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Progressive Librarian's Guild - London Ontario Chapter: cultivating spaces for critical dialogue and collaborative action on core issues affecting information workers.

Response to the New Strategic Plan at UWO

On January 24 2014, the University of Western Ontario’s senate passed its new strategic plan, “Achieving Excellence on the World Stage,” which includes increasing the funding for faculties within the STEM faculties. However, once again, a significant number of faculties are underrepresented in this plan, in particular, FIMS, Arts & Humanities, Music, etc., many of which are already struggling financially. We of the London Chapter of the Progressive Librarians Guild, are concerned about the repercussions of the senate’s choice for our education, but also for academia more broadly which depends on university-wide funding in order to support the advancement of knowledge.

From the budget meeting on January 24, we fear that the University of Western Ontario is selectively favouring research within the STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) disciplines. The decisions from the strategic-planning meeting serve only to create an artificial divide throughout the different aspects where education is entrenched. This divide between STEM and non-STEM places artificial limitations on progress, particularly where interdisciplinary research has been increasing in academia. This is crucial to recognize as interdisciplinary research is necessary for creativity and innovation to take hold and produce results that are so valued as expressed by the reasons for this budget cut. Thus it is a grave mistake to enforce this division that fosters too many boundaries for knowledge to be disseminated and developed upon. Essentially, new perspectives are lost and there are varied consequences to this undertaking.

The threat to the structural foundation of creativity exposes narrowly-envisioned goals and long term consequences, one of which includes the devaluation of non-STEM through the shifting of their positions in the larger university context. This is part of an increasingly intensified trend where the definition of education is limited by narrow characteristics, one of which rigidly sets what specifically constitutes “research” and what by default automatically falls out of the plan. Automatically then there are assumptions created by which disciplines are valued and this is reflective of the goals of an education organization. Professors and students should be encouraged to explore their interests without the pressure of proving the value of them. If targeted research funding is allowed to happen, it will undermine the university’s purpose as an institute of higher education. While the administration believes that this strategic plan will stimulate innovation in the sciences, it will in fact only serve to stagnate the scientific process by drowning out new ideas, which could potentially come from any discipline. A short article by Mexican physicist Guillermo Contreras (2002) provides a well-reasoned argument for the value of basic scientific research.We worry about the repercussions of this progress and its implications on“education” in general and thus the direction of the institution.

However, while the STEM faculties already have healthy finances, many other departments at Western must reallocate their budgets to remain financially solvent. FIMS has put forward two hypothetical scenarios in response to attempts to reduce their budget in the face of future austerity. Both scenarios involve cuts to the much used Graduate Resource Center (GRC), increases in already decently large class size, and large cuts in limited duty hires who provide important services for the students; teaching both specific and general classes which keep class sizes smaller and bringing in diverse talent. At a time when enrollment in the FIMS program is growing and tuition is rising, it is hard to see how such cuts are in the best interest of students at Western. This is a great personal concern for our members; we fear the effect that these cuts would have on our education.

Despite our disappointment in these events, we would also like to discuss the commendable behavior of the FIMSSC who disseminating information regarding issues surrounding Western’s Strategic Plan. The PLG would like to take this opportunity to commend the FIMSSC on their initiative in disseminating information regarding issues surrounding Western’s Strategic Plan. In a short period of time they were able to effectively reach out to the FIMS community on the implications of the proposed Plan and the budget cuts that could ensue, and the future of Western’s research in the social sciences to the student body. In just under a week they were also able to mobilize students for a peaceful demonstration and collectively take a stance on the university senate’s proposed cuts. A silent protest took place outside the room where the meeting was being held. Protestors were mostly FIMS students and grad students. Some of the protestors were allowed into the meeting room and stood along the back wall holding signs expressing their discontent with the strategic plan while the vote was taking place.

