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Municipalities can’t all afford cash for libraries: MNL

The Brigus Public Library.
The Brigus Public Library.

Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador (MNL) has started to hear from its member councils, concerned about financial support for public libraries.

The EY report on libraries was released Thursday, and in addition to recommendations to address shortcomings in staffing and programming, it highlighted a low level of financial contribution from municipalities in the province (less than one per cent), when compared to the rest of Canada.

“We put out a note to our members around it,” said MNL president Karen Oldford.

She said the Municipalities Act does not include libraries as a responsibility for town and city councils. Municipalities are already unable to keep up with primary needs, and there needs to be consideration for the cost of regulatory demands being imposed by other levels of government, Oldford said.

One example of regulatory demands would be the change in federal wastewater regulations, with the cost of required infrastructure and long-term operations beyond what many communities can afford.

The existing legislation states only that municipalities in the province “may” contribute toward a public library, as opposed to “shall” or “must,” even if they take the lead in some other provinces.

“To add another responsibility onto communities that are already struggling at this time is not somewhere we see as being reasonable to go,” Oldford said. “But now we’re certainly willing to sit with government and see if we can find some creative solutions, because communities recognize the importance of libraries.”

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N.L. libraries lack municipal cash

The provincial NDP issued a statement echoing the concerns, but also challenging the value of the EY consultant report.

“Government has spent a quarter of a million dollars to find out what we already know: that libraries in this province are vastly underfunded and that we need a solid plan to build for the future,” NDP Leader Earle McCurdy stated.

McCurdy launched a tour of public libraries in the province in 2016, after controversy erupted as it was suggested more than half of the province’s libraries could close in the wake of Liberal budget cuts.

But while the shortcomings in the library system may have been known generally at the time the provincial library board was announcing the potential for drastic changes in 2016, the EY report is the first comprehensive, one-stop document showing details about per capita funding, alternative models, staff and user comment, with comparisons to public library systems in other provinces.

Calvin Taylor, chair of the Provincial Information and Library Resources Board, said in a statement he looks forward to the development of a new plan for library services.

Both the board and the provincial government are reviewing the report and will meet for further discussions.

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