Public libraries are worth saving

Commentary with Geoff deGannes

Published on February 10, 2017

Commentary with Geoff deGannes

Public libraries have been the reading and learning cornerstones of our communities for generations, but in an increasingly digital world, they are seriously under threat in many parts of our country. Unfortunately, they are also vulnerable soft targets for politicians looking to trim expenses at budget time.

This has become the reality for the Cumberland Public Libraries as they prepare to celebrate a milestone – their 50th anniversary. Sadly, there isn’t much to celebrate considering the dire financial situation and the continued erosion of programs and services across the seven branches within the library system.

I wholeheartedly agree that the library’s largest funder, the province, should be committing to adequate and sustainable funding. But the local municipalities should be seriously reconsidering their financial commitment realizing their communities cannot afford to be without a good public library service. Geoff deGannes

As chief librarian Denise Corey told Cumberland News Now last week, “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 library has only seen a 1.3 per cent increase in funding from the provincial government, but the cost of living during that same period has risen by 11.9 per cent.

It has to be particularly demoralizing for staff, who are seeing the loss of valuable resources and a reduction in their working hours which eventually could cost some employees their benefits. 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 Miners 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.

I have always believed that public libraries add value to any progressive community where culture and heritage have a firm foundation. Libraries should not be seen as obsolete or irrelevant in the 21st century.

To quote a line from the Public Libraries Association: “Libraries are more than books and technology. Libraries build citizens. They educate individuals and foster thoughtful communities. They are essential components of communities – worth fighting for and worth funding.”

I wholeheartedly agree that the library’s largest funder, the province, should be committing to adequate and sustainable funding. But the local municipalities should be seriously reconsidering their financial commitment realizing their communities cannot afford to be without a good public library service.

The other financial component critical to sustainability is fundraising and that is the responsibility of the board of directors. Having a board with a sub-committee whose mandate is to fundraise is vital. Hopefully, the general public will see the sense of urgency, attend the board’s annual general meeting in April, and urge their elected representatives that our public libraries are worth saving.

 

Geoff deGannes is the past chairman of the Tantramar Radio Society. His daily commentaries can be heard on 107.9 CFTA.