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.


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


Times-Colonist: Library plans “in the works for some time”

March 22, 2007

This article doesn’t offer much that is new except to mention that engineers have been looking at the library since early 2006, and that the cost of the seismic upgrades may be $30 million. Whether that includes the conversion to office space is not known at this time. Time and FOI will tell…

Legislature library closing
Quake proofing could bring final chapter to marble institution. Politicians have their own ideas about what to do with the space.

Les Leyne
Times Colonist; with files from Times Colonist staff

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The history of government resides in the legislature library, an institution founded in 1863. Many of its holdings, which include millions of documents and microfilmed newspapers, will be heading to a warehouse.
CREDIT: Ray Smith, Times Colonist
The history of government resides in the legislature library, an institution founded in 1863. Many of its holdings, which include millions of documents and microfilmed newspapers, will be heading to a warehouse.

The B.C. legislature library is closing indefinitely for earthquake-proofing, amid widespread concern it won’t reopen.

The 29 staff in the 90-year-old building at the back of the legislature were told this week to prepare for a move. Half of them will be laid off, although they’ve been told work will be found elsewhere in the public service. Whether they will ever move back is still up in the air.

Much of the library’s holdings will be headed for a warehouse.

What happens after the historic building has been seismically upgraded still hasn’t been decided, Speaker Bill Barisoff said. A management committee that includes himself and members of the Liberal and NDP caucuses will make the final decision, he said.

But suspicion ran rampant yesterday that the politicians are planning a takeover of the marbled space for their own office use.

Barisoff confirmed that options under discussion include creating a reception area for official functions and more room for MLAs and 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 to 79 from 65 over the last 20 years. An electoral boundaries commission reviewing B.C. constituencies could increase that by another six.

Barisoff said the material stored in the warehouse will still be easily retrievable. A core collection of essential materials will be moved to another government building on Superior Street, just behind the legislature.

The law that established the library stipulates that it “must be kept conveniently near the legislative chamber.”

Barisoff said future use of the library building has to be decided and approved by a legislative management committee that 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 marble foyer features a 15 metre-high vaulted ceiling, under which resides the history of government going back to the Crown Colony of Vancouver Island. The library was founded in 1863 and includes millions of documents, microfilmed newspapers going back 100 years and a reading room. It primarily serves the needs of MLAs and their staff. The public is allowed in at specified times when the house isn’t sitting.

Former head librarian Joan Barton, who ran it for more than 30 years, said successive legislatures have ignored the space problems in the building.

“It was the optics. They were worried about building grand new offices for politicians.”

“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 is that much of the reference material is now 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 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. But much of the concept came from his office, he said.

NDP House Leader Mike Farnworth said nothing has been decided, but the issue of space is going to become more pressing if six more ridings are created. “We’re going to have to look at how we use the space.”

As for the legislature building itself, sources said last July that a plan had been in the works for some time and that an engineering firm had gone over the building several months previous to assess the need for a seismic upgrade.

The report has not been made public, but cost estimates apparently started at about $30 million. If a full-scale renovation was included, the price tag would likely double.
 


The Province: “Turning it into office space would be an insult to all British Columbians.”

March 22, 2007

The Province continues the chorus of opposition to the proposed conversion of the Legislative Library.

A public treasure politicians shouldn’t destroy
Could our MLAs finally be coming to their senses?
 
Michael Smyth
The Province

Thursday, March 22, 2007

If the Gordon Campbell government wants to shut down the legislative library and turn it into office space, they’ll have to go it alone.

Yesterday — after a week of twiddling their thumbs on the issue — the NDP Opposition said it wants no part of any plan to ransack B.C.’s history.

“I think it’s been made very, very clear that people feel strongly about the library and we’re saying it should stay right where it is,” NDP house leader Mike Farnworth told me.

“We will oppose any effort to convert the library into office space.”

This is a very different position from the one Farnworth took on the issue last week, when it was announced that the library was closing for seismic upgrades and might re-open as office space for Liberal and NDP MLAs.

Back then, Farnworth pointed out that space is already at a premium in the legislative buildings and six new MLAs are expected to be added in a riding redistribution.

“We’re going to have to look at how we use the space,” he said.

Farnworth is a key member of a committee of Liberal and NDP MLAs that will decide the fate of the 144-year-old library that holds more than one million books, documents and other records at the legislature.

His comments of last week seemed to indicate the New Democrats and the Liberals had cooked up a secret scheme to take over the library space for their own use.

