In the wake of the provincial government’s 2017 budget, which calls for a 58 per cent decrease in rural library funding, supporters of the local facility continue to take action in an effort to have their voices heard.
Friday saw more than 100 of the library’s faithful followers gather outside Meadow Lake MLA Jeremy Harrison’s constituency office for a good, old-fashioned read-in. Meanwhile, a petition has been circulating the area to drum up additional support, and a community information night explaining the direness of the situation took place Tuesday evening at the library itself. Whether or not the government will heed the concerns of the public remains to be seen.
There’s no doubting the facts. The number of items checked out of the public library system has dropped 1.6 million since 2007, the number of registered library users has decreased by 175,000 and more and more people are turning to Google and other popular search engines rather than relying on the knowledge found in a good book. At the same time, however, there are many people – at least in Meadow Lake – who greatly rely on their local library.
Take, for example, 98-year-old Flo Clark. Although legally blind, Clark has come to appreciate the audiobooks offered at the library. But, with the impending cuts (expected to total somewhere around $3.5 million province-wide), she will no longer be able to sign out new materials.
The cuts have also resulted in two student employees being laid off immediately, while a part-time employee is expected to be released by the end of the year. Warranted or not, no one wants to see anyone lose his or her job.
The library is obviously a valuable resource. If it wasn’t, there wouldn’t be such a strong, public outcry. Indeed the province does have to find savings somewhere if it hopes to bring the budget back to balance. In the case of libraries, however, it may have been a wise decision to consult the people who use such facilities prior to simply announcing any drastic measures.
This would have opened the province’s eyes to just how much the library means to people, while also allowing for cost-saving ideas to be shared by the library patrons themselves. For example, Clark said she’s willing to even pay a yearly library membership fee if it means things can remain status quo.
This isn’t such a bad idea. Certainly there will be some who think otherwise considering no such fee has existed in the past, but – if the library means that much to them – they’d surely put their money where their mouths are. The final chapter on the future of Saskatchewan’s libraries may not have been written quite yet.