AMHERST – Several months after sounding the alarm about the future of library services, Cumberland County’s chief librarian said it’s a future that remains very cloudy.
“The fact is that if things don’t change we’re soon going to be in a position where we have to make some very difficult decisions,” Denise Corey said. “Funding is still frozen and I don’t see that changing for the next fiscal year.”
Last February, Corey was one of several librarians across the province that said many of the programs and services people have come to enjoy may disappear because of a funding shortfall. In Cumberland County, the library board was facing a deficit of $30,000 and a continued freeze on funding.
The provincial government did provide a one-time grant prior to last spring’s provincial election. Cumberland County’s share was approximately $50,000. It helped the library avoid cuts and some of that money has been set aside to help with next year. After that, Corey expects the deficit will climb back to $30,000.
A core services review is being conducted by representatives from the municipalities, libraries and Communities, Culture and Heritage, but Corey is not sure when its results will be shared.
“We have good staff and we want to pay them a fair wage,” Corey said. “On top of that, the cost of living continues to increase, making everything else more expensive. We can’t continue to do that on a frozen budget unless we make some painful decisions such as reduced hours or closing branches.”
Going into last year, she said, the library had only seen a 1.3 per cent funding increase over eight years, but the cost of living had climbed by 11.9 per cent.
Corey sees the libraries as playing a pivotal role in rural communities that have lost so much through cuts. She doesn’t want to make the decision that would take yet another service away from a small community.
“It's a very thin line we’re walking. We’ve done our preliminary budget for next year and it’s indicating a $6,000 deficit if nothing changes,” she said. “The year after that we’re looking at a $30,000 deficit. It’s still a doom and gloom situation. The money they gave us earlier this year just bought us some time. I thought the money they gave us would hold us over until they came up with a plan, but they’re proceeding at the speed of government and we’ll run out of money before then.”
Most of the library’s budget is funded by the province with the Municipality of Cumberland, Amherst and Oxford also serving as funding partners. The rest of the money is acquired through book sale, grants and other fundraisers.
The library system has 25 staff, or 17 full-time equivalents, at seven branches.
Work is continuing to establish a library foundation in Cumberland County that could raise money for the library system, but Corey said that work is still in its preliminary stages.
“The feeling is libraries aren’t being used as much, but the fact is we’re getting busier every year. Even though the population of the county is going down, we had a 42 per cent increase in the number of people coming to our programs last year,” Corey said. “That’s impressive. We had 11,000 people participate in our programs last year. That’s pretty good when you consider the population of the county is just over 30,000. Also, one in four people have a library card.”
She is encouraging people contact Cumberland North MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin and Cumberland South MLA Jamie Baillie in hopes they will hold government’s feet to the fire over library funding. The can also contact Communities, Culture and Heritage Minister Leo Glavine and Premier Stephen McNeil with their concerns.