Library system facing tough choices

Reduced hours, fewer services could be a reality

Published on February 3, 2017

Cumberland Public Libraries chief librarian Denise Corey (left) and assistant Chantal Taylor say the public has to speak up about the future of the county’s seven branches in light of a continued funding freeze by the province.

©Darrell Cole - TC Media

AMHERST, N.S. – Instead of thinking of ways to celebrate the Cumberland Public Libraries’ 50th birthday, Denise Corey is struggling to keep if afloat.

The chief librarian is afraid many programs and services people have come to enjoy may soon disappear. Faced with a projected deficit of more than $30,000 and a continued freeze on funding, she is facing some tough choices.

This is going to be very hard for staff because once a staff member goes below 20 hours a week they lose their benefits. If we have to reduce the hours, it’s going to push some of them below that number. Denise Corey, Chief Librarian Cumberland Public Libraries

“We don’t want to celebrate our 50th anniversary by cutting, but there’s nothing else we can do. Funding is frozen and while there has been no word on what next year will bring indications are the funding will continue to be frozen,” Denise Corey said. “We’ve gone beyond the tipping point. We’ve cut to the bone and now we’re sucking out the marrow to try to keep the doors open.”

In the last eight years the libraryhas only seen a 1.3 per cent increase in our funding from the provincial government, but the cost of living during that same period has risen by 11.9 per cent.

The province bases its library funding on population data and as Cumberland County’s population ages and decreases there is little prospect of a funding increase. However, Corey said, if the province wants people to live in rural Nova Scotia it has to be prepared to adequately fund services such as libraries.

The bulk of the library’s $858,000 budget is funded by the province, while the Municipality of Cumberland and the towns of Oxford and Amherst are also funding partners. The rest of the money is acquired through grants, book sales and other fundraising activities.

Corey said there’s only so much fundraising staff can do, adding some painful cuts have been made in recent years. There is no where left to cut without eliminating programs such as classic movie nights, after school movies and possibly reducing hours at its seven branches.

“This is going to be very hard for staff because once a staff member goes below 20 hours a week they lose their benefits. If we have to reduce the hours, it’s going to push some of them below that number,” Corey said.

To date, all databases have been cut, except for Ancestry that will be cut when its licence expires in March. Movie licence agreements are being cut and there will be less programs. Less money will be spent buying new books and other items, including magazines.

Staff will not receive a cost of living increase, something Corey said will result in reduced spending in the community as staff struggles to pay for necessities and there will be less staff training.

There are 26 staff, or 17 full-time equivalents, at the seven branches. One position was eliminated in 2012-13.

Libraries will have 29 hours cut from the seven branches, including seven hours a week from both the Four Fathers Library in Amherst and Oxford and six hours from the Miner’s Memorial Library in Springhill.

If the situation doesn’t improve, more drastic steps will be required next year, possibly the closure of one or more branches across the county – a tough way to celebrate the library system’s 50th year.

“We’ve been cutting behind the scenes for years. So many things are gone and the book budget is at the absolute minimum. There’ll be less programs and less training,” assistant chief librarian Chantal Theriault said.

The library board is urging people to attend the annual general meeting in April and Corey said government officials are being invited.

Corey said it’s important for people to raise their voices with their MLAs and Communities, Culture and Heritage Minister Tony Ince. She said Cumberland North MLA Terry Farrell has been very supportive, but there hasn’t been a commitment for help from minister.

Cumberland South MLA and PC leader Jamie Baillie has written a letter to the department on the library's behalf.

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