Libraries say they need funding to keep serving as community hubs

Susan Thompson
Express Staff

Libraries across the province are in limbo as they try to work with half their normal provincial funding while waiting for the fall budget.

The uncertainty about whether the remaining funds will still be approved when the fall budget is announced already has some libraries speaking up about the fact they may be facing tough choices whether to cut services themselves or not.

The Peace River Municipal Library & Art Gallery is waiting for the fall budget before making any decisions.

“Our understanding is that the announcement from the province has indicated that they will be advancing 50% of what libraries were approved for last year, prior to the release of the fall budget,” says Channing Stenhouse, Library Director.

“This is especially important for small libraries, where provincial funding can account for a significant portion of their operating budgets.

The government has not however released the fall budget and so at this time we cannot know what changes to expect, if any.”

Premier Kenney said his government hadn’t reached decisions about any cuts but preached fiscal restraint during a press conference announcing his government’s achievements in their first 100 days in office.

He said his government would wait for the results of the blue ribbon panel reviewing Alberta’s finances before making any budget decisions.

“It has, however, become clear since we came to office that the fiscal situation of the province is much worse than the NDP told us,” Premier Kenney said.

The findings of the panel are expected to be released to the public in September.

Public sector unions, who successfully went to court to fight new UCP legislation delaying wage talks for 70,000 workers, fear the panel is just political cover to justify upcoming cuts in the budget.

After several news stories highlighted the concerns of various libraries in Alberta large and small, Minister of Municipal Affairs Kaycee Madu took to social media to point out that the previous NDP government also gave an interim payment to libraries in 2015.

In a video he posted to his Facebook page, he said of the possibility of cuts to library funding, “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

The NDP government’s interim payment was 75% of the usual budget, as compared to the 50% being provided under the new UCP government.

“The Peace River Municipal Library receives provincial funding contributions to our operating budget, as well as funding from the Town of Peace River and surrounding municipalities,” Stenhouse says.

“If changes are announced when the budget is released in the fall, we will re-evaluate at that time.”

Stenhouse says the immediate outcry about the funding delay shows how many people use and appreciate their local libraries.

“The strong reaction to this announcement highlights how important libraries are to Albertans and their families. Today’s libraries are community hubs, offering programming for all ages, from things like after school clubs for children, games and crafts clubs for adults, and bookmobiles for seniors and homebound patrons. Many offer free classes and cultural experiences, free public computers and wifi, access to printing, and access to hundreds of e-resources,” Stenhouse says.

“Alberta’s libraries also have comprehensive inter-library loans programs that allow Albertans to borrow materials like DVDs, audiobooks, and books from libraries all across the province, levelling the playing field, especially in rural areas where libraries have smaller collections. Library services and programs are important and enriching to many families, and many people save a lot of money using public libraries.”

Stenhouse hopes that the people who use their local library as a community hub will continue to speak up about how important libraries truly are.

“For the people who use these services and care about their friends and family members who rely on them, this is a great opportunity to let elected officials know that healthy and strong libraries are integral to a healthy and strong Alberta.”

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