There has been lots of commentary, discussion, and outrage on the closing of various DFO (Department of Fisheries and Oceans) libraries and the disposition of their collections. At this point there are some key facts I don’t fully know or understand, so I’m still weighing the evidence and the validity of these actions.
However, I do know this:
Weeding libraries and pulping the material is not wrong; librarians do it almost every day and it is a very important part of their job.
Closing libraries is not wrong; librarians do it frequently and it is a very important part of their profession.
Collections, and the libraries that support them have life spans, and their relevance waxes and wanes. They are also, for the most part, not unique (this is especially true now that many collections are digital). Much of the DFO collections are available in many other libraries and available either digitally, through inter-library loan, or on-site visits.
So librarians must weed collections and they must close libraries when both actions recognize their diminishing value. This is not a reason to be concerned. Aside from convenience (i.e. the library in my building or on my side of the campus has closed), the larger mandate of preserving access is still sustained because the librarian (again a key part of their job) has assured that the truly unique and relevant material is preserved in another manner.
And here’s where my concern rests.
All the noise and angst over the collections being discarded and the libraries being closed has obscured for me the disposition of material that was unique (i.e. rare and worthy of extraordinary effort to sustain) from that which is simply important (but available elsewhere). Not everything that is unique is worthy of preservation.
Perhaps I should know this, but I don’t. Until I do I’m not ready to pass judgment.
I do wish the librarians at the front lines of this, the DFO librarians and the librarians at LAC (who have a legislative responsibility for federal libraries), would say something about this (and perhaps they have and I’ve missed it).
Weeding libraries: good.
Closing libraries: that’s OK too; under the appropriate circumstances.
Losing unique and valuable research materials: bad; indefensible; not what librarians do.