According to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, consolidating its libraries and digitizing content means minimal change.
Fisheries says that’s because most users already access the information online, while those who actually prowl the stacks, make up only two per cent of users.
“There will be no changes to the size or scope of the collection,” the department says on its website.
But fisheries scientists who use the libraries say the contrary, according to SFU acquatics professor John Reynolds.
They’ve seen “firsthand that a large amount of the material has not been digitized before it was destroyed.
“There’s been no systematic inventory done beforehand.”
Neither were scientists consulted before library material was removed.
The federal government is in the process of paring the number of Fisheries libraries across Canada from 11 to only four, with one of the four remaining locations to be the Institute of Ocean Sciences in Sidney, on Vancouver Island.
However, that’s meant that the library at the Pacific Biological Station is no longer there.
“That library is gone. It’s already been dismantled,” Reynolds said.
He has never used the library, but says the type of records it would have contained would be raw data showing baseline information.
“That’s the type of material that these types of materials are important for.”
He doesn’t want to speculate what is motivating the government. “The intent and what’s happening on the ground are not the same thing. We are not improving access to scientific information. It’s a setback.”
He also wondered if it was legal under copyright laws to digitize and make available online non-Fisheries materials.
The proper process would have been to put everything online, then show the public the libraries before any dismantling to prove that records were preserved.
The controversy prompted Fisheries Minister Gail Shea to say that “serious misinformation” was spread about the library consolidation.
However, the release doesn’t directly state that documents have not been destroyed.
“All materials for which DFO has copyright will be preserved by the department,” Shea said.
In 2011, for example, more than 95-per-cent of the total documents provided to users were provided digitally through self-service or library-staff virtually assisted service.
Shea said: “Duplicate materials, including books, from the libraries being consolidated were offered to other libraries and third parties if they wanted them.
“They were also offered to the DFO staff on site at the library, then offered to the general public, and finally were recycled in a “green” fashion if there were no takers. It is absolutely false to insinuate that any books were burnt.”
Local NDPer Craig Speirs takes the word of the scientists over those of his rival Conservative politicians.
“You can’t believe a bloody thing these people say anymore. They’ve lost the trust of the public.”
Speirs said the department has digitized only a small percentage of the records lost.
Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge MP Randy Kamp, parliamentary secretary to the Fisheries minister, was out of town and unavailable for comment.