March 21, 2013

New conduct code at Library and Archives Canada muzzles employees and demands “loyalty” to the government


Daniel Caron, Master of the Archives He Will No Longer Let You Into.

Oh, Canada, Canada, Canada. A furor has erupted there in the past few days over a new code of conduct issued by Library and Archives Canada, which is the governmental body responsible for Canada’s documentary history, and combines both the functions of a national library and a national archive. The new code, recently leaked along with the training materials for it (code in PDF here and link to the PowerPoint training materials in the March 16th post here) stresses loyalty to the government and forbids LAC employees from engaging in a variety of what are characterized as “high risk behaviors,” including attending conferences, teaching, serving on the boards of organizations, or engaging in any activities on their own time that LAC considers unwelcome.

As blogger Myron Groover (his real name, but that would also be my “librarian name,” if one got to choose that kind of thing) points out on in a post on his Bibliocracy blog, the “duty of loyalty” aspects of this make your skin crawl, but the real problem is with the restrictions on civil liberties as exercised either inside or outside the workplace, and the suggestion that, even for permitted activities, management reserves the right to deem them “conflicts of interest” at any point. Groover writes:

You see phrases like “in all cases, an employee may be required to modify or terminate an outside activity if the COI administrator determines that a conflict of interest exists” and elsewhere you see a definition of “conflict of interest” which is so broad and expansive that it could be taken to encompass anything, even “breathing funny”.

So: employees muzzled, not allowed to participate in professional activities, and required to constantly meditate on the maple leaf or something like that to demonstrate loyalty—worst news from LAC this year? Unfortunately not, for the troubles go much farther back, to the ongoing “modernization” underway since 2004 as spearheaded by Ian Wilson and Daniel Caron, the former and current Librarian and Archivist of Canada.

This year alone has seen cuts in service hours, the elimination of interlibrary loan service, cancellation of archival projects, and massive job eliminations across the board, including, mysteriously, digitization staff, though the Caron administration has justified the changes as necessary for shifting to more digitally focused LAC.  The Ex Libris Association has compiled a timeline of events that makes for truly enraging reading, punctuated as it is by entries like “LAC expels researchers and editors from the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada because of security concerns” and “LAC ceases to provide infrastructure to host Dictionary of Canadian Biography.”

A number of organizations, ad hoc groups, and individuals have been kicking up a fuss about this, including the Association of Canadian Archivists, the Canadian Library Association, the Canadian Association of Law Libraries, the Bibliographical Society of Canada, and the Canadian Association of University Teachers which has launched a “Save Libraries and Archives Canada” campaign, with a website here.

This week, it was the turn of Andrew Cash and Pierre Nantel, New Democratic Party MPs, who confronted Minister of Canadian Heritage James Moore in Parliament in a stormy and irony-filled bilingual session, in which Cash memorably asks “Mr. Speaker, why is this Minister so afraid of librarians?”

Here’s the video:





Sal Robinson is an editor at Melville House. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.