Unfortunately the Strategic Plan was approved, leaving us at the PLG and FIMS to ask, what’s next? A common issue at FIMS is that of ensuring longevity in our initiatives. While the immediacy of the Strategic Plan was a catalyst in garnering student involvement, as long as false comparisons and assumptions are made between STEM and non-STEM departments, the safety and funding of our faculty and research will continually be under threat. It is imperative that younger generations of students become involved especially those in undergraduate studies and those just starting their graduate degrees.

We also see the need to combine efforts with other faculties, including those in the STEM departments. The Strategic Plan neglects not only us at FIMS but also the Arts and Humanities, Social Science, and Music departments as well. To fortify our efforts and augment our cause, cross-faculty collaboration must occur. The PLG will be taking time to talk with other students and focus our attention on one-on-one interactions beyond the FIMS community. We feel that this would be most effective in informing others and generating further interest. Non-STEM faculties need support in order to change the current academic discourses that privilege STEM faculties. We fear the implications that this privilege will have on academia and the broader advancement of knowledge. We invite any like-minded individuals to join us as we continue to act against this issue.

Response to Federal Library Cuts

The Progressive Librarians Guild, London Chapter, strongly condemns the recent closure of Federal departmental and science libraries. We believe that the justification for the closures is false, and that the lose of the library’s resources and skills of the librarians will be devastating to the federal departments, scientific research, and the Canadian public.

According to a statement by the Minister of Fisheries and Ocean, “The primary users of DFO libraries, over 86%, are employees of the Department. An average of only five to twelve people who work outside of DFO visited our eleven libraries each year. It is not fair to taxpayers to make them pay for libraries that so few people actually used.” This shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of federal libraries, which is to serve the public by being a resource for government researchers and scientists. The libraries’ value is not indicated by how often the public accesses them, but rather by the information they provide to federal workers. These libraries provide essential support and services to their departments. Many of the librarians have specialised  skills, and many government libraries hold (or held) unique collections relevant to the departments they serve. With these budget cuts, services to Canadians will be negatively affected.*

Along with the closing of physical buildings, much of the materials collected in these libraries have been either moved into storage, given to other organisations, or destroyed. In March of 2013, the physical collection of the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development (HRSDC) was phased out. This included the largest collection of books in Canada on the social sciences.  Without these materials, the department will be less able to make informed policy decisions and provide accurate advice to Cabinet.

We call on the current government to reinstate funding to Library and Archives Canada, and to commit itself to supporting the federal library system, as opposed to continuing their assault upon it.

 

List of Library closures from the Canadian Association of University Teachers

Canadian Heritage

  • LAC’s Staff Resource Center closed on November 1, 2012.

  • As of April 2013, the Public Service Commission (PSC) was in the process of closing. Plans regarding the disposition of PSC’s Library collection had not been finalized.

Citizenship and Immigration (CIC)

  • The CIC library closed on March 31, 2012.

Environment Canada

  • National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy was eliminated. Its library was closed on March 31, 2013.

Foreign Affairs

  • The Documentation Service and library of the Canadian Cultural Centre at the Canadian Embassy in Paris closed on June 21, 2012.

Human Resources and Skills Development

  • HRSDC closed its libraries in Gatineau, Quebec, and Montreal on March 31, 2013.

National Capital Commission

  • National Capital Commission Library closed in 2012.

Intergovernmental Affairs

  • Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) is expected to significantly reduce and eventually close its library.

Public Works and Government Services

  • PWGSC closed its library on May 31, 2012.

Transport, Infrastructure and Communities

  • Transport Canada closed its library in 2012.

Consolidated

Canada Revenue Agency (CRA)

  • CRA is consolidating its nine existing libraries into one, the location of which has yet to be determined. Environment Canada

  • Parks Canada will consolidate five libraries into one. Regional libraries located in Calgary, Winnipeg, Quebec City, and Halifax will be consolidated into the Cornwall, Ontario location.

