When Dalhousie biologist Heike Lotze heard the library at the St. Andrews Biological Station in New Brunswick would close, it came as a shock.
The station has been a destination for researchers since the 19th century, and the library played a key role in her research into the ecological history of the Bay of Fundy, which has been dramatically degraded by human activity since colonization.
“If we don’t understand the history of human effects on the ocean, we are condemned to repeat it,” reads a journal article by Lotze and fellow researcher Loren McClenachan.
Following a spate of federal fisheries library closures in early December, Lotze and other scientists are worried about knowledge loss.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans plans to close seven of its 11 libraries by 2015, including the one in St. Andrews, which recently underwent a $62 million renovation. The Bedford Institute of Oceanography will likely receive some of the library’s materials.
It would be “an incredible loss” if the materials are dumped, scattered or stored somewhere inaccessible, Lotze said. She would prefer if they were kept together at BIO, but it’s not clear yet whether that will happen.
The government says the closures and consolidations are part of a digitization process that will save about $440,000 a year. Other than DFO employees, only five to 12 people on average visited the department’s 11 libraries each year, minister of fisheries and oceans Gail Shea says in a statement. “It is not fair to taxpayers to make them pay for libraries that so few people actually used.”
The government sent the Canadian Library Association an email offering the association the chance to adopt some of the materials from closing libraries, CLA president Marie DeYoung tells The Coast.
However, DeYoung says the government hasn’t been clear about how the materials at closing libraries will be sorted, where the collections will end up or how exactly digitization will happen. In the past, the feds have consulted with the CLA, but there was “no effort made” this time, she says.
Materials at a Parks Canada library in Halifax may also be on the chopping block. Parks Canada is consolidating five of its libraries, including one in Halifax, into the Cornwall, Ontario location. Repeated requests to federal communications went unanswered Monday and Tuesday, so The Coast cannot confirm which library is being consolidated.
Scientists from coast to coast view the library closures are part of a worrisome national trend. Lotze’s husband and fellow Dalhousie scientist Boris Worm is funded entirely by the federal government, and has watched the Conservatives cut funding to his colleagues.
Dismissals of more than 2,000 government scientists in the past five years and cuts to hundreds of programs have prompted researchers to leave the country or retire, Worm says.
“We’re losing our best scientists...That’s terrible. A lot of that knowledge, a lot of that expertise, took decades to build up, and it’s not something you can switch on or off. When you have it, you nourish it, you do everything to build it.”