The Canadian administration of Stephen Harper, accused elsewhere of waging a “war on science,” appears to be carrying the struggle to the bookshelves. At least if the testimony of scientists working with and close to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is to be believed. According to reports, 11 DFO research libraries are being consolidated into four, with – depending on who you believe – the contents either carefully digitized or winnowed to remove duplications, or broken up and destroyed in a process of “libricide.”

fahrenheit 451The office of Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Gail Shea issued a combative press release to counter what was claimed to be “serious misinformation” about the treatment of the collections, citing as justification the fact that few members of the public were using the libraries, and that the closures saved taxpayers’ money. However, a jury of Canadian scientists quoted by The Tyee contested the DFO’s claims bitterly.

“Irreplaceable collections critical to the functioning of the research institutes were purposively reduced and/or destroyed,” said Peter Well, a marine scientist at Dalhousie University. ” The rationale of money to be saved has no defense, when one considers the cost of digitizing the remaining collections, the costs (real and intangible) of dismembering the existing libraries, and the costs to scientists’ efficiency and morale. DFO has destroyed its network of respected and valued research libraries.”

Even a “secret” DFO memo that came to light at the end of last year described the cost-saving results as limited, and the main activity of the library consolidation plan as “culling” the collections. And there seems to be a mild difference of opinion about claims that the DFO operation actually involved the burning of books. The Tyee claimed so, while the DFO press release stated that: “It is absolutely false to insinuate that any books were burnt.” Given that The Tyee’s panel of scientists pretty much demolished every other claim in the release, though, one has to wonder.


  1. This is much ado over nothing, especially the appeal to Bradbury’s novel, which was less a defense of books than an attack on television’s impact on reading.
    Libraries continually purge books from their collections or move them into storage to open up space for newer books. A number of books in my library used to be in libraries. Trashing or burning them makes no sense though. Sell them during fundraisers or give them away. Recycle as paper only if no one wants them. That seems to be what is happening here.
    There’s a better explanation for this fuss. Government agencies typically fight tooth-and-nail to protect their budgets, often launching nasty attacks on politicians who want to prune budgets. That may be what’s happening here.

  2. Michael, actually, if you drill down into the original reporting, you’ll find considerably more to back up the scientists’ own position on this. Not to mention that it very much suits the profile of the Harper administration to date.

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