Fisheries and Oceans (DFO)

  • The DFO will close seven of its libraries, leaving two principal and two subsidiary locations. Consolidation completed September 2012. Researchers have serious concerns about the consolidation and de-accessioning process which insiders indicate was not well thought out and has been rushed.

Natural Resources

  • Natural Resources Canada is set to close six of fourteen libraries in 2012-2013: two in Ottawa, one in Varennes, Quebec; one in Edmonton, Alberta; and another in western Canada. In 2014, another Ottawa library will be closed.

 

*http://www.cla.ca/Content/NavigationMenu/CLAatWork/Advocacy/CLA_Member_Toolkit-Federal_Library_Budget_Cuts.pdf

The End of Access Copyright at the University of Western Ontario

On December 11, 2013, the University of Western Ontario announced that they were unable to reach an agreement with Access Copyright and that they would not renew a contract with the organization. The London chapter of the Progressive Librarians’ Guild would like to commend the university for their decision, which promotes the fair use of copyrighted material for education.

 

Our chapter believes that an agreement with Access Copyright limits the fair use of materials in academia to the detriment of education, but also scholastic advancement. We believe that the Canadian Government has clearly defined academic fair use for the benefit of the academic community and that Access Copyright limits the rights defined for Canadians in the Copyright Modernization Act.

 

This semester the PLG would like to acknowledge this advancement, but also promote this decision within the university with the objective to better inform university’s students of their educational rights with copyrighted materials.

 

Response to the AUCC Fair Dealing Guidelines for Universities

 

We, the members of PLG London find the AUCC guidelines to be problematic. We are concerned that blind adoption of these guidelines on the part of university administration would not support the best interests of students, faculty and librarians here at Western – and at other colleges and universities. Because many of us are Western students, moving into professional roles, some in academic libraries, we feel it is our responsibility to address this issue.

First, it is important to take into account the context in which these guidelines were created, which was to support – York University in its litigation with Access Copyright. That context has influenced the overall tone and feel of the guidelines, which comprise a conservative, excessively restrictive interpretation of the Copyright Act. Second, perhaps because a legal team authored these guidelines, it lacks a perspective relevant to the academic community they affect. We are concerned that the guidelines were developed from a defensive position and that they do not reflect the long-term needs of students and faculty here at Western and elsewhere.

These nine “guidelines” are presented as inflexible rules, and contain several unnecessary concessions. For example the circumstances under which digital locks may be circumvented hasn’t been fully settled, yet in the guidelines they automatically take precedence over user rights as a prohibited activity. Similarly the statement that limitations contained in licenses trump users’ rights is also an unnecessary concession as this issue has not been settled in Canada.

The short excerpt, 10% restriction on musical works, is presented as a firm portion, yet the term “short excerpt” itself is problematic and needs to be open to a more flexible interpretation. As numerous commentators point out, the risk in making such concessions prematurely could send the wrong message about what educational institutions consider to be fair dealing, and could result in more restrictive interpretations in the future.

This inflexibility and restrictiveness not only goes against the spirit of the Copyright Act itself, but it fails to recognize several recent developments including the addition of education to the statutory fair dealing categories and the strong endorsement of fair dealing by the Supreme Court of Canada. It doesn’t make sense to constrain the creative and intellectual activities of the educational community as the AUCC guidelines attempt to do.

Alongside our major concerns with the how this restrictive language affects faculty and students are our concerns regarding the language and format of the guidelines. Specifically, the number and length of the guidelines themselves are excessive; they are also repetitious, and contain overlapping content. This discourages the educational community, students in particular, from accessing and exploring them, or even grasping their content.

We fully appreciate the need for guidelines to be adopted, but we want to see policies that work and make sense for the audience they are affecting. This means guidelines that are easy to understand and use, and ones that reflect the current state of Canadian Copyright law.

The University of Western Ontario has a responsibility to students and faculty to offer a space for research, learning, and critical dialogue. To support a needlessly restrictive interpretation of Copyright Law is antithetical to that purpose.

