“Dark day for legislature library”

From the Victoria Times-Colonist:

Dark day for legislature library

Les Leyne
Times Colonist

The B.C. legislature library is closing down indefinitely for a seismic upgrade, and there is widespread concern it won’t reopen.

     The 29 staff in the 90-year-old building attached to the back of the legislature building were told this week to start packing for a move when the current session concludes this spring. The bulk of the library’s vast collection of historical documents will be shipped to a warehouse. A core collection of essential materials will be moved to another government building on Superior Street, just behind the legislature. Significant staff reductions are expected, but library staff have been told work will be found for anyone laid off.

     What happens after the historic building is quakeproofed still hasn’t been decided, Speaker Bill Barisoff said Friday. A management committee which includes the Speaker and members of the Liberal and NDP caucus will make the final decision, he said.

     The options include creating a reception area for official functions and more office space for MLAs and their staff. The steady increase in the number of politicians who inhabit the buildings has made space allocation a perennial concern. The number of MLAs has increased from 65 to 79 over the last 20 years. An electoral boundaries commission reviewing B.C. constituencies could increase that by another six.

     Speaker Bill Barisoff said the intent is to start as soon as possible in relocating the collection, but it will all be retrievable. Much of it is  headed for a warehouse in Central Saanich.

     He acknowledged the plans for alternate uses of the building, but said they have to be approved by a legislative management committee, which includes MLAs from the Liberal and New Democrat caucuses. 

     “There will still be a library,” he said. “The only thing different will be the location of the books.”

     The library was founded in 1863 for the Crown Colony of Vancouver Island. It was established at the rear of the legislature in 1915, when the annex was completed. It currently includes hundreds of thousands of historical documents, microfilmed newspaper archives going back 100 years and a reading room, among other features. It primarily serves the needs of the MLAs and their staff. Members of the public are allowed use at specified times when the house isn’t sitting.

     The reorganization of the venerable institution has outraged a former head librarian. Joan Barton, who ran the library for more than 30 years, said that successive legislatures have ignored the space problems in the building. “It was the optics. They were worried about building grand new offices for politicians.”

     Several plans were drawn up over the years to build new quarters and make more room. They included annexes, refurbishment of an old armory building adjacent to the legislature and a revamp of the whole legislative precinct. But nothing was done. “Now they’re in crisis mode, and the premier’s office is driving this agenda.”

     Premier Gordon Campbell and senior staff spent some time touring the library several weeks ago.

     One of the arguments advanced in favour of the reorganization was that much of the reference material often asked for is available online. But Barton scorned that explanation. “There is no such thing as ‘everything is on the Internet.’ When you say that to a librarian, they’re too polite to say so, but their first thought is: ‘I’m dealing with an idiot.’”

     Barton accused Speaker Barisoff of “just going along” with the premier’s plan and failing to defend the legislature.

     Barisoff said: “That’s the furthest thing from the truth.”

     He said he’s been working with the premier’s office to advance a wholesale renovation of the building, because it would cost a significant amount of money. But much of the concept came from his office, he said.

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One Response to “Dark day for legislature library”

  1. […] Assembly, Bill Barrisof, has responded to comments made by former head librarian Joan Barton (see here for her comments in the Times-Colonist). Decision on library not made […]

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