that wants the facts behind policy.

As Miro Cernetig’s story noted Saturday in The Sun, it appears the magpies who roost periodically in the legislature covet the library’s real estate. Word wafts out from under the dome that the premier’s office lusts after space now occupied by the library, while the NDP longs for new offices in the west wing where the premier’s suite resides.

Judging from NDP house leader Mike Farnworth’s assurances that the library’s “core collection” — translation, the collection will soon become two or more collections spread over several locations — will stay “near” the legislature, the Opposition was initially on-side, as it was at the beginning of that sleazy deal with the government to quietly hike MLAs’ pay.

Frankly, subsequent backpedalling notwithstanding, the NDP faithful should tell their leader to get out of bed with the Liberals. Political incest always breeds bad policy, as this library plan demonstrates.

Why the pressing need for office space, anyway? Most MLAs are seldom at the legislature. They’ve only averaged 63 sitting days a year since 1996. Last year, it dwindled to 46 days.

Or is this really about spacious new offices for “Kublai” Campbell and Carol “I’m All Right, Jack” James?

I suspect Olympic vanity — politicians who want a stately pleasure dome and marble-clad reception area where they can swan about on your tab impressing international VIPs with their witty bon mots.

Your average B.C. government librarian — oops, warehouse worker — pulls down $222 a day. Calculating from 46 sitting days, your basic backbencher earned $1,654.35 for each day in the legislature.

For that kind of pay, MLAs should happily hot bunk in a broom closet.

via CUPE loc. 391