The sad state of Canada’s federal libraries

The Harper government’s war on knowledge is further evident in the decimation of Canada’s federal libraries. These specialist libraries house some of Canada’s most important collections.

For instance, the Human Resources and Skills Development (HRSDC) libraries included the largest collection of books in Canada on the social sciences. The libraries’ physical collections were entirely phased out in early 2013. The fate of the HRSDC libraries is not unique. Nearly two dozens federal departmental libraries across the country have closed. No studies were done to assess the impacts of these closures, and for many of the libraries affected there was no clear plan for the de-accessioning of the collections. Where plans were developed, departments indicated that their libraries’ historically valuable material would be relocated to Library and Archives Canada (LAC). However, while LAC claims that they have received nearly 1,000 boxes of “material of historical values”, an order paper from October 2013 reveals that of the 84,067 items offered by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) libraries to LAC not one was accepted.

Department of Fisheries and Oceans

The closure of DFO libraries has been particularly troubling. Seven of nine libraries have been closed in a process that has been decribed as “chaotic and haphazard”. In some instances, the libraries were closed so quickly that books on loans were not called back. There are reports and pictures of dumpsters filled with books. At the Eric Marshall Acquatic Research Library, one of the world’s finest fresh water libraries, the public was invited to scavenge through remaining materials.

In a secret government document, acquired through access to information by Postmedia, the federal government described the downsizing at DFO libraries as a “culling”.

This is particularly significant in light of the government’s ongoing claim that materials from the libraries would be digitized and made available to the public. A report by CBC Jan 30, 2014 revealed that despite claims that DFO materials have been digitized, there is no evidence that this is true.

Health Canada

“Breaking a complex system like Health Canada takes time. It may take two , five, even ten years before results start showing up in the population. But they will. Who will be held responsible?” (Health Canada scientist)

Information obtained through an access to information request has revealed that Heatlh Canada went ahead with cuts to library services after a department-commissioned report (“Published Information Risk Analysis”) clearly indicated that cuts that had already taken place compromised the ability of the department to produce evidence-based decisions and “raised alarm across the scientific community.” Significantly, this was a perspective shared by both managers and employees in the department.

Since 2007, library services at Health Canada have undergone the following changes:

  • Closure of branch and smaller libraries and the creation of a single departmental library (2008);
  • Outsourcing of document deliver/Inter-library loans to Infotrieve, a private-sector company (2010);
  • Successive rounds of downsizing of the Library Services Team from 40 (2007) to 6 (2012);
  • Closure of the physical library in March 2013. All books were sent to NRC-CISTI to become a “closed-stack” with no direct access possible for Health Canada personnel;
  • Cancellation of collections development activities (i.e. no new books purchased).

The report’s summary of findings states that:

  • the above actions have dramatically reduced access to essential information services and resources;
  • The restricted availability of information, poor services, and additional costs, fundamentally undermine Health Cananda’s ability to access material;
  • Health Canada professionals have taken a variety of measures to combat this loss of access, including one group moving downsized books and journals to a colleagues basement which could be accessed by emailing “Fred”;
  • Lack of access to library services and resources undermine the capacity of the department to make evidence-based decisions.

“If we are not already over the threshold [of becomgin a non-competent regulator] Health Canada is periously close” (Health Canada employee)

Departmental scientists and librarians who have spoken out about the cuts to departmental libraries say what has happened to the federal libraries is unprecedented. As one former librarian at the DFO pointed out, federal librarians "are used to changes in policy and direction, but what has really changed is the denigration of everything that came before…We are used to narrowing and broadening of the focus of federal libraries. But previous governments never went back and destroyed what other people did. Going back and destroying everything that came before is simply vandalism."


Canadian Heritage

  • Library and Archives Canada’s Staff Resource Center closed on November 1, 2012.
  • Public Service Commission (PSC) library closed.

Citizenship and Immigration (CIC)

  • The CIC library closed on March 31, 2012.

Environment Canada

  • National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy was eliminated. Its library was closed on March 31, 2013.

Foreign Affairs

  • The Documentation Service and library of the Canadian Cultural Centre at the Canadian Embassy in Paris closed on June 21, 2012.

Human Resources and Skills Development

  • HRSDC closed its libraries in Gatineau, Quebec, and Montreal on March 31, 2013.

National Capital Commission

  • National Capital Commission Library closed in 2012.

Public Works and Government Services

  • PWGSC closed its library in 2012.

Transport, Infrastructure and Communities

  • The department library in Ottawa closed on July 31, 2012 and the Canadian Transportation Agency closed its Gatineau, Que., library in 2013.

Transportation Safety Board

  • The agency library in Gatineau, Que., will completely close in early 2014.


Canada Revenue Agency (CRA)

  • CRA consolidated its nine existing libraries into one location in Halifax, N.S

Parks Canada

  • Parks Canada has consolidated five regional libraries into the one Cornwall, Ontario location.

Fisheries and Oceans (DFO)

  • The DFO has closed seven of its libraries, leaving two principal and two subsidiary locations. Researchers have serious concerns about the consolidation and de-accessioning process which insiders indicate was rushed and chaotic.

Natural Resources

  • Natural Resources Canada has closed six of fourteen libraries: two in Ottawa, one in Varennes, Quebec; one in Edmonton, Alberta; and another in western Canada. In 2014, another Ottawa location will be closed.

Employment and Social Development Canada

  • Libraries in Gatineau, Que., and Montreal were closed in 2013.

Environment Canada

  • One staffed library and one unstaffed library were closed between 2012 and 2013. The department now has seven staffed and no unstaffed libraries and has “no plans to consolidate further.”

Health Canada

  • The department’s print collection, formerly held at the Health Canada library, was downsized and moved to a closed stack at the National Research Council’s library in Ottawa in 2013.

Public Service Commission

  • The library in Ottawa closed on Mar. 31, 2013.

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