Is a Library Without Books Still a Library?

March 28, 2007

In anticipation of April Fool’s Day the University of Michigan student newspaper has lampooned the current trend towards replacing library books and journals with electronic media:

Mardigian Library to remove all books; students won’t notice

Asinusim Inlitteratus
Issue date: 3/27/07 Section: April Fools’

Students visiting UM-D’s newly-renovated Mardigian Library will find plenty of room to study and hang out, now that the books are gone.

Library administrators undertook the renovations in response to a Student Government petition, removing all books and shelving and installing a state-of-the-art sound system and night club-style lighting. According to the SG petition, the books and shelves were “taking up a lot of unnecessary space that might be better utilized by students who want to see their tuition used to serve their needs.”

He added that library administrators had made the changes with the best interests of students in mind. “We took a good hard look at how best to meet students’ needs. We figured no one was using the books, so why not get rid of them? I mean, come on, we all know that students really come here to surf the Internet and make out on the second floor. And with these new innovations, they’ll be able to do so much more efficiently.”

Although the response to the changes has been mostly positive, Richards explained that there was some initial hesitance on the part of some faculty members. “Yeah, a couple of the professors weren’t down, they wanted to make waves. It was cool, though. I just had to let them know what’s up,” said the former Navy Seal, cracking his knuckles menacingly.

If only the Provincial Government was joking as it suggests that the Legislative Library can continue to function with half the staff and most of its collection in a warehouse half an hour outside of the city. Who do they think they’re kidding?


“Barbarians threaten legislative library”

March 24, 2007

Letter to the editor of the Vancouver Sun:

Barbarians threaten legislative library

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Re: Historic legislative library faces uncertain fate, Westcoast News, March 17

The legislative library is an architectural treasure. Specifically designed to house a library, this is more than a building, it is grand, illustrious and noble, lifting soul and spirit. I never fail to go there when visiting Victoria.

And now it is to be converted to offices. Is someone mad? It is akin to turning Christ Church Cathedral into shops or Stanley Park into a condo strip. Is nothing sacred? Have we no regard for history, culture, beauty? Barbarians are in the garden city.

Nick Loenen

B.C. is about to lose a historic treasure that is also a gold mine of information. As a former member of the B.C. press gallery, I found the legislature library to be an invaluable resource when researching articles for the Victoria Times Colonist and later when reporting for television under tight deadlines.

The library’s central location is crucial since reporters often have very little time to spare, much like MLAs preparing for committee work, legislative debates and question period. It’s important to have immediate access to materials.

In addition, I believe the library should be maintained in its prominent location in the heart of the legislature for symbolic reasons. The B.C. government should be applauded for its recent efforts promoting literacy. But if we allow the library to be shut down or shunted aside to an ancillary building, it sends a signal that we as a province do not hold libraries in high regard.

Of course, a library is only as good as its staff. At the B.C. legislature library, the level of service is exemplary. The librarians were always most helpful, ensuring I got my facts straight. I hate to think what their loss will do to the quality of research by reporters, MLAs and legislative staff.

Susan Danard

What happens when a government values its library

March 23, 2007

Restored Library of Parliament, Ottawa.

The Government of Canada recently spent $136 million restoring and upgrading our national parliamentary library. (See a video of the entire process here.) Like B.C.’s Legislative Library, the Library of Parliament is located in its own wing of the parliament buildings and boasts spectacular architecture. Unlike B.C.’s Legislative Library, the Library of Parliament is valued by its caretakers for its role in providing vital information to lawmakers and for its beauty and heritage value.

Not only was the Library of Parliament restored architecturally, it was upgraded to modern archival standards to ensure that its contents would be preserved for future generations. Workers cut through the bedrock to expand the library’s basements and new systems were installed to provide a climate-controlled environment for the collection. The result is a more secure, more efficient library that continues to be the jewel of Parliament Hill.

There is no reason why B.C. shouldn’t attempt a similar project. Our Legislative Library was built during a boom time. We are experiencing another such boom, with large budget surpluses every year and more on the horizon. This is the time to talk about expanding the library, not downsizing it.

B.C. Library Association responds

March 23, 2007

Inba Kehoe, President of the B.C. Library Association, has sent a formal letter to Premier Campbell expressing her association’s concerns about the future of the Legislative Library.

March 21, 2007 

Dear Mr. Premier,

The British Columbia Library Association (BCLA) would like to take this opportunity to address the recent announcement concerning the relocation and service reduction at the Legislative Library of British Columbia.

The situating of the Legislative Library within the Legislature is symbolic of the importance of knowledge and learning to the founders of our province.  These values continue to be important to our present government and citizens.  As international attention to our Province grows, it is important that the world knows of our collective commitment to literacy and the quest for knowledge.

As I’m sure you would agree, in our democratic society it is the responsibility of government to protect the public record and ensure that it is freely accessible to all citizens.  The BC Legislative Library preserves official publications of the province and makes these available for the use of current legislators, their staff and for those who will succeed them.

We recommend that you offer clear and continued assurances that:

• The collections of the Legislative Library will remain fully intact and readily accessible

• Services which benefit everyone in the province, including the collecting, cataloguing, and indexing of government information in all forms, will continue without interruption

• The Legislative Library will be restored to its original prominence once the seismic upgrades have been completed.

The British Columbia Library Association requests you demonstrate your support for the services provided by the Legislative Library implementing our recommendations when you announce your plan for the future of the library known affectionately throughout the province as “the Leg”. 

Respectfully yours,

Inba Kehoe
President, British Columbia Library Association

via LibTech Life

More coverage by bloggers

March 23, 2007

Librarian Activist: “MLAs need access to all the information that a parliamentary library provides, and the assumption that all relevant information is available online is made by those who don’t work in libraries or use them enough. Such assumptions undermine what we vote for: representatives who we count on to inform themselves adequately and then make decisions on our behalf.”

Paying Attention: “There’s something nastily symbolic about the politicans’ plan to shut down the magnificent legislative library so they could have better offices.”

Ballad in Plain E, CLA Montreal, and Access to Government Information also raise the alarm in their corners of the blogosphere.

Good work, people!

Why we need librarians

March 23, 2007

Why we need librarians

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.