Eric Marshall laments closure of namesake Fisheries library

Marine zoologist Eric Marshall volunteers at Cowichan Bay’s Estuary Nature Centre. He’s also the namesake of University of Manitoba’s renowned federal Fisheries library, among five libraries closed by Ottawa. - Peter W. Rusland
Marine zoologist Eric Marshall volunteers at Cowichan Bay’s Estuary Nature Centre. He’s also the namesake of University of Manitoba’s renowned federal Fisheries library, among five libraries closed by Ottawa.
— image credit: Peter W. Rusland

Perhaps the happiest chapter in Eric Marshall's life was having a noted fisheries' research library named in his honour.

That story ended with Ottawa's late fall closure of the Eric Marshall Library, comprising part of the University of Manitoba's Freshwater Institute.

The 15,000-square-foot library's sudden demise — among a dozen libraries Ottawa shut this fall— shocked Cowichan Bay resident Marshall, 83.

He spent 25 years (1962-1992) painstakingly building the globally-respected repository of books, journals, charts, studies, maps and more being scrapped, scavenged and shifted.

"I didn't even hear about it (closure) until a colleague in Sydney (Australia) sent me a clipping from the Winnipeg Free Press, which intimated they just opened the doors and said 'Come and help yourself.'"

Marshall agreed with a colleague's comparison of the closure to a science-book burning, toasting some materials reaching back to the 1890s.

"It was generally considered the best collection of research materials related to freshwater ecology. Now the federal government decides to close it.

"Some things went to University of Manitoba's science library; others went to the Sidney Institute of Ocean Sciences."

The rub for researchers, he explained, will be delays in finding "priceless" facts and figures from Marshall Library's materials now scattered across Canada.

DFO has just two libraries left: one in Sidney (B.C.); the other in Dartmouth, N.S.

"It'll mean access to old materials, like scientific journals, is gone to other places, and people will have to send emails and ask for materials," Marshall said. "People at the Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo are in the same situation. Their stuff has gone to Sidney too."

DFO has an online catalogue indicating where all library data was, he explained.

"But it would be a considerable job to redo that; it would be a matter of cataloguing entries of the stuff moved from Winnipeg to Sidney, and the same for the stuff from Nanaimo."

The marine zoologist questioned the logic of the library's closure.

"They're running down the ability to do effective scientific research, particularly on the biological side."

He also feared eco-fallout on fish habitat from scarce, readily available data about oil and gas projects.

"Another thing which was very valuable was our collection of research about the proposed Mackenzie Valley pipeline," Marshall said of his library's dispersed data. "It was four feet of shelf space on every little stream.

"The government seems to be saying 'We want to exploit our natural resources, whether it's natural gas or oil sands, and basically to heck with environmental impacts.'"

Fisheries staff told Northern Gateway project owners, Enbridge, it "didn't have the ability to do a research project on the effects of this line," he said of lost libraries and DFO staff cuts.

DFO's library at the U of M holds a soft spot in his heart.

After working as a freshwater librarian in the U.K.'s Lake District, then in London, Marshall was handpicked by Canada's Fisheries brass to start Winnipeg's facility "from scratch."

He stocked its stacks — also used by pupils, professors and consultants — with published scientific journals from reference lists, subscriptions, research papers (including Ontario's rescued Experimental Lakes Project), and various recommendations.

"Many people from all over the world published scientific journals through the university library — I helped clean up their English."

To Marshall, the library's demise is a symbol of the agenda of Stephen Harper's Conservative government.

"Harper's not allowing scientists to speak to the general public. There's not much I can do. I sent an email to Winnipeg, and got a 10-line reply of bafflegab saying 'We're not saying anything.'"


DFO responds:

In response to an interview request, Ottawa staff at Fisheries and Oceans Canada referred us to its webpage answers to frequently asked questions.

• Why is the department consolidating libraries? More Canadians are using electronic sources and the internet for resources and information. In 2011, more than 95% of total user documents were provided digitally by self-service or library-staff virtual assistance. Modernizing our library resources allows easier search and access, no matter clients’ location.

• Which libraries will stay open? The department’s 11 libraries will be consolidated into four, including two primary locations: the Institute of Ocean Sciences in Sidney, B.C.; and the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Dartmouth, N.S. Two specialized collections are at the Canadian Coast Guard College library in Sydney, N.S., and the capital region’s CCG technical library.

• Who uses DFO libraries? Primary users are employees. In 2011/2012, about 86% of requests to library staff came from employees.

• How do external users currently access library services? In 2011/12, 85% of external requests were received virtually — email, phone and mail. All virtual support services will continue. WAVES, the departmental library catalogue, can be accessed via internet. Consolidating libraries means minimal changes for external users. There will be no changes to the collection’s size or scope.

• Is DFO reducing its acquisition/collections budget? No. The collections budget is not affected. 95% of the annual library-acquisition budget expands access to on-line journals and other digital research tools.

• Will DFO sell items in its collection? DFO is contacting universities and local partners about interest in acquiring duplicate or non-DFO materials. Some will be offered to on-site staff for work-related use. About 30,000 DFO-published reports and publications are online. Outstanding items will be digitized if requested.

Staff said DFO library consolidations will save taxpayers $400,000 a year.

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