The qualifications of New Brunswick Public Library Service (NBPLS)’s newly hired executive director, Kevin Cormier, have come under scrutiny since his appointment earlier this month. A CBC article brought to light Cormier’s lack of library training and experience, raising public criticism of both his suitability for the position and the Higgs government’s hiring process.
The backlash includes comments suggesting nepotism in the Government of New Brunswick’s (GNB)’s hiring structures, questions around whether more qualified candidates had applied for the position, fears and suspicions around whether Cormier was hired to introduce cuts to library services, and a demand for the GNB to show more transparency and be held accountable for their hiring practices.
As a librarian who has worked for the New Brunswick Public Library Service, I am not surprised by, and also not necessarily opposed to, the decision to make Kevin Cormier the new executive director of NBPLS.
I also agree with the concerns raised with Cormier’s appointment. Does Cormier’s appointment reveal nepotism, questionable ethics or, at the very least, incompetence in GNB’s hiring practices? Absolutely.
So why am I okay with it? Because this appointment has turned the public’s eye to critically examine NBPLS hiring practices, which leads me to hope the public will continue to scrutinize NBPLS policies and procedures, including ones on diversity, equity, and inclusion that have not been questioned in the past.
CBC’s article on Cormier was published the morning of Feb. 24. By the end of the day, it had garnered more than 180 comments from the public. This is more scrutiny of NBPLS and GNB than I have seen during my entire time in Fredericton.
NBPLS has numerous policies that have not received this level of public scrutiny. For example, why does Library policy require Indigenous people to ask for written permission a week in advance to smudge on their own unceded territory?
Another policy specifies the need to purchase materials in one of the two official languages (English and French) or in an Indigenous language. While this may seem innocuous on the surface, in practice, it often means purchased materials must only be in English, French, or Mi’kmaq/Wolastoqey. This is in spite of the fact that many libraries are situated in communities where newcomers are already fighting against the current to feel at home (or, at the very least, not on the receiving end of racist remarks and/or behaviour). I personally observed a request from a patron for more books in their mother tongue only to have staff lament that they could only do so with specific limited funding pools.
It is also prudent to take note of the policies that do not exist, particularly around diversity and inclusion. GNB’s “Equality at Work” program aims to “ensure equality in the workplace” in order to “recognize those employers who ensure equality is upheld.” This program explicitly acknowledges only women as those traditionally underrepresented in higher-level positions, with no mention of other marginalized groups such as those who are Black, Indigenous, people of colour, queer, and/or disabled—to name a few.
What’s more, the program offers little more than lip service to increase the number of women executives, as no measurable outcomes or concrete ways for the GNB to reach those goals are provided.
With this in mind, does the makeup of NBPLS’s work force reflect the diversity of the communities they serve? If not, are checks and balances in place to ensure diversity in staff recruitment? Are existing staff—particularly managers and directors with hiring power—required to attend training on anti-racist, anti-colonial, cultural humility and/or unconscious bias in hiring practices? Based on my experience at NBPLS, no. I would love to be proven wrong.
With radical hope I look to Cormier’s appointment with NBPLS as an opportunity to bring increased scrutiny to the systemic issues embedded in the fabric of GNB that have been invisible for ages.
I do not condone governments or library systems hiring directors without the most basic qualification, a MLIS degree and/or experience working in and with libraries. However, Cormier’s appointment and the ensuing backlash have brought to light underlying systemic issues and the chance to name them publicly. It is still possible that, as someone outside of the library system, Cormier can bring about desperately needed changes to NBPLS. If, however, his tenure with NBPLS does not “go well”, as is predicted by those in the field of librarianship, I hope the resulting fallout will incite the public to continue to critically examine not just GNB’s hiring practices but all of the existing systemic oppressions ingrained in the New Brunswick public library system.
New Brunswick now has the opportunity to consider the broader problems existent in government policies and hiring practices. Perhaps, in the same way that CanLit being called a “dumpster fire” ignited an examination on the invisible whiteness of Canadian Literature, Cormier’s appointment will open the eyes of New Brunswickers to not only the nepotism in government employment but also the many oppressions endemic to our society.
Christine Wu is a poet and librarian living in Fredericton on traditional unceded Wolastoqiyik territory.