Monthly Archives: July 2014

@gccaedits — Another Brick in the Wall of Canadian Civil Society

It’s sad when a wall metaphor describes the relationship between a government and its citizenry but this new Twitter account (aka brick) underscores why the turn of phrase works.

Check out @gccaedits, launched about three weeks ago and written up by The Star on July 16.

A tweet is generated whenever a Wikipedia entry is edited anonymously from a list of Government of Canada IP addresses. With almost 5,000 followers it’s clear that people are interested in what government employees and partisan staff are doing to manipulate their web presence.

Sure, @gccaedits followers only account for 0.014% of our total population (not that we can assume they are all Canadian accounts, of course) but it does say something when we compare the same figures for longer-standing and similar Twitter feeds in the UK and US, which represent closer to 0.008% of populations in those countries.

Do fences make good neighbours in the depths of our current democratic deficit?

Is Alberta’s FOIP Request System Serving it’s Intended Purpose?

Freedom of Information requests are an essential part of the democratic system that we so greatly value. They are an essential tool for the public and those working in their interest to retrieve information about the workings of government, shedding light on controversial decisions, troubling statistics, and other internal information that can be used to hold public officials accountable and bring about change in government institutions.

Unfortunately, there are growing concerns about the effectiveness of Alberta’s FOIP request process. This includes claims of possible political interference from senior government officials. According to an Edmonton Journal article in April, a 2013 memo from then-deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk directed “political press secretaries to intercept (freedom of information) requests containing information that could hurt the government’s reputation.” While the directives were never implemented, it demonstrates that the PC government has considered using directives to prevent the public from accessing sensitive internal government information (Wittmeier, 2014).

This past week, an Edmonton Journal analysis of “18 annual reports from 1995 to 2012” and “government responses to general requests for provincial records” found that two out of every three Albertans who submit FOIP requests for provincial government records are told that there aren’t any records related to the topic of their request. In 1995, the number of Albertans who received no records related to their request was only 5% (Kleiss, 2014a). Service Alberta argues that the increase in unsuccessful FOIP requests is actually the result of a significant increase in requests to the Ministry of Environment from “lawyers, developers and farmers” who are searching for information on oil spills and land contamination in Alberta (Kleiss, 2014b).

While the privacy commissioner Jill Clayton feels there could be legitimate reasons why records don’t exist, she is still concerned about this matter and is conducting a review to “ensure government officials are creating records when warranted” (Kleiss, 2014b).

Links to the recent stories on fruitless FOIP requests in Alberta, the government’s attempt to review FOIP requests for sensitive information, and information about other barriers to internal provincial government records are available below:

Kleiss, K. (2014a, July 10) Most Alberta freedom of information requests get no results:’No records exist’ for two-thirds of users.

Kleiss, K. (2014b, July 19) No records? That’s ‘good news,’ government says about ‘concerning’ freedom-of-information numbers.

Wittmeier, B (2014, May 30). Privacy commissioner to investigate freedom of information interference.

Improving Diversity in the LIS Professoriate

This week we’re drawing attention to new information about efforts to assist students trying to overcome systemic barriers to becoming an LIS scholar and increase cultural diversity in the field. A few months ago, a qualitative research study on participants in one of these initatives, the American Library Association (ALA)’s Spectrum Scholarship program, was the feature of an article in the open-access journal ‘InterActions: UCLA Journal of Education and Information Studies’. The Spectrum Scholarship program was designed to improve racial and ethnic diversity in the LIS academe.

In her study of the program, author Nicole A. Cook “sought to document this historic fellowship program and provide information that would benefit future recruitment and retention programs in the area of LIS doctoral education.” The research will help to “inform LIS education and pedagogy and provide documented evidence of experiences that can lead to the improvement of doctoral education for minorities in the future and enrich the knowledge on which future initiatives are based,

Salary Disclosure and Public Libraries

In polite conversation a person’s salary or income is usually as taboo a topic as sex.  However, the issue of public salary disclosure in Edmonton has come to the fore again with a recent Edmonton Journal story by Gordon Kent (“About 2,000 City Staff Made More than $100,000 in 2013” July 7, 2014).

The story notes that only 27 of Edmonton Public Libraries 645 staff (or 4.2%) made more than $100,000 in 2013.  In comparison, only the Community Services Department (once the firefighters are excluded) had a lower share of its employees making more than $100k.  At the opposite end of the spectrum, 92.9% (13 of 14 staff) of the city’s auditor’s office made more than $100,000.  While exact details on which individuals (and more importantly which roles) are missing, the general numbers show that librarianship is not a profession for those primarily motivated by the prospect of pecuniary gain.

More importantly though, the story emphasizes the continued push for more public disclosure of public employee salaries with the province of Alberta now disclosing some public employee salaries.  The province of Ontario has had extensive public salary disclosure requirements since 1997 under the government of Mike Harris.  Based on the 2013 Ontario data (available here: http://www.fin.gov.on.ca/en/publications/salarydisclosure/pssd/) one could discover that Al Davis, CEO of Library Services for the City of Barrie, makes $123,653.42 just a bit less than Steven Kraft, Assistant CEO of the Guelph Public Library, who made $128,819.72. These figures do give rise to both more insightful questions – why does the head of a public library in the larger city of Barrie makes less than the assistant CEO of a library in smaller community – and less insightful question – why $123,653.42 and not just $123,653 even. Still the most significant contribution of such numbers is not the information they contain, but the fact that the move for public salary disclosure reflects the continued influence of neoliberal ideology on public policy.

While library and information professionals, particularly those employed by the public, should take no joy in the ideological intent of public salary disclosure provisions, it is important to emphasize that a recent study underscores that rather than keep salaries low, disclosure spurs wage increases.  As reported by the CBC earlier this year (“Sunshine List 2014: Ontario’s List Drives Salaries Up, Not Down”) several studies have shown that disclosure requirements lead to salary increases.  Thus for public librarians the push for salary disclosure here in Edmonton must be seen as a mixed blessing – ideologically problematic, but potentially profitable for personal incomes.  Despite the traditional taboo on discussions of personal income, perhaps there is room to embrace salary disclosure requirements but with a keen and critical eye toward the intent and outcomes of such policies.

Privacy and Surveillance in Libraryland

After a decade of debate, Canada’s anti-spam law takes effect this week. You’ve likely seen the effect in your inbox. As Michael Geist explains in his recent blog post, the legislation is really about, ”shifting privacy expectations in how our information is collected and used.”

(Need a reminder about the extent of your exposure and the fragility of your privacy in our online world? NPR’s Planet Money podcast about Project Eavesdrop is worth a listen.)

So how does privacy legislation and surveillance intersect with the library world? This was the topic of a Sunday session at the American Library Association’s (ALA) annual conference. The discussion ranged from legislative particulars to stories about law enforcement officers and university administrators demanding to know the names of library users who were searching for specific topics in the library catalogue. In short, the role of librarians as protectors of patron privacy is becoming more complicated than ever.

We’ll post a link to the session slides when available but in the meantime, it’s worth noting that  speaker Seeta Gangadharan (who has written about digital privacy for activists and organizers, among other topics) noted an increased demand for privacy instruction programming at public libraries. Hopefully this will be a trend north of the border as well.

To echo the words of an ALA Government Documents Roundtable member at Sunday’s session, we challenge all librarians and archivists to incorporate examples or discussion about privacy issues into information literacy sessions!

Not sure where to start? Try the Resources section of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada website, which includes a few humorous illustrations to help keep your audience awake. Need something focused on libraryland? Try this Privacy Tool Kit, prepared by the ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee’s Privacy Subcommittee.