Does that sound vaguely familiar? Last year, the very same committee secretly agreed to give all the politicians salary hikes ranging from 15 per cent to 31 per cent, plus a new, gold-plated pension plan.

The booty haul fell apart after NDP Leader Carole James backed out of the deal in the face of public anger.

Looks like she’s learned her lesson.

But now that the NDP has decided to stand up for the library — finally — the Liberals could still go ahead and annex it anyway.

Liberal MLA Bill Barisoff, the current Speaker of the legislature, said yesterday the office-conversion option is still on the table, though he was sounding less bullish on the idea. He said the Liberal-NDP committee is looking at several other options to deal with space pressures.

Could it be that everyone is finally coming to their senses on this issue?

“It’s clear to us that it would be stupid to convert the library into offices and I hope the government realizes that it would be stupid, too,” Farnworth said.

Amen. The stately and historic legislative library is a public treasure that holds 144 years of our history and some of the province’s most rare and important documents.

Turning it into office space would be an insult to all British Columbians.


Victoria News: Library “will be downsized”

March 22, 2007

So much for Speaker Barisoff’s  claim that no final decisions have been made.

Library closing 

By Brennan Clarke
News staff
bclarke@vicnews.com
Mar 21 2007

Ex-librarian says premier wants space for office

Plans to close the B.C. legislature’s library have raised the ire of the facility’s longtime librarian, Joan Barton, a woman who once wrote a report recommending the space be “converted to other use.”

In a 1992 report to then-speaker of the House Joan Sawicki, Barton noted that “alternative space for the library would certainly go a long way toward solving the space problems of the other legislative services.”

The difference between then and now, said Barton, is the government has no plans for a new building to house the library’s expansive collection and wants to put the bulk of the collection in storage in a Saanich warehouse, contrary to the provisions of the province’s Library Act.

“The Library Act states that these materials must be located conveniently close to the chamber. The actual wording is they’re supposed to be able to hear the bell (announcing the house is in session) ring,” said Barton, who retired in 2003 after a 30-year career as legislative librarian.

The legislature has been running out of space for decades and at one time housed the Royal B.C. Museum and the provincial archives, she said. Both of those entities were moved “in an orderly fashion” into new spaces designed specifically for them.

“They could solve their space problem by building a new library,” she said. “But absolutely no planning has been done for the library move.”

Barton said the library space, coveted by a long line of B.C. politicians, is slated to become office space for the premier, his staff and other MLAs.

“He wishes to to move his office into the library rotunda. I know because he was in there pointing out where people would be having their desks and (library) staff were present at the time,” Barton said.

Campbell’s office did not return calls from the Victoria News by Monday’s deadline.

Barton’s 1992 report, one of several to address the legislature’s space crunch and suggest moving the library over the last three decades, was dutifully given to a reporter by the Speaker’s office Monday.

Speaker Bill Barisoff, whose portfolio includes the upkeep of the legislature, said the legislative management committee “hasn’t made a decision on how we think we’ll best use the space in that building.”

Instead, Barisoff portrayed the move as a temporary measure needed to make way for seismic upgrades.

“The library was never meant to be closed. We’re going to keep operating it within the precinct,” he said.

About one-third of the library’s materials – the “core collection” – will be moved to the building on Superior Street, while the other two-thirds will be placed in storage.

The library’s 29 staff members were told Friday the facility will be moving soon.

Barisoff said none of those affected will lose their jobs. Fifteen of the employees will manage the core collection, while the other 14 will be placed elsewhere in government.

Dunc Malcolm/News staff
The legislative library is being turfed out to make room for MLA offices. A library employee who wished to remain anonymous confirmed that staff were informed last week that the library will be downsized and relocated and much of its collection will be placed in permanent storage.

“Historic legislative library faces uncertain fate”

March 21, 2007

Here is the full version of the story first printed in the Vancouver Sun on March 16, 2007.

Historic legislative library faces uncertain fate
90-year-old facility to be closed for upgrade but may move permanently

Miro Cernetig
Vancouver Sun; with file from CanWest News Service

Saturday, March 17, 2007

VICTORIA – It has existed for 144 years as one of B.C.’s great democratic institutions: The library within the legislative buildings devoted to tirelessly researching and cataloguing the political events, laws and history of British Columbia.

But B.C.’s Speaker of the House, claiming the legislative library is in a wing that needs to be seismically upgraded, is about to close the library down for up to two years, and perhaps move it from its historic site for good.

About half the 30 librarians will be sent to other jobs in government. The millions of precious items in the library’s dusty stacks — historical Canadian documents filled with esoteric government business dating back before Confederation — will be sent to a warehouse.

