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.


A Victoria MLA speaks out

March 22, 2007

The response from opposition MLAs on the Legislative Library controversy has been underwhelming so far, but Victoria MLA Rob Fleming has stepped forward to defend our democratic heritage:

NDP MLAs say library shouldn’t close or move

Times Colonist
Published: Thursday, March 22, 2007

There has been widespread speculation about the future of the B.C. legislative library. Even though no decision has been made about its future, I am writing to make clear that New Democrat MLAs believe that the library should remain where it is now.

New Democrat MLAs from the south Island share the strong attachment our constituents have to the library and we are committed to protecting this vital institution.

Rob Fleming, MLA,

Anyone who wishes to thank Mr. Fleming for his support may contact him via his home page.

Past renovations at the Legislature

March 22, 2007

From the Legislature’s “Self-Directed Guide Book“:

Today, the Reception Hall is occasionally used for special functions and receptions, but forty years ago it was still office-space for the former Department of Lands and Forests. At that time the space was partitioned into cubicles and had peach-coloured walls and red battleship linoleum on the floor. During the restoration, the ceiling of this room was discovered and restored to its original Early French Renaissance style. When the linoleum was lifted, restorers recovered the original parquet of local Douglas fir.

If the present government goes ahead with the plan to convert the Legislative Library to offices will history repeat itself? Will some future generation be forced, at their expense, to restore the heritage their ancestors so callously threw away?

Update on Matrix Planning Associates report

March 21, 2007

It’s amazing what you can find out when you consult a professional librarian! I was unable to find the 1988 report by Matrix Planning Associates in the Legislative Library online catalogue, but a quick phone call revealed that it is indeed conveniently located just down the hall from those who would like to eliminate the library. The reason I couldn’t find the report was because it was authored by a previous incarnation of Matrix, William Wood Consulting Ltd., and it appears that it was published in 1993, five years after it was completed. Why the delay in making the report public? I wonder if there are any other reports out there that we don’t know about?

In case anyone would like to go down and read this report, it is titled “Facilities study, Legislative Library, Parliament Buildings, Victoria, British Columbia,” with the call number Gov Doc BC B62 D:F2L4 1988. I’ll hopefully be taking a look at it this week. Stay tuned.

A response from the Speaker

March 21, 2007

The Speaker of the Legislative 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

Times Colonist
Tuesday, March 20, 2007

I am surprised and dismayed by comments made by retired legislative librarian Joan Barton on the prospect of relocating the legislative library.

In a 1988 report on the legislative library, resubmitted in 1992 to then-Speaker Joan Sawicki, Barton herself recommends to “build a new library on the Armouries site with modern facilities to meet the conditions of the 21st century to improve library efficiency and free up space in the present building for the office needs of MLAs.”

She saw that the demands for space in the building and the demands of the library itself would continue to grow.

That demand still remains. In the past 20 years the number of MLAs has risen from 65 to 79.

An Electoral Boundaries Commission report due later this year could recommend increasing that number by up to six more MLAs.

Space requirements in the buildings are a challenge, but how to resolve that challenge is yet to be decided.

A seismic upgrade for the library is our first priority in order to ensure the safety of the staff and documents.

Beyond that, it will be up to an all-party committee of MLAs to decide how best the legislative precinct can serve the legislative assembly and the public.

The legislature and its library are important to us all and represent a proud tradition.

Jumping to conclusions without the facts does a great disservice to that tradition.

Bill Barisoff,
Speaker of the Legislative Assembly.

Curiously, Barisoff does not mention the other 1988 report that concluded that moving the library off-site would not solve the space problem back when there were only 65 MLAs.

Legislative library was on the chopping block before

March 21, 2007

Apparently this is not the first time that a B.C. government has eyed the library wing as a way to expand office space in the parliament buildings. In the late 1980’s, Matrix Planning Associates was contracted to study this option, and here is a summary of their findings:

The Legislative Library occupies 3500 m2 on four levels of the Legislative Building South Wing. The purpose of our study was to examine the potential to release some of the space for alternative uses. Analysis focused on determining possible reductions in the Library’s collection and identifying functions that could be relocated outside of the Legislative Buildings. We also assessed the suitability of the released space for use by other Legislative functions. We concluded that, while reductions were identified, reassigning space occupied by the Library did not offer a ready solution to escalating space needs and it may be best to consider all demands on the Legislative Buildings in an overall, long term strategic development plan. Completed in 1988.

It is 20 years later now and officials are still looking for quick and dirty solutions to difficult, long-term problems. Adding on to the parliament buildings would certainly be expensive but it makes far more sense than cannibalizing the legislative library. Consider that there were 14 fewer MLAs when Matrix concluded that converting the public library to private offices would not solve the space problem. To think that it would solve the problem now is ludicrous. It was a short-sighted plan in 1988 and it is still a short-sighted plan in 2007. The difference is that the politicians of 2007 have this taxpayer-paid report to refer to; they have only to ask for it. This is a prime example of why the legislative library and its librarians are sorely needed by MLAs in order to give us good government.