Community leaders in the area are concerned about the gap in resources and tools the closure of local libraries leaves.
Mayor Henry Gaudon of Lourdes is against the closure of the public library located in Our Lady of Lourdes Elementary School, especially since the library is part of the school curriculum and summer program for kids, and computers in the facility are used extensively.
He said the library, despite having part-time hours, is used for literacy classes, one-on-one tutoring for people upgrading their education and those needing help with resumés.
“All the provincial government budget has done is knock people to their knees and now to close a service so beneficial to them is kicking them while they’re down,” Gaudon said.
He said government had other options and one of them could be to reduce government employees.
“Take a couple of people off the Sunshine List and all of a sudden you make up enough savings to keep these rural libraries, which are so essential, open,” Gaudon said.
He said while government is maintaining more than 85 per cent of residents are within a 30-minute drive to the nearest library, it’s only because the bulk of the population in this province is on the Avalon Peninsula. Residents in communities where libraries are closing will have further to go, on average.
Gaudon also said the drive is not an option for people on income support or low wage earners. He said the time driving would preclude making the trip worthwhile as a good chunk of a person’s day would be used up.
He said in relation to the town council or local service district taking up the slack, neither body is in a financial position to do anything about it.
While Mayor Peter Fenwick of Cape St. George supported many of the items in the recent provincial budget, he said the closing of libraries was a bad policy decision by the Provincial Information and Library Resources Board.
To him it’s not a cost-cutting issue as it doesn’t save a lot of money; $1 million for all the hardship it can bring in closing access to not being able to read anymore for some people.
Fenwick said it doesn’t make sense to close all the rural libraries and have no library service at all.
“I’m open as a town to enter into a partnership to make sure we’ll (town) have a reading facility,” he said.
Fenwick said there will be room in their recreation facility for a reading and computer facility that could be run by centre staff so people can access books. He doesn’t believe anyone from his community will be going to Stephenville to use the regional library because of the distance and time involved. It’s 57 kilometres to Stephenville.
“This is a stupid judgment and I hope the provincial library board or government will be in a position to talk about a replacement service,” Fenwick said.
St. George’s Mayor Danny Conway said the public library located in the town hall gets a fair amount of use and is open four days a week.
His town council intends to lobby their MHA Scott Reid and anyone it can to try to stop the planned closure in 2017-18.
“I know the closures of public libraries are because of budget cuts, but how do you make a better service with less?” he asked.
Conway said his town pays all the bills for the library, from electrical, Internet hookup to the phone bill, so all that’s being saved in one person’s part-time salary.
He doesn’t believe that many, if any, people from his community will be driving to Stephenville to avail of regional library services.
Ramea mayor feels Burgeo regional library of no use
While the distance by road poses a problem for some towns with the new regional library system being adopted, the difficulty with the closing of Ramea’s public library presents a larger challenge.
Mayor Clyde Dominie of Ramea said the 30-minute distance criteria being used is completely out of the question in his community, an island off Burgeo where the nearest regional library is located.
He said getting to Burgeo is an hour and 15 minute ferry ride (on a good day) and then anyone going would have to wait for the next available ferry coming back, so to do that for a library visitation is out of the question for anyone in town.
The Ramea Public Library located in St. Boniface All Grade School is slated for closure in 2016-17. Dominie said it would make more sense to cut hours rather than closing the facility completely.
He said it’s his understanding the book collection will be left in place and he’s hoping the facility will be kept open somehow, including access to Internet and e-books.
Dominie said he hopes there is an option to continue to get updated books and materials.
“I realize these things are driven by statistics and we’ll see where it goes from here and do our best with it wherever it goes,” he said.