Time to get LOUD Ottawa! "Budget Cuts Threaten Health Science Libraries

That was the headline on the news last night. And there it is... waaaaaaaaay down at the bottom of the CBC Ottawa Home Page. Was it under local Ottawa news? How about under Canada? nope... it was right at the bottom under Health and Science. Good thing I heard it on the six o'clock news otherwise I would have missed this completely! This is about more than health and science, and I am not even a classifier!


First of all - let me be clear here... this is the opinion of one blogger... one librarian. NOT the opinion of CLA, CFL or the organization I work for. I have a little rant on today. (Call me Rick Mercer's western cousin okay!)

An aside - If you don't want to read through this entire missive, scroll down to the bottom to read about the next CASLIS event, January 17th, 2006.

Once again we are seeing an important government library beginning to fall under the budget axe. Well, it's not a done deal yet, but when a deputy minister starts talking about how "it's all on the desk top you know" we can pretty well rest assured that senior suits are NOT listening to the right people. Here's an easy way to perform a lobotomy on an organization and save it a whole huge chunk of change. Get rid of the "bricks and mortar" and it will all be on the desk top for those scientists and doctors. It's so naive I don't even know where to start!

and she heaves a big sigh!

We see this opinion and false belief far too often. The reality is, in case someone is reading.. librarians virtual or otherwise save the time of the researcher. We have seen time and time again, what happens when libraries and librarians are given the pink slip. To take 50% of your professionals out of the operation has me thinking one of two things: Either 50% of these professionals are not doing anything and therefore they won't be missed, or they are so busy going about their work that the value they bring to the business lines at Health Canada are integrated and until they are gone, the suits won't realize what they had!

Oh indeed it is a more virtual world particularly in the STM fields ( that would be science, technical and medical) The reality is though that who among the suits making this decision has any clue about the amount of work it takes to manage a virtual collection? I would posit that it takes MORE time and MORE skill with compentencies that are of a higher level than it does to manage a paper collection. There is no doubt in my mind.

And what about searching? Hand over a Dialog search to anyone at the desktop and let's see what it would end up costing your average health professional to find anything while the dialog clock ticks away adding up the search fees by the second! I am no fan of the Dialog business model, but I would have to say that NOW would be the time to do a few Dialog searches and show the search costs to your average decision making civl servant and see if they can beat the clock!

But do we have the studies, the reports, the business models that tell the Executive suits that cutting the library staff and its collection is the wrong business decision? Can we support our arguments from objective information that we have gathered from satisfied clients and other jurisdications that proves closing the library has a negative impact on the rest of the organization? Because NOW would be a very good time to get this information into the hands of every decision making ADM across government.

Personal story... About 13 years ago, I joined the federal government to work in a small special interest office that helped to develop programmes and service on behalf of a particular group of people. The department was huge with employees right across Canada. I was brought in specifically as a librarian and information professional to develop an information centre for this group and their organizations across Canada. The department I was in spent well over $250,000 in capital, O&M and FTEs to make a difference by establishing a a true information partnership across Canada. This was managed and succeeded because of competencies and skills that every librarian has. The growth was incredible. We were doubling our reference and research requests each month. We were providing Canadian citizens and our colleagues across Canada with a valuable service. It was cutting edge, it was leadership. A new ADM came in, needed more space and although the service was efficient, according to our metrics, it was well received and even mentioned on more than one occaision to "The Minister" (if I say so myself!) the ADM decided "no more bricks and mortar."
I did the best I could with the numbers and information I had - for a two year old service, but alas, my own director would not go to bat for the service. I admit I left before the service was completely decimated, and in the end no leadership, no service except telephone referral by a CR 5 without training in referral or research, and the entire partnership pretty much fell apart.

The writing is on the wall at Health Canada. I have learned that when ADMs and DMs make up their minds, it's really not that easy for them to admit that perhaps they need to take a second look at the decisions being made.

This is not just about a library or any librarian. It's about what these professionals do to support the intense work done in that department. Should a researcher in a lab spend one half of his time developing search strings, searching databases that are timed to the second, to find articles about the latest work on avian flu ? Perhaps, but out of the 150 articles that are found, how many will he have to sift through before finding the one that is on target to his particular work? Does it not make sense for the librarians to be working with those researchers?

Tamsin Adams Webber, President of CHLA noted how the price of a librarian or information expert vis-a-vis the health professional should dictate "who" needs to be doing "what" in order to achieve the mission of an organization. Bottom line - it is inefficient and ineffective for business line people to be hunting and collecting information when they could be using sources searched for and retrieved by information pros/librarians!

Whether the business line in your department is a post doctoral researcher looking for acure for the common cold, a water pollution expert wondering what is killing the sockeye salmon, a policy writer creating a new legislation, or a sys admin person at the departmental IT service desk the common need they all have is to search and use accurate, timely information to do a job. WE ARE the professionals who must be side-by- side with our business lines! Until we believe it ourselves and keep demonstrating our own worth loudly and creatively, our ADMs and DMs are gonna believe that it's all on the desktop. Good luck with that!

I believe this is just the beginning of these types of cuts.
Who is next in line? Are you ready for it?
okay... rant is done! for now.

Here's one way to start selling your services and ensuring your library doesn't go away!

Take the information professional /librarian out of the library!
CASLIS Brown Bag learning over lunch!

Join CASLIS Ottawa at our session on outsourcing your professionals. Learn an innovative way to demonstrate your skills. It many not GROW your organization but by outsourcing your own team, the library's experts are embedded into business lines and bringing back valuable information to the home office too.

Join us January 17th at our Brown Bag Lunch when Susan Hodges, Karen Sigvaldason and their outsourced professionals tell us about outsourcing as a library information service. 12 Noon to 1:30 PM at the Library and Archives Canada.
We'll provide the beverages and dessert!


Anonymous said...

Something I have been wanting to say for a long time. What about the CFL new programme and strategic direction. Isn't this the time to have that out front of the executives?
Couldn't have said it better myself! Bet of luck to everyone at Health Canada library

Anonymous said...

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With the best regards!