From petitions and letter-writing campaigns to phone calls and reading rallies — supporters of the province’s libraries are keeping up the pressure in hopes the Saskatchewan Party government will rewrite its chapter on funding cuts.
“It’s going to devastate our library system,” Christine Freethy said Sunday. A resident of Rabbit Lake near North Battleford, Freethy and her friend Sarah Morden, a librarian who lives in Saskatoon, founded Save Sask Libraries. They launched the Facebook group Supporting Saskatchewan’s Public Libraries, which has grown to some 4,000 members, and created the website www.savesasklibraries.ca, which includes a letter-writing tool and paper petition drive.
“We didn’t want it to be a place of discussion. We wanted it to be a place for focus with their actions,” explained Freethy, who is a volunteer board member with the Medstead Public Library.
On April 7, library advocates are planning province-wide action with “Drop Everything and Read,” encouraging people to gather at their MLA offices, read a book and call on the government to reconsider its cuts. Several petitions are also circulating, and there’s talk of pressing for a referendum.
The provincial budget eliminated funding grants to public libraries in Regina and Saskatoon, and cut operating funds for regional libraries by $3.5 million, meaning a loss of about 50 to 60 per cent. For example, under preliminary estimates released by the Ministry of Education, Lakeland Library Region — in which Freethy’s library is located — would see its funding grant potentially fall to $345,000 as compared to the $814,120 it got last year. Information to calculate grants isn’t due at the ministry until May, so numbers at this point are estimates.
Education Minister Don Morgan was on the defensive in the legislature last week as the NDP’s Carla Beck presented several petitions opposing the cuts. Morgan said the province has too many libraries as compared to Alberta and Manitoba, suggested municipalities and schools could share libraries, argued the library system needs to adjust given society’s shift to new technology, and also cited figures for falling library card numbers and items checked out since a decade ago.
“Difficult decisions had to be made in order to meet the fiscal challenges that we’re facing,” Morgan told the legislature.
If change is needed, “cutting the library system off at the knees is not a planned response to the concept that there’s too many libraries, said Freethy, adding consolidation requires time to study and plan. “How will they replace the services offered by these libraries in rural Saskatchewan,” she said. For example, in rural areas where Internet service can be unduly expensive or non-existent, people rely on their libraries for access. She added that cards may be down — because of consolidation under a new computer system — but not library users.
Calling the cuts “astounding,” Joanne Havelock, a member of the Friends of the Regina Public Library, also questioned Morgan’s numbers and observations. She noted it’s not so unusual we might have more small-town libraries given the province’s distances.
But like Freethy, Havelock believes Morgan is also missing the point. “Libraries aren’t just about the number of cards or the number of books taken out. They’re learning centres … They’re safe places for young people to go and study,” she said.
“They all create a sense of community and inclusion for people,” Havelock added. “And that has value.”
Preliminary estimates for cuts to regional library systems:
Regional libraries Total revenue 2015 Provincial grant 2016 Est. grant 2017
Chinook (Swift Current) $1,698,448 $664,959 $276,000
Lakeland (North Battleford) $2,176,179 $814,120 $345,000
Palliser (Moose Jaw) $2,446,253 $686,812 $286,000
Parkland (Yorkton) $2,210,091 $890,613 $366,000
Southeast (Weyburn) $2,823,470 $961,724 $403,000
Wapiti (Prince Albert) $2,850,200 $1,073,119 $443,000
Wheatland (Saskatoon) $1,798,509 $930,653 $403,000
*Grants to the seven regional library systems are calculated on the basis of a funding formula. Information needed to calculate individual grants is due in may, so the 2017 amounts are estimates only.
*Total revenue is for 2015 since that’s the most current figure available.
*Funding for Pahkisimon Nuye-ah (northern library system) for 2017 remains consistent with 2016 levels of $874,000, plus an additional $100,000 single integrated library system supplement.
Source: Saskatchewan Ministry of Education