We recommend that the administration instead consider the CAUT Copyright guidelines (http://www.caut.ca/docs/default-source/copyright/revised-caut-guidelines-for-the-use-of-copyrighted-material-(feb-2013).pdf) as an alternative to those provided by the AUCC. The CAUT guidelines are divided into 5 sections, dedicated to themes, not specific types of works. This avoids overlap in content and makes it easier for the reader to hone in on the issue that is affecting their decision-making at the time. It is also organized hierarchically, capturing the essence of fair dealing and topics of interest to the general user. It is not divided into subsections for specific user groups, but instead presents information as it applies to multiple user groups. The model proposed in the CAUT guidelines is more relevant to our current educational context, and applies better to the ways information is being created and shared today.

The PLG, London Chapter recommends that colleges and universities reject the AUCC guidelines, and instead consider adoption of the CAUT guidelines. We also recommend that decision makers in educational institutions consult Lisa Di Valentino’s May 2013 study “Review of Canadian University Fair Dealing Policies” (http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2263034) to understand how other Canadian universities have addressed the issue.

PLG Letter re: Western Library Review 2013

Ms. Janice Deakin
Provost & Vice-President (Academic)
Office of the Provost
University of Western Ontario

August 12th, 2013

To Ms. Deakin:

The Progressive Librarians Guild – London Chapter would like to offer our input in response to the request for insight into the 2013 Western Libraries Review. As members of the Western community, patrons of Western Libraries, and library science students, we appreciate the chance to voice our concerns about several aspects of Western Libraries.

Studying in this program means that students have knowledge and ideas about a range of library-related issues: why they are important, what they need to improve, and what they need to do to reinforce their relevance. Our background means that we are uniquely suited to note areas of concern and improvement, as well as offer suggestions and possibilities.

Firstly, we feel that Western Libraries must do more to actively engage with and support the MLIS community and students. The library needs to offer more professional experiences to MLIS students by giving them priority to the part-time library positions that Western Libraries offers each year. While we understand that preference is given to undergraduates for retention purposes, it is more beneficial to offer those positions to students who see it as more than just a job, and will invest themselves accordingly. Our education has equipped us with theoretical and practical knowledge about working, using, and improving libraries that we will be able to apply in a meaningful way. However, we need to be given the opportunity to do so. As co-op placements become increasingly difficult to secure in our program, every possibility to gain work experience in a library setting is invaluable. As the MLIS is considered a professional degree, students are not able to become Teaching Assistants; these part-time positions would provide much needed financial assistance, given that all of us are on our second or third degree.

Additionally, Western Libraries could do more to work with the MLIS students by offering brief tours of the behind-the-scenes aspects of the library (such as technical services or administration) since it is difficult to gain an accurate understanding of these environments from classroom lectures alone. With such a large and active library system on the same campus as a thriving and dynamic Library and Information Science program, it only makes sense that the library would actively seek out ways to support the profession and build meaningful relationships with its local LIS community.

The second area on which we would like to comment on relates to the physical space and overall utility of Weldon Library. As the biggest library on main campus, Weldon Library sets the standard for library space on campus. However, we have noticed that there is an overall lack of care for the physical environment at Weldon. Surfaces and stacks are often covered in dust and litter is left on tables and workstations. This lack of cleanliness is not good for the collection, nor does it create a welcoming environment for students and faculty to study in and engage with.

Additionally, steps should be taken to make finding books at Weldon library easier. Better access to materials in the stacks could be achieved by having better (by which we mean larger and more obvious) signage, phones on each floor that connect to the reference desk or a librarian, a book finder application (similar to Ryerson University, where one can pinpoint the physical location of a book via a digital map), or the presence of a roving librarian to check in with students. Improved signage to indicate stairwells would also make Weldon easier to navigate, as its overall layout is not intuitive.

