Libraries battle fear of funding cuts

Education Minister says economic climate means all grants must be reviewed

B.C.'s library leaders and lovers are speaking out to champion their resource, after fears have begun to surface that the B.C. government might be considering cutting library grant programs.

Library leaders have launched a province-wide campaign to counter those fears, calling attention to the fact that B.C. libraries have not yet received their 2009 annual operating grants and to the vital cooperative resources funded by the province.

article continues below

B.C. Education Minister Margaret MacDiarmid said in a statement that her ministry, like all the provincial ministries, is reviewing its programs in preparation for the Sept. 1 budget, in the face of "an unprecedented economic climate that has given us reason to review all of the grants that the Ministry of Education provides."

In the statement, she noted that they "value the crucial role that public libraries play in communities across the province," and will try to tell libraries about their funding as soon as possible.

The directors of Whistler and Pemberton's public libraries say they just want to see their funding maintained for the services and cooperative programs that give back great value to the community and the province.

Lauren Stara, director of the Whistler Public Library, said she is not worried but rather "concerned," feeling that the feared loss of the annual operating grant "would be less of a monetary loss than an indication of possible things to come."

The Stop B.C. Library Cuts campaign website, which the B.C. Library Trustees' Association says was developed by the Fraser Valley Regional Library, says B.C. libraries usually receive their operating grants or indications of how much they will get from the province earlier in the year.

"There have been strong indications that the Province has decided to stop funding libraries and that this funding may be cut from the current and subsequent budgets," the website claims in a background statement.

Shannon Ellis, director of the Pemberton and District Public Library, said the concerns arose mostly due to the fact that "we're not hearing anything" at this point in the year, and that many cutbacks might need to be made. She said libraries usually get the operating grant in June or July, and for Pemberton, the grant comprises about 10 per cent of the library's budget.

"Most of our funding is local Most libraries are really well supported locally, and we definitely are," Ellis said. But times are difficult for everyone, and it's not fair to put more pressure on municipalities, she added.

The operating grant money is important in Pemberton, Ellis said, since the non-profit library's money is managed very closely. Her local funding arrives in August, and it came down to the wire as to whether they could make payroll one week, she said.

"It's pretty critical," she said.

Stara said the operating grant from the provincial government, which is determined on a per-capita basis, would make up about four per cent of the Whistler library's budget.

Both Stara and Ellis stressed the value of other programs that have been funded in large part by grants from the Province, which facilitate cooperation between B.C.'s public libraries to give library users access to greatly expanded resources. There are fears that funding for these programs could also be cut.

Such initiatives include: the B.C. OneCard program, which gives any B.C. resident with a library card at their home branch free access to libraries and services all over the province; access to extensive online resources such as databases and magazines; literacy programs such as summer reading clubs for kids; and interlibrary borrowing.

"This money is all used for cooperative programs; it's not for individual libraries to use as they like," Stara said. Some of these resources might seem like extras in the strictest sense, she said, but "they add a lot of value."

In her statement, which was emailed to The Question last Thursday (Aug. 6), MacDiarmid said last year the libraries didn't receive notice of their grants until August, "so this delay is not unprecedented."

"Although libraries usually receive notice about their grants in May-June, the Ministry of Education, like all ministries, is reviewing its programs in preparation for the Sept.1 budget. Our priority is to ensure dollars are kept in the classroom where students will benefit most - we have committed to preserving education for our students, and we are doing that," she said.

Members of the Pemberton library's board of directors and Friends of the Library group have also written letters to local MLA Joan McIntyre and newspapers, Ellis said. Meanwhile, the Whistler library is hosting a Celebration Summer Story event, to which McIntyre and MacDiarmid have been invited, on Aug. 20, to kick off the library's birthday week with local authors, Olympic mascots and cake.

© Copyright Whistler Question

The Question POLL

Do you agree with changes to the World Ski and Snowboard Festival?

or  view results

Sign Up for Our Newsletter!

Popular Question News