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New Library and Archives Code Sparks Fears of Being “Muzzled”

The New Library and Archives Canada Code of Conduct: Values and Ethics has prompted accusations of muzzling from librarians and archivists.

The 23-page document, which was leaked to Postmedia, details strict new guidelines for employees of Library and Archives Canada (LAC). It states that public servants have a "duty of loyalty to the Government of Canada and its elected officials" which extends beyond the workplace to personal activities.

Although this "duty of loyalty" has always been a part of the federal government’s staffing policy, the new code takes a much harder stance on certain personal activities that have long been a part of the archivist’s job.

It labels personal activities such as teaching, conferences and public meetings “high risk,” and lays out six conditions that an outside invitation must meet for an employee to accept:

  • The subject matter of the activity is not related to the mandate or activities of LAC;
  • The employee is not presented as speaking for or being an expert of LAC or the Government of Canada;
  • The third party is not a potential or current supplier to/collaborator with LAC;
  • The third party does not lobby or advocate with LAC;
  • The third party does not receive grants, contributions or other types of funding or payments from LAC;
  • The employee has discussed it with his or her manager, who has documented confirmation that the activity does not conflict with the employee’s duties at LAC or present other risks to LAC.

The code does not go as far as memos that government scientists have received in recent years counseling them to avoid speaking or sharing their findings at all. But it does contain language that makes it difficult for librarians and archivists to speak outside of official functions:

In any personal activities (i.e. activities that are not part of your work duties), employees should take care not to represent themselves as speaking on behalf of or as an expert of the Government of Canada or LAC, and should always bear in mind their duty of loyalty and the risks of real, apparent or potential conflict of interest or conflict of duties. In all cases, an employee may be required to modify or terminate an outside activity if the COI Administrator determines that a conflict of interest exists.

If any employee recognizes "wrongdoing," they are encouraged to “bring it to the attention of the Senior Officer for Internal Disclosure.”

The code “includes both a muzzle and a snitch line,” says James Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, told Postmedia’s Margaret Munro. 

Toni Samek, a professor of library and information studies at the University of Alberta, saw "several clauses in the code as 'severe' and 'outrageous.'" Archivist Loryl MacDonald described the wording as “harsh.” 

Retired LAC archivist John Smart connected the code to a "generalized suspicion of public servants." 

According to LAC website, the institution's mandate is:

  • to preserve the documentary heritage of Canada for the benefit of present and future generations;
  • to be a source of enduring knowledge accessible to all, contributing to the cultural, social and economic advancement of Canada as a free and democratic society;
  • to facilitate in Canada co-operation among communities involved in the acquisition, preservation and diffusion of knowledge;
  • to serve as the continuing memory of the Government of Canada and its institutions.

However, in July of last year, LAC faced massive cuts to services, including hours of operation, interlibrary loans and staffing. LAC has also drastically reduced its acquisition of new material since 2009. These moves have drawn cries of protest from scholars who rely upon those documents for their work, according to an article from the Toronto Star.

“The decision to radically alter its lending program is the latest twist in what many Canadian librarians and academics see as a deliberate move by a secretive federal government to gut the institution, this country’s equivalent of the U.S. Library of Congress,” writes Joseph Hall.

Image Credit: Michael Powell via Wikipedia

As a freelance writer, Erika Thorkelson is dedicated to showcasing compelling stories that illuminate our world and how we live.…

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