Western Libraries could improve its relationship with the LIS and Western community as a whole is through open and regular communication. Western Libraries must make it a priority to use social media sites effectively to open up dialogue with students and make the library seem more accessible, friendly, and dynamic. Even the option to subscribe to an electronic newsletter would be helpful for students and faculty. The fact that Western Libraries does not engage the larger community in any meaningful way—with the exception of the LibQual survey—is extremely problematic. Not only does this further denigrate the importance of the library’s collections and physical space, but it removes a valuable opportunity to solicit feedback from the campus community. Although Western Libraries exists to serve the needs of faculty and staff, it is failing to communicate how it does so. Rather than communicate through isolated communication channels, a holistic communication strategy needs to be developed to keep the Western University community informed about library services and that also invites feedback and participation.

Finally, we believe that it is of the utmost importance that Western Libraries takes an active role in educating students and faculty about copyright and fair dealing. As the schools moves forward by ending its agreement with Access Copyright, Western Libraries must provide education and guidance about user rights when it comes to using copyrighted works for educational purposes. The current Copy and Copyright: A Guide for Students, Professors and Staff at Western University on the Western Libraries website provides an email address for Access Copyright as a contact for more information. An impartial librarian should be the person who educates and supports students and faculty about user rights and copying guidelines, not a third party with a vested interest.

Additionally, Western Libraries should offer regular sessions about copyright to faculty members and graduate students, because information about copyright must be easy to find and comprehend. Universities that have excellent resources about copyright include the Robertson Library at the University of Prince Edward Island, the Dr. John Archer Library at the University of Regina, and Ryerson University Library and Archives. These resource sites are easy to find, emphasize the flexible nature of fair dealing, offer on-campus contacts and services that can help provide more information, and most importantly, they reassure the community that the library will support their user’s rights.

As Western Library users, future and current library professionals, and members of the Western University community, we appreciate this invitation to offer our insights into the current service and facilities of Western Libraries. We hope that you find our comments useful when conducting your review.

Sincerely,

Matthew Barabash
Elizabeth Blackall
Anastasia Gould
Lukas Miller
Ali Versluis
Jessica Windsor
Elsa Wong
Kathryn Ziedenberg

on behalf of the Progressive Librarians Guild – London Chapter

Link

Extend Access Laws to Parliament – PLG London Mentioned in the National News

PLG London was recently mentioned in the news! (see link above)

“The London, Ont., chapter of the Progressive Librarians Guild told Legault the access law is a ‘kind of magic wand’ that turns government institutions into something akin to public libraries.” -Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

The story can also be found in iPolitics, Maclean’s, CityNews Toronto, SooToday, and MyTelus.

Why are Smaller Institutions Setting the Tone for Larger Ones?

Recently, Western University declared that they are cancelling their current agreement with Access Copyright by January 2013 and intend to re-negotiate a new deal starting January 2013. Citing cost as the key issue, the university hopes to renegotiate for a deal that better reflects the current Canadian copyright laws. Access Copyright is a small organization that acts as the middle man for our academic community and the authors of the works we use in course packs, lectures, and research. At a cost of $27.50 per full-time student, it is clear that the cost of the agreement has been a concern for some time. However, criticism of Access Copyright’s agreement should not lie solely with the cost.

The agreement is both out-of-date and invades the privacy of the students, staff, and faculty it is meant to serve. For example, Access Copyright requires the university to monitor and provide samples of the materials placed on course management websites to monitor compliance with Canadian Copyright laws. In addition, their definitions ‘copying’ in the context of accessing and downloading digital copies is inaccurate and is overly restrictive for users. These concerns, coupled with the organization’s less-than-transparent policies and practices, make this and any future agreements increasingly problematic.