“There will still be a library on the legislature’s precinct,” said Speaker Bill Barisoff, who holds the library’s fate in his hands. “The only thing difference will be the location of the books.”

That isn’t good enough for those who see the library, which has been at its current site for 90 years ago, as an important resource for non-partisan research in the heat of political debate. Documents that can sometimes be found nowhere else can be signed out by politicians, academics and journalists in a few minutes, often in time for deadlines and ongoing debates.

“It’s a tragedy,” said veteran Times Colonist columnist Jim Hume, who has used the library for more than 50 years. “My God, if the legislative chamber is the heart of the legislature, the library is its soul . . . . This is our history. If you really want to do research, you use the library where you can find everything, not the Internet.”

Barisoff said it is unclear where the contents of the library will be warehoused, but promised that materials can be available to users within 24 hours.

The New Democratic Party, which relies on the library for its research, as opposition parties always have, said nobody should panic. NDP house leader Mike Farnworth said the library will not be “banished” and that the “core collection” will stay near the legislature, if not in it.

The uncertain fate of the library only became public knowledge Friday morning, when reporters walked in for some research and were met by teary-eyed librarians.

The library here is under siege while the federal government has recognized the importance of having a library of Parliament. More than $136 million was spent on refurbishing that institution over four years and it was reopened to widespread praise.

But word is that the government covets the library’s five marble floors — all housed under a towering dome that covers cosy reading rooms with a fireplace — for office space. The legislature has faced a space crunch for decades as the number of MLAs steadily expands — now at 79 and with another four expected after the current review of electoral boundaries.

In recent weeks, Premier Gordon Campbell, a book lover who likes to promote literacy as one of the great goals for the province, checked out the facility, but not any books. That raised librarians’ suspicions something was up as the government eyes a major refit of the legislature.

Joan Barton, who ran the library for more than 30 years, told the Times Colonist the legislature’s space crunch has been long ignored and has now precipitated a rush to action. “Now they’re in crisis mode, and the premier’s office is driving this agenda,” she said, dismissing the argument that in the digital age a legislative library a few hundred metres away from the debating chamber is a waste of space.

“There is no such thing as ‘everything is on the Internet,’ ” she said. “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.’ ”

mcernetig@png.canwest.com

FOR THE RECORD(S)

1863 — Library is founded with a grant of £250 to serve the Colonial Legislature of Vancouver Island.

1893 — The first librarian, R.E. Gosnell, a close friend of Premier Sir Richard McBride, establishes a separate collection of material relating to B.C. history. That forms the nucleus of the provincial archives.

1898 — Known as the Provincial Library, the collection begins a travelling library service to bring books to British Columbians because of a lack of libraries.

1974 — The library is re-christened the Legislative Library and focuses on serving the legislature, its MLAs, academics and the press gallery.

1985 — The Speaker of the Legislature takes over management and control of the library.

March 16, 2007 — News leaks out that the government plans to shut the library for up to two years for seismic upgrading and likely move it to another location.


“Legislative library will be closed to make space for offices”

March 21, 2007

From the Vancouver Sun.

Legislative library will be closed to make space for offices
 
Miro Cernetig
Vancouver Sun

Friday, March 16, 2007

VICTORIA — It has existed for 144 years as one of B.C.’s great democratic institutions: The library housed inside the capital’s legislative buildings devoted to tirelessly researching and cataloguing the political events, laws and history of British Columbia.
But B.C.’s Speaker of the House is about to close the legislative library down for up to two years, and perhaps move it for good from its historic site, claiming it is in a wing of the legislature that needs to be seismically upgraded to make it safe in an earthquake.

About half the 30 librarians will be sent to other jobs in government. As for the millions of precious, and in some cases priceless, materials in its dusty stacks, a treasure trove of Canadian history filled with the esoteric businesses of governments dating back before Confederation, will be sent to a warehouse. It’s also not clear the institution will ever come back to the legislature since the politicians, who are are short on space, have been eying the cavernous space for a warren of offices.

“There will still be a library on the legislature’s precinct (the property around the legislature),” Speaker Bill Barisoff, who holds the library’s fate in his hands. “The only thing different will be the location of the books.”

That wasn’t good enough for those who see the library — first moved into the legilsature aboout 90 years ago — as an important outlet for nonpartisan research in the heat of political debate.

Documents that can sometimes be found nowhere else — or take weeks to obtain — can be signed out by politicians, academics and journalists in a few minutes, often in time for deadlines and ongoing debates.