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Federal library closures raises alarm

Paul Cipywnyk, of the Byrne Creek Streamkeepers, measues the temperature of Byrne Creek. He
Paul Cipywnyk, of the Byrne Creek Streamkeepers, measues the temperature of Byrne Creek. He's worried that the closure of federal libraries could mean the loss of data collected by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans over the years that is valuable to environmentalists and naturalists to determine the health of waterways.
— image credit: MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER

A Burnaby streamkeeper is raising the alarm over the recent and continuing closure of federal government libraries.

Paul Cipywnyk, president of the Byrne Creek Streamkeepers, is concerned about news reports describing the destruction of materials as the libraries are consolidated as a cost-cutting measure.

"I don't think our current government has a mandate to do that," he said.

Cipywnyk noted the material includes taxpayer-funded research, documentation and records that have been conducted and collected for decades.

"That sort of baseline information is key to understanding what's happening in our environment, what's happening to habitat. This almost appears to be part of a concerted effort by the present federal government to try to undermine that scientific way of looking at our country and planning for the future."

As for the government's claims that much of the material is being digitized, Cipywnyk noted that itself is a costly process. And while the government says few people used the libraries, he noted that researchers must apply for access and can't simply walk in.

Libraries being affected include those for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Environment Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Streamkeepers are "citizen scientists" trained to help assess the health of local creeks and waterways, Cipywnyk said. Without hard data in government records about the environment, "then you can make whatever policies you want, it's not based on anything scientific."

With a background in history, Cipywnyk called the destruction of documentation "frightening" and "very disquieting."

As for people referring to the Conservative government's actions as "book burning," he said, "In the past, societies that did try to get rid of their history, they tended to be rather extremist and they had political agendas to fulfill that the historical record was inconvenient for."

In response to Cipywnyk raising the issue as a member of Burnaby's environment committee, city council voted to have Mayor Derek Corrigan write to the federal fisheries and oceans and environment ministers protesting the closure of the libraries and the destruction of research and other records.

"What's happening is that ignorance is becoming an integral part of public policy as far as this current federal government is concerned," said Coun. Nick Volkow.

Records collected over several decades on lakes, waterways and the environment are "all of a sudden out of the blue for an alleged savings, if you can believe it, of $430,000, they are basically trashing libraries that took over a hundred years to develop in this country."

Coun. Anne Kang said reports indicate only about five per cent of records are being digitized, and most of the information will disappear if not kept in the libraries.

Digitizing information will only create new problems in the future since the speed at which technology develops means in 20 or 30 years there may not be devices readily available to read the material, noted Coun. Pietro Calendino.

"It's really astounding this thing's happening," Calendino said. "It's barbaric … The Harper government is bringing us back to the Dark Ages."

Earlier this month, Fisheries and Oceans Minister Gail Shea said in a statement that  more than 86 per cent of the users of the 11 DFO libraries were department  employees, with only five to 12 people from outside the DFO visiting them on average each year.

Materials from the closed libraries were offered to other libraries, third parties, DFO staff and the general public before they were finally "recycled in a 'green' fashion if there were no takers," Shea said. "It is absolutely false to insinuate that any books were burnt."

wchow@burnabynewsleader.com

twitter.com/WandaChow

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