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Interview / Francesca Holyoke

Interview / Francesca Holyoke

Francesca Holyoke received CAUT’s Academic Librarians’ and Archivists’ Distinguished Service Award in May. Holyoke chaired the CAUT Librarians’ and Archivists’ Committee from 2008– 2012, raising red flags about cuts to Library and Archives Canada and the closure of federal libraries. Currently the head of the University of New Brunswick’s archives and special collections, she has since 2000 served stints on the executive and bargaining teams of the Association of University of New Brunswick Teachers.

You are the first librarian at UNB to serve as faculty association president and also grievance committee chair. You’ve been instrumental in improving collective agreement language for librarians to more closely align with those of the teaching faculty. What has driven your desire to be so deeply involved?

One of the deeply-rooted foundational principles within academe is the notion of service to the community. That service can happen in a number of ways, including through the faculty association. I’ve always felt it’s important there be fair and open processes, whether in hiring or how people get paid, or in how programs are brought into being: there must be a collegial aspect. I also strongly believe that when colleagues run into trouble, there must be fair and open processes to follow. Unless you’re contri-buting to this in some way, you are sitting along the sidelines and being affected by everything, but not sharing the load. And that isn’t particularly where I like to be. Actions speak louder than words and you can contribute to your university community through your faculty association in a way that’s positive.

You’ve been a champion of open access in scholarly publishing. Why?

Libraries have tied themselves to licensing agreements that chew up huge proportions of their acquisitions budgets, leaving very little discretionary funding. This has created essentially vanilla collections all across the country. Simply put, academic libraries can’t afford these packages anymore. Among the serious options to consider is supporting open access and institutional repositories where the research of faculty members is made available freely. There’s an awful irony that at most institutions, although the proportion of public support has gone down, the publishing companies still get peer-review and research for free, then from the public purse, sell it back to universities for piles of money. There’s something wrong with this.

You’ve said there’s a link between open access and the importance of your grievance work. How so?

When you talk about assessments and promotions, from which a lot of grievance work originates, you begin thinking about how you need to properly and fairly assess academic work that may not be traditionally published, but has gone to an institutional repository. Such research can be every bit as rigorous, every bit as important, but is distributed in a way that doesn’t feed huge profits to publishers and is available to be used by others in a much more readily accessible way.

Technology now drives organizational change, affecting libraries on every level. But what must remain the “core” function of an academic library?

Libraries must adhere to the basic principles that material, whether print or electronic, is made accessible without bias, with representation of as many different, authoritative voices as possible. Academic libraries need to remain the “great leveler,” in that as long as students are able to get to university — and there are all kinds of issues around that — then resources must be there for all students. It remains an issue that while we’re well into a world where almost everyone has a laptop, people who have difficulty with that or don’t have the fanciest machines don’t have equal access — to which they are entitled when they come to university.

How is technology affecting libraries?

We must guard against losing sight of what a library is supposed to do. Technology easily becomes the reason for change, rather than serving the agenda. Naturally, it’s greatly changed the jobs that people do. We are pressured to get a lot of digitization work done, and there is value in digitizing, but it needs to be selective.

So where should the emphasis be placed?

Born digital materials aren’t being adequately preserved. There’s far more risk in losing digital materials than paper formats, and preserving them will take a tremendous amount of work. For example, office correspondence is now largely electronic. Given what it documents, it should be part of a public record. Government websites change frequently; look at what happened when the Harper administration made changes to websites and removed access to all kinds of information that had been available electronically. It wasn’t archived. Where is it? So the information loss is potentially much greater with born digital materials, and we should be putting emphasis on preserving digital assets for future generations.

How did winning the Librarians’ and Archivists’ Distinguished Service Award make you feel?

I’ve never received anything like it before. It’s quite humbling to be recognized by your peers, to know that people are saying “you’ve done a few things, some of which were good and helpful.” It was quite surprising, and nice to hear!

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