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,