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Struggling to put books on the shelves

Nova Scotia's rural libraries facing cuts to staff hours, positions, and book budgets in 2015

by Robert Devet

Public libraries in rural Nova Scotia are feeling the budget squeeze, and it spells bad news for the future. Photo Eastern Counties Regional Library
Public libraries in rural Nova Scotia are feeling the budget squeeze, and it spells bad news for the future. Photo Eastern Counties Regional Library
Not a world class architectural marvel, but people love their public library in Stewiacke nonetheless. Photo Colchester - East Hants Public Library
Not a world class architectural marvel, but people love their public library in Stewiacke nonetheless. Photo Colchester - East Hants Public Library

KJIPUKTUK (HALIFAX) – Shiny new libraries, especially of the flagship variety, appear not just in downtown Halifax, but also in Antigonish, New Glasgow, and many other Nova Scotia towns.

But all is not well in library land.

Insufficient operational funding is making it more and more difficult to keep the shelves stocked, or to pay the workers who stock those shelves.

Over the last decade provincial funding has remained mostly stagnant, while costs continue to rise and demand escalates. Some regions have even seen their funding reduced.

And that's a blow. Provincial funding for libraries in rural Nova Scotia represents 70 to 75 per cent of library budgets. Municipalities and fundraising efforts make up the remainder.

The Halifax Regional Library gets most of its money from the municipality. There are financial pressures in Halifax as well, but they are different in nature.

But in many Nova Scotia communities and towns insufficient provincial funding is bringing libraries close to the breaking point, librarians say.

“Last year we didn't replace our technical services librarian. Now that position is shared among four other workers, so you don't see an immediate impact, but everyone is having to do more,” Eric Stackhouse tells the Halifax Media Co-op. Stackhouse is the Chief Librarian at the Pictou-Antigonish Public Library.

“You see this happening all over the province,” Stackhouse adds.

“Also, our collections budget is not keeping pace,” says Faye MacDougall, Regional Librarian for the Cape Breton Regional Library.

Over the years the collections budget has decreased while with an increasing user base and the arrival of costly e-books, DVDs and audio books expectations are becoming ever more difficult to meet, she says.

“We're struggling to keep our services going, we are at the bare minimum,” MacDougall adds.

A report issued in the summer of 2013 by the Library Boards Association of Nova Scotia (LBANS) echoes these concerns and predicts a grim future for Nova Scotia libraries outside of HRM. It warns of cuts to staff hours, positions, and book budgets if government doesn't act.

“Salaries and benefits are not keeping pace with other sectors and libraries. Upcoming cuts would include branch hours, cuts to programs and little or no cost of living increases for staff with significant impact on morale,” a section in the report on the Cape Breton Regional Library warns.

Meanwhile, local libraries play a vital role in many people's lives. There are well over 300,000 public library members in the province and close to 4 million library visits per year.

People go to the library in droves, and not just to borrow books. Libraries offer literacy programs, provide public access to the internet, and often library staff assist people with filling out government forms.

The Library Board Association wants more money, and it wants the provincial funding formula changed from population-based to service-based.

“Whether you have 400 people come to your branch or 375 makes no difference, it still costs just as much money to run,” MacDougall explains.

Discussions are under way with the Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage about this change, writes departmental spokesperson Glenn Friel in an email to the Halifax media Co-op. But these discussions have not yet concluded.

The LBANS report also asks that staff salaries be transferred to government. Salaries, although generally low, consume by far most of the libraries' operating budgets.

Forget about that one, says Friel, although in much more diplomatic fashion.

And forget about any budget increase in 2015, says Stackhouse, who participates in the ongoing discussions with government.

“We are being told by the government to do it with the same amount of money (in 2015). Next year is not going to be easy and we will have to make some very hard decisions in terms of what services we can continue to offer,” he says.

MacDougall is disappointed. She thinks money spent on libraries is a good investment.

“We should be promoting literacy province-wide. That should be a priority for government,” she says.

“It's an economic driver. It impacts people's health, the economy. if we celebrate it and promote it all our communities will be better off.”

 

See also: Public libraries under the gun

Follow Robert Devet on Twitter @DevetRobert

 

 

 

 

 

 

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