Last month, the Atlantic Provinces Library Association (APLA), submitted a letter to the Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador as well as the Members of the House of Assembly, urging them to reconsider the closure of over half of the province’s public libraries. They received a response from Education Minister Dale Kirby on the Premier’s behalf:
“As a result of the province’s current fiscal situation, many difficult decisions had to be made with a focus on long-term fiscal sustainability. With the implementation of the regional library model, the Provincial Information and Library Resources Board’s budget will be reduced by just over $1 million, with approximately $652,000 being reinvested to enhance current services.
The regional library model implementation will occur over a two-year period resulting in 41 libraries remaining across the province and over 85 percent of residents being within a 30 minute drive to the nearest library. There will be reinvestments into these 41 libraries for necessary capital improvements, additional library materials and program offerings; enhancements to the eBooks and books-by-mail services; and implementation of a minimum service standard and operating hours of no less than 30 hours per week. There will also be no change to the current library materials budget so that funding may be reinvested across the remaining libraries.
We understand that these are significant changes, but we feel that once the regional library model is fully implemented we will have a better resourced and effective library model for all residents.”
On June 10, APLA President, Suzanne van den Hoogen, responded with the following rebuttal, expressing disappointment with the Minister’s letter as well as remarks made to the press:
Dear Mr. Kirby:
Thank you for your email of May 16th, responding on behalf of Premier Ball to my letter concerning the projected closure of more than half of Newfoundland and Labrador public libraries. You will understand that the APLA membership was disappointed with your response to our expressed concerns. A resolution was carried at our Ordinary General Meeting, held June 1st in Halifax, NS tasking me to respond to your email. I also wish to comment on remarks to the press made at the time of the announcement.
You state in your email that the new regional library system, once it is fully implemented, will mean “a better resourced and effective library model for all residents.” You preface that by stating, “There will be reinvestments into these [remaining] 41 libraries for necessary capital improvements, additional library materials and program offerings; enhancements to the eBooks and books-by-mail services; and implementation of a minimum service standard and operating hours of no less than 30 per week.”
The first and most obvious point is that the money to be reinvested is insufficient to do all that is promised. The inadequacy of this proposal ($652,000) becomes abundantly clear when the money is divided across the 41 libraries. At $15,902 per library, the money is barely enough to add a part-time staff person in each of the libraries (which will now be expected to serve a larger catchment area), let alone invest in capital improvements or additional library materials.
The second observation is that whatever funds remain once the 41 remaining libraries have received their share, the amount will be insufficient to enhance ebook and books-by-mail services in any meaningful way. As library workers, we are very aware that these services are expensive to deliver and the cost per transaction high. Furthermore, these “enhancements” will in no measure compensate for the physical library and the face-to-face service that is being lost in 54 communities.
A CBC report of April 27th quoted you as saying that the targeted libraries have low usage levels. It stands to reason that small libraries in small communities will have low usage when compared to those in larger centres (particularly if lending statistics are the only assessment measure applied). But low usage (if indeed we can agree on a definition of “low”) does not necessarily mean low value. Stories abound of highly successful people (artists, business people, educators, health professionals, politicians) having been introduced to the world of books, reading and knowledge through the services of a bookmobile that visited their isolated community once a month, or of a small community library that, under-resourced as it was, provided a window on the world for a young person from a home with no books. That is to say, the introduction to the world of learning – and a stepladder to success – was made possible because the service came to the child and not the other way around. Even a small inadequately-resourced library will have more impact than one that is just slightly better stocked but miles away. People who do not read will not travel 30 minutes to get to a library, but a child of parents who do not read is likely to visit the local library in the ordinary course of living in a small community, and will be exposed to riches previously unknown to them.
The CBC also reports you as saying that, “It was certainly unknown to me at the time [that you criticized the previous government for wanting to close libraries] that the public libraries board themselves were advocating for government to either increase investment or to close some of these libraries that had very limited hours of service.” I suspect the Board was hoping for more money, or at least that all of the money saved through closures would be reinvested in the system. As it is, and as costs are rising, one million dollars are being skimmed off the top.
We understand that these are difficult economic times for Newfoundland and Labrador. But while this is the reality throughout the region, other jurisdictions have recognized the value of public libraries (to intellectual, mental and spiritual health) by investing in them. The new Halifax Public Library has more than proved the wisdom of the vision that built it. And the Government of New Brunswick has recently announced an additional $900,000 annually to open select public libraries on Sundays for the first time ever in that province. We submit that closing public libraries is not a “solution” that will bring long-term prosperity to the province, or even a fighting chance for individual citizens, and we implore the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to reconsider its decision.
Suzanne van den Hoogen
APLA President 2016-17
If you agree that the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador should reconsider the closure of over half of the province’s public libraries, please like and share our Save NL Public Libraries facebook page, download our “Save NL Public Libraries” Facebook Cover Photo & Profile Pic, or complete our Take Action to save our Public Libraries! form.