Controversy at the recent Canadian Library Association conference

Apologies to my loyal readers for the rather inside-baseball library and Canadian politics focus of my recent posts, but that unfortunately is where I'm at right now. It will probably continue for a least a little bit.


The Canadian Library Association held its annual conference in Ottawa last week and one of the highlights was certainly a keynote by Daniel Caron, the head of the Library and Archives Canada. Which has been quite controversial recently in Canadian library circles due to the drastic cuts going on.

According to reports on Twitter, the keynote itself wasn't too interesting, nor was the Q&A session with Caron later on in the day.

But it seems that librarians, both registered at the conference and others, were barred from passing our information about the cuts at LAC:

According to Jennifer Dekker: Librarians silenced at CLA conference.

Part of the activities of the Day of Action included a group of a dozen volunteers (many of them retired LAC employees) promoting a white shirt / black ribbon campaign at the CLA national conference and trade show. May 31st was selected as the Day of Action since Daniel Caron, Canada’ sNational “Librarian” was to make a keynote speech at the conference, as well as present during a Question and Answer session later that afternoon. Of the group passing out ribbons, only two were registered delegates at the conference; the rest were concerned or retired librarians wanting to raise awareness of the impact of the cuts. They talked to delegates, handed out leaflets and answered questions.

Many conference delegates gladly accepted the leaflet and ribbons for about 20 minutes, when one registered delegate, conference speaker and Action Day volunteer was told by Kelly Moore, Executive Director of CLA that giving out information regarding the cuts to the LAC was “inappropriate.” In addition to handing out ribbons, the librarian and a colleague had placed CAUT “Save LAC” bookmarks on the seats of chairs in the room where the keynote was to be held. They were told to stop, that the conference was “not the right venue” for the activity, and were asked to leave the 3rd floor of the Ottawa Congress Centre – despite being registered delegates of the conference. Downstairs, on the 2nd level, volunteers continued to hand out ribbons and information. But within minutes, Moore had two security guards remove the librarians and banish them to the street level of the Congress Centre and away from the conference delegates. The official reason given was that the Day of Action volunteers were not registered for the conference. But in fact, even the two librarians who were official delegates were asked to leave. (They were re-admitted later).


To answer the questions above in light of CLA’s statement on Intellectual Freedom, removing librarians from a library conference for wanting to educate their peers about budget cuts to the National Library and to other federal libraries amounts to silencing. It is censorship and it emphasizes Toni Samek’s point made in 2008 that librarians themselves have no protection against those who would silence and censor an opinion that is different from opinions held by those in positions of authority and power. Librarians tasked in our universities, colleges and societies with the protection of free speech and freedom of expression in its many forms, do not themselves share in the benefits of our own advocacy efforts. (Emphasis mine)

These are very serious charges. Please read the whole post to get a fuller idea of the situation.

The CLA has responded on it's blog: CLA Response to Comments Regarding Events at 2012 Conference. And with the same text in virtually ever blog that has mentioned the controversy.

The Canadian Library Association believes in promulgating fact.

So let me clarify.

No registered delegates were asked to leave, to stop placing bookmarks, or to stop handing out materials.

Non-registered people were respectfully asked to move outside the CLA conference space. They were still able to distribute their materials within the convention centre.

Karen Adams
President, Canadian Library Association

So, we have two versions of reality here.

I would tend to favour the first more but I would be really interested in hearing from other Canadian librarians and library people who were at the conference and either directly involved in the incident or who were witnesses to what took place. Please feel free to speak up either here in the comments (where you can post anonymously) or via email at jdupuis at yorku dot ca if you don't wish to make your point of view or experiences public.

Update 2012.06.04: I should have been more explicit in stating that I wasn't at the conference. I believe I'm still a member of CLA via an institutional membership but that's my only formal affiliation with the organization.

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John, why do you "tend to favour the first more?" There are 2 sides to every version and the truth is usually somewhere in between. I'm curious as to why you didn't put Karen's explanation first. There are almost always 2 versions of reality - everywhere, not just here. I was at CLA - I was at the keynote and I didn't hear or see anything. I followed the Hot Topic Q & A session on twitter because I had to be in another session that was running simultaneously. The LAC budget situation is a difficult situation for all concerned - LAC, libraries, archives and most of all for Canadians. Unfortunately, it now seems that no one is listening to the other. We have many caustic comments flying around that, quite frankly, don't move us toward solutions and don't clarify the situation so that we can honestly, progressively collaborate on the best solutions for Canadians. Not the best solutions for LAC or for libraries or for archives - for Canadians. There's a wonderful quote I learned from Ken Haycock: “You cannot antagonize and influence at the same time.” J.S. Knox

I'm not saying that the library sector is antagonizing LAC nor am I saying that LAC is antagonizing the library sector. I'm unbiased. I write as a Canadian that is deeply involved in the library sector. What I'm saying is that antagonism will not enable any of those who need to be involved to influence the other organizations.

You have a bright, well-informed mind, John. You have a blog - a platform - that is well followed and can influence people's thinking. I have had the pleasure of working with you. You are articulate and a critical thinker. I encourage you to talk with - perhaps interview - Karen Adams or Kelly Moore -- 2 wonderfully approachable, well-intentioned individuals working so hard on behalf of all libraries. Talk with them to understand the other pieces of this puzzle and provide the sector with the full situation. Or, as full as it can be. Most importantly, let's use this as an opportunity for the library sector to clarify what is needed for Canadians --- not what "LAC needs to do", but rather what the gaps are for Canadians, and then how archives, public libraries, LAC, and academic libraries can collaborate to fill those gaps.

Thanks John. I do hope you have a conversation with Karen and/or Kelly, and I do hope that we all (including me! ;) ) listen for true understanding that allows us to move forward together. Have a good day -

By Rebecca Jones (not verified) on 04 Jun 2012 #permalink

Hi Rebecca,

Thanks for the comment. The comments here are certainly open to anyone from CLA or other organizations to chip in with their two cents worth. If Karen Adams or Kelly Moore want to respond at length they are certainly free to do so. And my email is jdupuis at yorku dot ca if they want to have an offline conversation.

As for the order that I presented the two points of view, I think I was more of less stuck with chronological. CLA's response wouldn't have made sense without the context from the initial post.

As for “tend to favour the first more,” I did struggle with whether or not to put that in and perhaps that was a mistake if in the end the perception that I've already made up my mind prevents opposing views from feeling comfortable expressing themselves. The reason I included it is because I know Jennifer and have a hard time believing that she would intentionally misrepresent her experience. I wasn't at the conference so I don't have any direct evidence of what took place, only what others have reported.

On the issue of whether or not this kind of unpleasant infighting is needed or necessary or helpful or destructive, I don't know. But emotions were running high, people were upset and the outpouring is a very human reaction to all that. Constructive responses to the crises we see in our times aren't diametrically opposed to angry or emotional responses. In fact, if the streets of Montreal are any evidence, they can certainly focus the attention. Maybe pots & pans were in order rather than bookmarks?

Hey John - what a great response. Thanks

I didn't see your response until now (I thought the darn blog would "alert" me - drat). I hear your struggles - me too. I'm still hopeful (although I realize I'm sometimes too much of a PollyAnna as Stephen Abram & Mike Ridley remind me!) that we will do a whole lot more building what Canadians need with LAC and other organizations, and what libraries need CLA to be (ie. communities & campuses need CLA to be). And we can't build if we snipe at each other. And I also agree with you about constructive and emotional. Thanks John -- you make me think. I can't believe I'm the only one to comment? Oh well - have a great weekend!

By Rebecca Jones (not verified) on 09 Jun 2012 #permalink