Share the CLA Statement on Cuts to Statistics Canada

CLA: Cuts to Statistics Canada are Harming Canadians (October 23, 2014)
CLA: Cuts to Statistics Canada are Harming Canadians (October 23, 2014)

This week, in the middle of Open Access Week, the Canadian Library Association issued a statement criticizing the government cuts that have been made to Statistics Canada in recent years. This critique is strongly worded and it packs a punch; I expect it to gain traction beyond our regular librarian circles.

But getting the word out cannot happen without your help. Read the statement and share it with your colleagues and friends, especially with people outside of your typical library and archives networks.  To make the case that StatCan is not just a numbers factory but a social barometer for the nation, we must extend our voice. We must be on point, and we must persuade.

I have copied the text of the statement from the original PDF in order to help circulate this statement. When you share, please link to the original document or to www.cla.ca.

-Michael

Cuts to Statistics Canada are Harming Canadians
October 23, 2014

The Canadian Library Association / Association canadienne des bibliothèques (CLA/ACB) is the national voice for Canada’s library communities.

Canadians know that access to reliable and high quality information, from the widest variety of points of view, is critical to a prosperous, functioning and democratic society. The decisions that citizens, communities, and governments make are better informed and have the ability to be more innovative when there is a free exchange of ideas facilitated by open and equal access to information. It is with these values in mind that CLA responds to recent and ongoing changes at Statistics Canada.

Recent programme cuts and policy changes at Statistics Canada have made it more difficult than ever for Canadians to track changes to critical issues that affect their communities, such as unemployment rates or the education of our children. The replacement of the mandatory long-form census with the National Household Survey, at a significantly greater cost, and the cancellation of many social surveys has made it increasingly challenging, if not impossible, for municipalities, hospitals, schools, and government agencies to administer social programmes and to track their success. In some cases, municipalities are financing their own surveys to gather the critical data they once had access to through StatCan. StatCan cuts and changes are continuing to impede effective planning for all agencies, making future programming a costly gamble. Additionally, with all levels of government focused on social and economic innovation, it is imperative that municipalities have the ability to look back on trends in order to plan for the future with reliable data.

Statistics Canada withering on the vine
Budget cuts have affected Statistics Canada enormously, which in turn affects all Canadians and all levels of government. While StatCan extended a lifeline to surveys and tools that tracked the nation’s economy through these cuts, it did so at the great expense of its social surveys, where significant budget reductions to the agency and ill-advised policy changes to its census program created major gaps that cannot be filled.
Canadians have forever lost valuable research that affects their communities as a result of cancellations of and cuts to surveys such as:

  • The National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth, which followed the development and well-being of Canadian children from birth to early childhood
  • The Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics, which provided valuable insight into the financial situation of Canadian families
  • The Workplace and Employment Survey, which examined employer and employee issues affecting the Canadian work place, such as competitiveness, technology, training, and job stability.

Canadians and their communities are now suffering the consequences of budget cuts and policy changes at Statistics Canada. Major, long-standing surveys that paint a dynamic picture of Canadian society have been eliminated, making it nearly impossible to do year-over-year comparisons and to track the changes in social data and programs over time. It is hard to imagine less responsible measures in the age of open data, open government, and evidence-based policy-making than limiting the supply of data or replacing it with inferior products.

In the context of fiscal responsibility, CLA believes that the government can be much more effective at planning and supporting sound planning. The current government is determined to balance the books and bring Canada into an environment of economic prosperity and growth. In order to plan for these outcomes, careful public spending is dependent on correct information to inform decisions. Statistics Canada has long been the core agency for Canada’s ability to plan and spend carefully at all levels of government, and within the business and not-for-profit sectors. CLA believes that without consistent and reliable data, this ability will be lost.

The CLA urges the government to return Statistics Canada to its status as one of the world’s most respected National Statistical agencies by restoring its funding and the long-form census. The CLA urges the government to provide Statistics Canada with the support it needs to collect, analyze, and publish data that has proven, longstanding value for decision-makers, communities, and Canadians alike.

The Canadian Library Association/Association canadienne des bibliothèques (CLA/ACB) is the national voice for Canada’s library communities, representing the interests of libraries, library workers, and all those concerned about enhancing the quality of life of Canadians through information and literacy. CLA/ACB represents 1410 library workers, libraries and library supporters; and Canadian libraries serve in excess of 34 million Canadians through the nation’s public, school, academic, government and special libraries.

For more information, please visit
www.cla.ca
Valoree McKay, CAE
Executive Director
vmckay@cla.ca
613-232-9625 x 306

Why the world needs Government Documents Librarians

Since the Government of Canada’s vague announcement in Spring 2012 that it will no longer publish documents in print form after 2014, many people inside and outside of our profession have asked me if I think there will still be a place for government documents librarians in academic libraries in, say, five to ten years.  Their suspicion is based presumably on the idea that since the government documents print collection will atrophy, so will the Government Documents Librarian. I’m not buying it, and neither should you.

