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Free Government Information (FGI) is a place for initiating dialogue and building consensus among the various players (libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, journalists, etc.) who have a stake in the preservation of and perpetual free access to government information. FGI promotes free government information through collaboration, education, advocacy and research.

Vanishing Canadian Government Data

Records deleted, burned, tossed in Dumpsters. A Maclean’s investigation on the crisis in government data : Vanishing Canada: Why we’re all losers in Ottawa’s war on data by Anne Kingston, Maceans (September 18, 2015).

“A months-long Maclean’s investigation, which includes interviews with dozens of academics, scientists, statisticians, economists and librarians, has found that the federal government’s “austerity” program, which resulted in staff cuts and library closures (16 libraries since 2012)—as well as arbitrary changes to policy, when it comes to data—has led to a systematic erosion of government records far deeper than most realize, with the data and data-gathering capability we do have severely compromised as a result.”

  • In 2010 Canada’s decision to make their long-form census voluntary. The result of the high non-response rate in the province of Saskatchewan is that there are now no socioeconomic statistics about the populations in about one-half of Saskatchewan communities.
  • Environment Canada’s website has apparently deleted internal reports on the oil sands experiments of the 1970s and reports on air pollution in transport and toxic chemicals in the Great Lakes — including pioneering work on acid rain between 1975 and 1999.
  • The Aboriginal Canada portal was taken offline on Feb. 12.
  • More than 60 per cent of content was shed when 1,500 government websites were centralized into one.
  • Where digitization has helped other governments and companies make more information available, it is having the opposite effect here. The edict to eliminate information deemed “redundant, outdated and trivial” (known as “ROT”) gives federal managers licence to decide what data should be cut and what kept, says Li, the U of T librarian.
  • … and more…

Canada set to digitize documents, but limit access

The Canadian government’s Library and Archives Canada (LAC) announced more details of its digitization project. In a “digitization partnership” with Canadiana.org, a not-for-profit charitable organization, there will be a large scale digitization project that will involve about 60 million images from numerous collections, including the indexing and description of millions of personal, administrative and government documents, as well as land grants, war diaries and photographs and the transcription of millions of handwritten pages. This is a “10-year agreement.”

The announcement says that Canadians will have “access” regardless of where they live, at no charge.

However, enhanced access (presumably the enhancements added by Canadiana.org of indexing and desciptions and transcriptions?) will be available to Canadians free of charge only “at LAC” and at “subscribing libraries.”

All Canadians will be able to use the enhanced tools “online” and be able to conduct advanced searches “without leaving home” “for a small monthly fee.”

The announcement apparently is describing a system of tiered access, but exactly how it will be implemented is unclear from the wording of the announcemnt. Will users have to visit physical facilities to get “enhanced access”? Or will online access be available to those who can log in to subscribing libraries? Will the restrictions be lifted after the end of the “10-year agreement”? Will the ten years start now, or at the end of the digitization? What is the fee? What is the justification of giving some Canadians free access and charging others?

We still need more details to fully evaluate this project, but it looks like another trade off in which a government improves access through digitization by limiting access in some way and charging fees for access to public information. It appears that the limitations in this case are to the indexing and searching tools. Apparently, if you can find the image you want out of the 60 million images to be created, you will be able to look at it for free.

Canada set to privatize public documents, papers, and data for 10 years

We have seen this happen before in the U.S. (See, for example: The NARA/TGN contract as a bad precedent and GAO *did* sell exclusive access to legislative history to Thomson West) and Canada (Help save the Library & Archives Canada), but this seems like a particularly bad, unjustifiable example of privatization of public information.

  • Library and Archives Canada private deal would take millions of documents out of public domain, By Chris Cobb, OTTAWA CITIZEN (June 12, 2013).

    Library and Archives Canada has entered a hush-hush deal with a private high-tech consortium that would hand over exclusive rights to publicly owned books and artifacts for 10 years.

    …LAC is partnering with Canadiana.org in what is being billed as The Heritage Project — digitizing 40 million images from more than 800 collections of publicly-held LAC material, much bought by Library and Archives over the years with taxpayers’ money.

    …Under the agreement, digital images will begin rolling back into the free public domain — known as “open access” — as the 10-year exclusive rights expire.

Hat tip to InfoDocket!

Librarians protesting cuts to Canadian Archives and federal libraries silenced at CLA conference

Librarians silenced at CLA conference, Bibliothécaires de l’APUO / APUO Librarians (June 1, 2012).

What does it mean when librarians are physically removed from a library conference for circulating information regarding library funding? And, what does it mean when the national library association in this country is the body removing them?

Spread the news and sign the petition to save Library and Archives Canada (LAC)

Here’s more news from our Canadian colleagues regarding the ongoing erosion of library services and Library and Archives Canada (LAC). The announced cuts to the LAC include:

  • Elimination of 30% of archivists and archival assistants;
  • Reduction of digitization and circulation staff by 50%;
  • Reduction of preservation and conservation staff;
  • Closure of the interlibrary loans unit;
  • Elimination of the National Archival Development Program (NADP) which supports -programming at provincial, regional and university archives across Canada.

The following libraries will also close or be affected:

  • Human Resources and Skills Development Canada;
  • Transport Canada;
  • Public Service Commission of Canada;
  • Public Works and Government Services;
  • Natural Resources Canada;
  • Parks Canada;
  • Industry Canada;
  • Citizenship and Immigration Canada;
  • Health Canada
  • Agriculture Canada;
  • The National Capital Commission;
  • Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
  • Canadians or other concerned individuals can write, email or telephone their Member of Parliament or contact the Prime Minister directly via email [pm@pm.gc.ca] or fax [613-941-6900] to register their concerns about these cuts.

    Additional information on LAC & NADP activities are listed below: