Sunday, March 18, 2007

BC Legislative Library closing

There are some issues on which I'm fairly radical and others on which I'm very traditional and conservative in the old sense of the term. This story on the closure of the BC Legislative Library in order to free up space for more offices raises my conservative hackles

One sign of civilized legislatures everywhere is the presence of a well-organized and accessible legislative library for use by the legislators and their staff. Without a dedicated library and staff to support elected members and provide them with useful information they need on which to base their decisions, the quality of the legislative process as a whole can't help but suffer.

And when that suffers, we all suffer.

Some of the greatest libraries in the world have their roots in legislative libraries, the most notable being the Library of Congress.

I always make it a habit to visit the library of whatever legislature I visit because they represent such a fountain of information, history and knowledge about that province, state or country.

The Library of Parliament in Ottawa, for example, is not just a library. It is a stunning piece of architecture, the most beautiful room in Canada according to some, which predates the parliament building itself.

To walk through that space is to see where MacDonald, Laurier and so many others prepared for the debates that shaped this country into what it is today.

More than just being a library tourist, over the years I've spent a lot of time working in the legislative library of the House of Assembly. I know firsthand what kind of valuable resource it is for all the MHAs and their staff. Before I'd draft any important announcement or speech for whomever I'd be working for at the time, I would always touch base with the Library to see what they had on file. They always has something that improved whatever I was working on.

Even before I worked as Confederation Building staff, I made use of the legislative library as a member of the general public. Most people don't know that the legislative library staff are happy to help any member of the general public although MHAs get first priority when the House is in session.

My first contacts in the early 80's was with a fairly idiosyncratic place, which largely reflected the personality of the chief librarian who had held her post for a very long time. My later experiences in '01 and later were with a much more organized and professional institution.

In all cases I found the legislative library to be helpful, useful and a repository of information and insights matched nowhere else. I know the Center for NL Studies at MUN is also a great spot but the Legislative Library has a particular specialization which is invaluable. There are just too many publications that are available there and nowhere else.

The constituency for the continued existence of the BC Legislative Library is pretty narrow and the issues is unlikely to initiate any public groundswell of public lamentation and support for its reopening. Still, this article makes a good argument for the value of this venerable institution.

The fact that the BC legislature has closed their library without any explanation or replacement will hobble all the members of their legislature whether they realize it or not.