Legislative Library the Brains of Our Democracay

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

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