It has hardly been a steady supply of good news around here, with the provincial budget dropping and the cuts being felt around the province, on almost every level, feeling more like death by a thousand cuts, by those affected by them.
One of the most troubling of those cuts, for me to see, is the drop in subsidies going toward libraries in Saskatchewan.
This was no small drop in the pond lost, either. Regina and Saskatoon are now completely bereft of funding from the government, with $1.3 no longer going to their municipal library systems.
The province has announced a 58 per cent cut to funding to the province’s seven regional public library systems.
No hyperbole here: funding has pretty much been gutted, and you’re in denial if you don’t think services provided at those libraries aren’t going to take it on the chin as a direct result of that.
New material, be it books or any other media, can no longer be purchased or provided as efficiently. One of the biggest advantages of Saskatchewan’s library system, it’s ability to transfer resources between branches? That’s in danger, too.
We can potentially kiss goodbye to digital resources, integrated computer systems or literacy programs, to name a few things that are now in direct danger of being discontinued. What can you expect, when you take away over half the funding those libraries rely on, to provide those things?
The Saskatchewan Library Trustees’ Association put it best, describing libraries in the province as essential investments in the futures of communities, providing resources for preparedness, reading readiness, economic and employment and social equity.
They aren’t just quiet places to read and study; they’re integral educational resources. Libraries equip people, very early on in their lives, to have the capacity to read and study, to begin with. They help newcomers to the community cultivate and hone those skills, too.
They serve as respite, as points at which communities gather and flourish. They serve as some people’s only point of access to the Internet, to look for jobs or a place to live, and to keep up with current affairs. Not everyone is carrying around an iPhone 10, or Samsung Galaxy-Neubla-over-9000, or whatever, with some giant data plan. Some people need something as simple as Internet access, available at their local library. I could go on, but I think you get the idea
This budget outcome profoundly frustrates me, because it couldn’t happen to a worse system. I came to Saskatchewan, after living in towns where library cards cost money, and had a finite amount of borrowings, before you had to purchase a new card. I came here, used to my choices being limited in libraries with minimal resources and gratuitously punitive late fees — all things that aren’t in place in Saskatchewan libraries. And now all that is about to get royally screwed.
But, it gets worse: Saskatchewan’s education minister, of all the people who should be most apologetic about this, suggested that we should be moving away from brick and mortar libraries, because he believes we should be “focusing on electronic or alternate media.”
To paraphrase: “Didn’t you all know? People are starting to use more electronic or alternative media anyway! Why do we need brick and mortar libraries anymore? They’re expensive! Get with the times!”
No brainer, right? Except it’s not. It’s a staggeringly poor rationalization for an even poorer decision. Reducing the value of a library to something insultingly simplistic and obsolete as just a bunch of books on shelves, and suggesting that this obsolescence is proof that they should have their flow of funding choked to a trickle, is ignorant of the integrity of a library’s purpose, in any community.
Morgan’s statements put his qualification to serve as a steward for those institutions into doubt, given what appears to be his simplistic view of their function. I expect more than straw man arguments to justify gutting funding for libraries from the education minister. You should, too.
I am pretty proud to be in a province with the system Saskatchewan’s libraries belong to — a system that is now in grave danger because, apparently the provincial government “No longer wants to be in the library business.”