Sask. Party government misguided on library cuts
By Barb Pacholik
April 12, 2017
“MAPS – LOST in REGINA,” read the tiny ad near the bottom of the Leader-Post’s classified section recently.
The irony wasn’t lost — that an item used to point the way had somehow taken a wrong turn.
At a time when many people simply hit Google Maps on their smartphone for directions, the search for a paper map might seem quaint and anachronistic.
If you are to believe the Saskatchewan Party government, in that way, maps are not so different than libraries.
Soon after the budget delivered a 58-per-cent cut in grants to regional libraries and the end of provincial library funds for Regina and Saskatoon, Education Minister Don Morgan was quoted as saying the government needs to move beyond “bricks and mortar libraries.” The focus, he suggested, was now “electronic or alternate media.”
Full disclosure, I am a published author of three books that have luckily found a place on the shelves of some of this province’s libraries. Not so surprisingly, I think the government has lost its way on libraries. They are not, as one of my former colleagues once argued, “book museums,” a relic some charming, nostalgic past.
They are dynamic, community hubs where newcomers learn English, students study, people go who can’t otherwise access the Internet or a computer, children enjoy early literacy programs, and visitors of all ages take educational classes. And yes, they also loan books — print as well as electronic. I’ve also relished the Regina Public Library’s many electronic databases and rich Prairie History Room for research.
Want to see the future of libraries, drop by the George Bothwell Branch in south Regina, with its creative, flexible meeting spaces, coffee machine, rentable laptops, TV monitor, virtual reality headsets, work lounges — and, of course, books.
The casualties are stacking up, but to date we’ve heard of the cancellation of the One Province, One Library Card program and job losses. In Regina, the library is holding public meetings Wednesday and Thursday evening to talk about the cuts. It has warned that its cultural and literacy programs won’t be unscathed.
Kelly Miller is a Regina mom who makes ample use of the Albert Branch. She’s among some 5,800 people from around the province who protested the cuts last week by reading books outside Sask. Party MLAs’ offices. Accompanied by her three-year-old son dressed as a Ninja Turtle, Miller read from the children’s book, “Who’s Running This Country Anyway?”
Because her own constituency has an NDP MLA, Miller chose to read at Warren Steinley’s office on Rochdale Boulevard. When those at the rally realized it was closed, they walked up the same street to the Sask. Party’s Regina headquarters. (She points out the irony of a party that advocates consolidation of small-town libraries having two offices 700 metres apart, but I digress.)
Last week, Miller sent an email to the Sask. Party MLAs suggesting they were misreading and misleading with regards to the regional libraries’ financial statements in saying they were sitting on “substantial surpluses.” For example, Education Minister Don Morgan told the legislature Palliser has a $2.1 million surplus. But as Palliser has pointed out, if you actually read its financial statement you’ll realize that number is the “accumulated surplus,” which includes previously purchased physical assets, such as buildings and land, vehicles, books, computers and other equipment.
“If libraries sell off the building and materials, yes they will be able to cover the cost of the provincial cuts to the inter-library loan program, etc.,” wrote Miller, “but they will not have materials to send or places to send them.”
While the province suggests there are too many libraries for the population, pull out a map and look at how broadly those communities are dispersed, including small towns that no longer have a school, but still thankfully have a library.
And so, back to the story of those wayward maps. They were lost as much as five or six years ago, and they were cherished, old, linen maps of Glasgow, Scotland, where their owner once lived and studied.
They belong to Dr. Lewis Draper, a physician and former MLA in the 1990s, who’s not entirely certain how they went astray but misses them dearly. Draper also happens to be a published author.
He thought, perhaps, if someone read the ad, they might recall spotting his beloved maps and get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Of course, whether it’s maps or libraries and the many and varied services they offer, once anything is lost, it’s often so very, difficult to get back.
Barb Pacholik’s city column appears weekly.
Source: Regina Leader Post