No change yet for N.L. li­brary fi­nanc­ing

Work qui­etly con­tin­u­ing on new plan for fu­ture

The Beacon (Gander) - - News - BY ASH­LEY FITZ­PATRICK ash­ley.fitz­patrick@thetele­

“The sys­tem as a whole is bro­ken and it needs to be re­paired.” Kate Shore, pres­i­dent, New­found­land and Labrador Li­braries As­so­ci­a­tion

Bud­get 2018 in­cluded $11.3 mil­lion in op­er­at­ing grant fund­ing for the Pro­vin­cial In­for­ma­tion and Li­brary Re­sources Board, re­spon­si­ble for pub­lic li­braries in the prov­ince.

The fund­ing was high­lighted in bud­get doc­u­ments, and Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Dale Kirby told re­porters it means no pub­lic li­brary clo­sures, that clo­sures are a “dead is­sue.”

But the in­for­ma­tion pro­vided doesn’t an­swer the ques­tions re­main­ing about the prov­ince’s re­sponse to the re­view of the pub­lic li­brary sys­tem, and li­braries’ long-term suc­cess.

In April 2016, a post-bud­get day news re­lease is­sued by the Pro­vin­cial In­for­ma­tion and Li­brary Re­sources Board and the pro­vin­cial De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion and Early Child­hood Devel­op­ment set out a plan to close 54 li­braries over two years. The move was to be com­bined with new min­i­mum op­er­at­ing hours, plus en­hanced eBook and book-by-mail ser­vices. Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties would be of­fered the op­por­tu­nity to as­sume re­spon­si­bil­ity for li­braries in mu­nic­i­pal build­ings.

Pub­lic back­lash led to a provin­cially-funded re­view of the li­brary sys­tem by con­sul­tants EY.

Be­low av­er­age

EY’s re­port showed this prov­ince’s sys­tem was not keep­ing up with the rest of Canada, with fund­ing be­ing “very low” when com­pared to other prov­inces. To­tal fund­ing stood at $22.67 per capita — 42 per cent be­low the na­tional av­er­age of $39.21 per capita.

Bud­get 2018 noted the amount the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment is pro­vid­ing to li­braries to­day is more than twice the na­tional av­er­age.

But the fund­ing from towns and cities for New­found­land pub­lic li­braries is 92 per cent be­low the na­tional av­er­age. The EY re­port gave the ex­am­ple of $17.7 mil­lion per year, over a three-year pe­riod, of­fered by the Hal­i­fax Re­gional Mu­nic­i­pal­ity to the li­brary sys­tem in that city, com­pared to the $70,700 in cash and $1 mil­lion of in-kind con­tri­bu­tions from all the mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in New­found­land and Labrador in 2015-16.

In prov­inces where li­braries have be­come pop­u­lar stops for tourists and lo­cals, it is of­ten mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and re­gional gov­ern­ments mak­ing the suc­cess pos­si­ble.

With the re­lease of the bud­get, Kirby was asked if the lat­est fund­ing af­forded by the prov­ince de­ter­mines the fi­nal fate of pub­lic li­braries.

“That has been de­cided,” he said. “Back in 2016, it was shelved. That’s the end of that.

“When I was asked about this the last time, I said we’re open­ing new li­braries, not clos­ing any, so that’s a dead is­sue, in my opin­ion.”

The min­is­ter said the op­er­at­ing grant is “sta­tus quo.” The $11,292,500 is down slightly from the $11,372,600 spent in the last year.

Kirby said there would be no li­brary clo­sures, at least, “Not while I’m min­is­ter of ed­u­ca­tion.” But the EY re­view raised im­por­tant ques­tions: Is the sys­tem here get­ting the money it needs? Is the fi­nanc­ing model the right one to as­sure longterm sus­tain­abil­ity and avoid the threat of sud­den clo­sures in the fu­ture?

Union con­cerned

The Cana­dian Union of Pub­lic Em­ploy­ees (CUPE) had been part of pub­lic ob­jec­tion to any li­brary cuts. CUPE rep­re­sents many of the prov­ince’s li­brary work­ers, who faced job losses as a re­sult of the prov­ince’s fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion and planned cuts.

The union was cel­e­brat­ing af­ter Kirby’s com­mit­ment to keep­ing li­braries open.