With the advent of the Canadian Copyright Modernization Act, students, staff, and faculty are provided with fair dealing and legislative authorizations to access and use materials for the purposes of learning and education, access once provided by Access Copyright. In addition, Access Copyright’s original purpose was the monitor compliance regarding the physical act of copying and ensure that the originators of the work were paid for its use. As more materials are being placed online for academic use and copyright laws have changed, Access Copyright has attempted to modernize its practices but, as a result, has created an inaccurate and invasive set of policies that benefit neither the users nor the creators of these works.

Western University should consider not only terminating their Licensing Agreement with Access Copyright, but creating and implementing their own policy documents regarding copyright and fair dealing. By transitioning away from the middle man and creating an in-house set of policies, the university would be ensuring fair and equal use for students without an invasive and expensive middle-man. By making copyright and fair dealing an internal procedure, the university would be securing a better environment for education and research for students, staff, and faculty, It is time that we looked at the true ‘cost’ of Access Copyright and permanently cancel the agreement.

-Ali F. and Matt B.

PLG Letter to Heritage Minister James Moore re: New Head of LAC

June 13, 2013

The Honourable James Moore, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Heritage and Official Languages
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
Canada
K1A 0A6

CC: Mr. Pierre Nantel M.P.
CC: Mr. Scott Simms M.P.

Dear Minister Moore,

The Progressive Librarians Guild — London Chapter wishes to express our concern over the appointment of a new Librarian and Archivist of Canada. In light of Daniel Caron’s recent resignation, we believe that special considerations are warranted in hiring a new director at this time.

Under past directors, Canada’s documentary heritage has been compromised through various means, including removal of inter-library loan services, reduced visitor hours, and a questionable code of conduct. These are the consequences of appointing directors inexperienced in managing information organizations such as Library and Archives Canada (LAC).

By choosing a new director who is experienced in dealing with libraries, archives, and/or documentary heritage, LAC will be a more prosperous and efficient organization. Such a director would be able to recognize the processes and requirements of undertaking library initiatives such as the digitization and modernization of Canada’s heritage documents. A director who is understanding of current and past library and archival issues is another quality necessary of the position. By being immersed and up-to-date with issues in the information science field, the director is able to engage with the library and information science community and be able to consider challenging decisions at LAC in an educated and informed way. Another key quality of any director is to be passionate and vocal on library and archival issues; especially with the value of libraries being questioned. By advocating for issues such as access to information, intellectual freedom, and censorship the director can display LAC as an internationally-renowned organization, and show the value of libraries and archives to a broad audience.

The appointment of a qualified and experienced Librarian and Archivist of Canada is a matter of national importance. As you move forward in the selection process, we hope that you will communicate with the library and archive communities across Canada and take their concerns and suggestions under consideration. The qualities in a director that we have proposed – knowledge, experience, and advocacy – are desirable and necessary qualities that we hope you will consider in your selection of Canada’s next Library and Archives director.

Yours sincerely,

Progressive Librarians Guild, London Ontario Chapter

PLG London Statement of Support for Dale Askey

Progressive Librarians Guild London Chapter is very concerned about the recent lawsuit filed against Associate University Librarian Dale Askey and his employer McMaster University by Edwin Mellen Press (EMP) for alleged libel and defamation. Mr. Askey stated his professional opinion on a personal blog about the quality of publishing by EMP. Assessing the quality of materials and expressing opinions, whether of a positive or negative nature, is one of the basic expectations of a professional librarian.

Progressive Librarians Guild London Chapter strongly supports Mr. Askey as he faces this challenge. We commend McMaster University for backing Mr. Askey and standing up for the academic rights of its faculty and librarians. We urge all academic institutions and fellow professional librarians to unite and take a stand against this affront to academic freedom.

Freedom of expression is a requirement for a democratic society and is a value held by Canadians. Thus, EMP’s aggressive tactics toward the stifling of this fundamental right are deeply troubling. We condemn EMP for this lawsuit and urge them to withdraw their claims against both Mr. Askey and McMaster University.

The Progressive Librarians Guild (London Chapter)
Dated 1 March 2013