For years now, academic librarians have been stressing that we must improve our research services and also show our colleagues outside the library that librarians are not analogous to the collection; we do far more work than collecting itself. This fact alone should be enough to remind ourselves that government documents librarianship is not situated merely in the government documents collection. If academic librarianship is focused today on the use of a library’s resources instead of the mere collecting of resources, then our government documents librarian’s work must necessarily be focused as much on our patrons’ discovery, access, and use of government publications just as our history librarian’s work is focused on our patron’s discovery, access, and use of history resources. On a purely argumentative level, if X Subject Librarianship is focused on use, then so must Government Documents Librarianship be focused on use.

But let’s move beyond arguments and consider what the government documents librarian brings to the library. Ask yourself what specialized knowledge the government documents librarian at your library has developed after years working in this niche. On the one hand, the subject areas in which a government documents librarian works, e.g., health, economics, culture, etc., could be parceled out to a university library’s subject librarians since they often understand the general scope and breadth of government publications related to their field. What is often missing, however, is an understanding of the mechanics of government and law, of the relationships between departments and Parliament, of the role of the judiciary, of the history of administrations, and of the history of government publishing. Knowledge and work in these areas is what develops an understanding of the organization of government information, and this is what a government documents librarian can offer his or her peers and patrons. When you have a librarian tasked to work in government information, you have a librarian who knows how to navigate the mountains of pamphlets, papers, reports, and publications that governments produce annually.

Let’s use a real-world example to show how the government documents librarian’s knowledge benefits the library and library patrons. For the past week, I’ve been helping a graduate student track the course of multiculturalism policy, budgets, and actual spending since the early 1970s. In that time, “multiculturalism” grew from a statement made in Parliament into a policy, and then a programme. Multiculturalism policy and programming lived in many different places, starting in the Department of State (yes, Canada did once have a Department of State), moving to its own Department, then to Heritage, and then finally into Citizenship and Immigration. The volume of materials also changes throughout the years:

  • some Parliaments had standing committees on multiculturalism, and some didn’t
  • some of the Departments I mentioned offered substantial annuals reports, and some didn’t.
  • after the passage of the 1988 Multiculturalism Act, annual reports were submitted to Parliament, but many are only executive summaries
  • for a time in the late 2000s, CIC worked real hard to not use the term “Multiculturalism” in its documents

What’s more, through the 1980s and 1990s, the Canadian Government’s annual Estimates (i.e., documents that forecast departmental expenditures for the pending fiscal year) changed drastically. They expanded in size by offering more detail, but were also separated into dozens of issues and volumes per year (sometimes based on department and sometimes based on departmental programme), and the name of their issuing agency changed several times, as well. Library patrons unfamiliar with what RPPs, DPRs, and the other parts in the annual Estimates are good for, let alone who the issuing agency is, may not know what document to use or even where to look for them online or in the catalogue.

Budget Estimates: the key to your search

All of this meant that the graduate student had a devil of a time tracking the information she required through this time period. On more than once occasion did the student say to me that it feels like the government was deliberately making it difficult for people to access this public information. While the government may rightly be accused of such a thing from time to time, on this issue it is actually a matter of knowing where to look, and this is where the Government Documents Librarian comes into play. Having a librarian focused on the organization and access to government information means that your patrons will have a better chance of understanding how to access and use that information. What the Government Documents Librarian brings to the library is an understanding of governance and of the entire government publishing apparatus.  The question, “Whither Print Gov Docs?” should not be construed at all as “Whither the Gov Docs Librarian?”  Regardless of publication format, your government documents librarian has a specialized knowledge and skill set that increases your organization’s value to its users.

The question, “Whither Print GovDocs?” should not be construed at all as “Whither the GovDocs Librarian?”

Searching for government documents needn’t be like a visit to the Office of Circumlocution

But let’s get back to those government announcements I was talking about at the beginning of this post. You may disagree with me and I could be wrong, and maybe the world doesn’t need government documents librarians anymore. But I still don’t see it that way. I have one more point that supports my argument that government documents librarians will remain a vital part of the academic library: open data and open government.  If ever anyone has complained to you (and they have) that a government documents collection is difficult to browse, imagine how bothered that person will be when there is no print collection, when everything exists in the cloud with no organizing principles, and when more and more publications are being uploaded everyday because a ministry has committed itself to promoting open government initiatives but not to funding the management of these collections. The torrent of government publications that has caused many libraries to question the value of cataloguing electronic records is only going to become stronger, and this makes the government documents librarian’s job even more essential to the library’s mission to improve resource discovery, access, and use.

What it comes down to is this: we are venturing into new territory with government documents, people. When you don’t have a map that gives the lie of the land, you turn to a guide.  And that’s your government documents librarian.