“It’s such won­der­ful news. Our mem­bers have been work­ing in a very dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion, won­der­ing ev­ery day whether or not they will have a job to­mor­row,” Dawn La­hey, pres­i­dent of CUPE Lo­cal 2329, said in a bud­get week state­ment. “It’s un­for­tu­nate that it took so long for the gov­ern­ment to make it clear that they are com­mit­ted to li­brary ser­vices for the peo­ple of New­found­land and Labrador.”

But it was CUPE that also pointed to larger is­sues fac­ing the li­brary sys­tem back when the EY re­port was re­leased in May 2017. The union ex­pressed dis­ap­point­ment in the re­view process, but also stated, on May 23, 2017: “The (EY) re­port rec­og­nizes that the sys­tem is dras­ti­cally un­der­funded and un­der­staffed.”

State­ments in sup­port of this feel­ing had been of­fered dur­ing a pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion ses­sion in St. John’s at­tended by The Tele­gram, prior to the re­lease of the EY re­port.

Needs re­pairs

The New­found­land and Labrador Li­braries As­so­ci­a­tion (NLLA) has also been among those con­grat­u­lat­ing the gov­ern­ment for re­think­ing a de­crease in fund­ing that would re­sult in clo­sures.

NLLA pres­i­dent Kate Shore told The Tele­gram the as­so­ci­a­tion is hope­ful. She said the as­so­ci­a­tion is aware of work un­der­way to de­velop a mul­ti­year strat­egy for the li­brary sys­tem, in­cor­po­rat­ing EY’s find­ings.

“The sys­tem as a whole is bro­ken and it needs to be re­paired,” Shore said, re­fer­ring to li­brary fund­ing.

“We do know it’s be­ing talked about. It’s not (left) on the back­burner.”

Shore said the as­so­ci­a­tion has no is­sue with the Pro­vin­cial In­for­ma­tion and Li­brary Re­sources Board tak­ing more time for plan­ning. She said a reimag­in­ing of the sys­tem in or­der to come to a vi­able so­lu­tion is a sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenge.

Shore said it’s not as sim­ple as de­mand­ing more from the mu­nic­i­pal level, given how many mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties the prov­ince has and how any given ap­proach could neg­a­tively af­fect ser­vices.

Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties chal­lenged

The Tele­gram con­tacted Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties New­found­land and Labrador, which had pre­vi­ously spo­ken about the fi­nan­cial hur­dles fac­ing towns and cities in try­ing to of­fer ad­di­tional fund­ing for li­braries.

Pres­i­dent Tony Keats said — like oth­ers — he hasn’t heard much on the sub­ject since the EY re­port was re­leased.

“To be hon­est with you, we haven’t heard any­thing from the coun­cils since last bud­get about the li­braries,” he said.

Keats said some com­mu­ni­ties are mak­ing ef­forts to con­trib­ute more — di­rectly or in-kind — in their area. But, he added, core bud­get chal­lenges (clean drink­ing wa­ter, reg­u­lat­ing waste­water and safe roads) are fill­ing coun­cil agen­das and tap­ping out bud­gets.

Pro­vin­cial leg­is­la­tion states only that mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties “may” con­trib­ute to­ward a pub­lic li­brary, as op­posed to “shall” or “must,” even if they do take the lead in some other prov­inces.

Whether it’s staffing, keep­ing re­sources up to date or set­ting op­er­at­ing hours, In­de­pen­dent MHA Paul Lane said there’s been pub­lic si­lence for too long on the EY re­port, and the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment has a role to play, still, in ad­dress­ing the health of the li­brary sys­tem.

The Tele­gram con­tacted the De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion for an in­ter­view, but re­ceived no re­sponse by dead­line.

Plan in works

An­drew Hunt, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Pro­vin­cial In­for­ma­tion and Li­brary Re­sources Board, con­firmed the de­vel­op­ing plan for pub­lic li­braries, say­ing it’s some­thing that will be avail­able in the near fu­ture, but he couldn’t put a spe­cific date on the work.

In terms of lit­er­acy, the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment has sig­nalled it plans to fund a new, con­certed ef­fort to im­prove child lit­er­acy rates this year, in re­sponse to the rec­om­men­da­tions of a task force re­view of the K-12 ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem. There will be ad­di­tional re­sources for teacher as­sis­tants, teacher li­brar­i­ans and new read­ing spe­cial­ists, plus ad­di­tional lit­er­acy in­ter­ven­tion kits and other items.

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