Over 200 book-toting library patrons gathered in front of the office of MLA Dustin Duncan on Friday, April 7th for a noon hour rally.
Some with strollers and small children, others standing or sitting and some even carrying signs, the peaceful group gathered from various libraries across the south-east region to send a message. Protesters were supporting their libraries and wanted the Saskatchewan Party’s 58% library funding cut (retroactive to January) reversed, along with cuts to services.
As of April 4th the Southeast Regional Library [SRL] indicated in a press release that it would cease accepting requests for access to materials from other regions, citing “recent provincial funding reductions to public libraries throughout Saskatchewan.”
In the press release, Kate-Lee Nolin, Director of Southeast Regional Library, also stated:
“Since 2009, “One Card, One Library” services have provided equitable access to public library materials throughout the province of Saskatchewan…Provincial funding paid for the cost of shipping public library materials from one library region to another, while within each library system, the cost of transporting library materials from a regional library headquarters to the local branches was the responsibility of each regional library system.”
While Nolin called this system “economical and efficient” she added that with budget cuts, they were not presently possible.
She also challenged the SaskParty’s data about library use, stating: “Last year we had significant growth in the use of the 47 libraries in our region.”
During and prior to the gathering outside his Weyburn MLA office on April 7th, Duncan was available to meet with his constituents.
During one such meeting, he assured constituents that their libraries were not in jeopardy and that a meeting was scheduled with the SRL for the following week to discuss more efficient means of transporting books between libraries.
“We do want to make sure that there is the ability for you to get books from other libraries across the province,” Duncan stated.
“Because the government…everybody paid for a very good system for everybody to be able to get books from wherever you are in the province, so we wanted to continue to see that be able to operate. The regional libraries have decided to shut that down.”
When it was suggested that libraries couldn’t continue to operate as usual with a 58% cut,
Duncan agreed that inter-library sharing was an essential part of the system that needed to be preserved. He also remained optimistic that upcoming discussions with libraries might address inefficiencies within the system so that loans between regions could continue.
“They can’t fund it in the way that it’s always been operated in the past. As they explained to me when I met with the Regional library here in Weyburn last week: so let’s say you want a book in Lake Alma from Melfort. So that book has to go from Melfort to the Regional Library headquarters in Prince Albert then it goes to the Regional library headquarters in Weyburn then it gets shipped out to Lake Alma.”
Duncan deemed that transit inefficient.
“Why does it have to make so many stops before it gets to you? Why can’t it just go from Melfort to Lake Alma?”
While Duncan said he didn’t think shipping would be more expensive if materials shipped via Canada Post given the corporation’s $1.24/ book rate, James Richards, branch manager for the Weyburn Public Library disagreed.
Richards said that the bags Canada post uses drastically limit individual shipping volumes and with the region having to pay shipping and handling for about 700,000 items around the province, the bills would add up.
“It’s not going to work out to be cost effective,” he stated. And while he acknowledged it was possible the materials transit system could possibly be streamlined, he pointed out that the 58% retroactive cut left the libraries no time to explore that option. Instead, jobs were cut throughout the province.
“With funding restored we could look at alternatives.” Richards said.
He also admitted that since he works at a regional library headquarters, his job and other regional branch managers’ positions might also be on the chopping block.
Currently, he added, materials were still being moved between SRLs, but not between regions.
At about noon during the April 7th protest, a brief address was given by organizer Leslie Richards, after which those gathered applauded. Then they took out their books and read for 15 minutes on the sidewalk to show support for their library system.
Although the library supporters were quiet, the messages on their colourful signs were pointed and expressed outrage with what constituents deemed an attack on their library services.
“Libraries Aren’t Afraid of The Big Brad Wolf!!” read one sign “# papercuts 58% reduction overnight – Let’s turn the page on Budget Cuts” read another. Near a woman holding a Harry Potter book, yet another sign read “Even Voldemort Respected Libraries.”