Saskatchewan libraries could get even quieter after today as they saw a funding decrease of $4.8 million in the provincial budget.
Joanne Havelock of Friends of Regina Public Library had hoped to see a continuation of funding along with additional funding to promote rural libraries as learning hubs and educational resources, especially for Indigenous communities and newcomers to Canada.
But the news of the budget wasn’t what Havelock hoped to hear.
“They’re going in the wrong direction cutting library services in that way, with the changes to our economy and society, libraries are needed more than ever as an educational resource,” said Havelock. “(Libraries) are a really great resource in the province; it’s underappreciated by many people. The libraries play a really important role.”
The overall funding for provincial libraries was reduced to $7.9 million, down from $12.7 million in last year’s budget.
Municipal libraries in Regina and Saskatoon had their provincial funding eliminated, a reduction of $1.3 million for the two library systems.
The seven regional library systems that serve smaller centres and rural communities in the province will see their provincial funding reduced $3.5 million, retaining an operating budget of $2.5 million.
Funding for Pahkisimon Nuyeʔáh Library System in northern Saskatchewan will stay at $974,000.
Education minister Don Morgan said the government is just trying to keep up with the times.
“As time goes on it gets increasingly difficult to maintain bricks and mortar libraries, more and more people are using things electronically, so we want to shift our focuses,” said Morgan.
Carla Beck, opposition critic for Education, said the government isn’t thinking long term or prioritizing education.
“I think it’s shortsighted, it’s mean-spirited, a cut to libraries, also cuts to literacy programs in the province,” said Beck. “It’s an overall theme that I see, this budget, one of the themes was investing in our priorities, I don’t see education, and I certainly don’t see libraries in this budget.”
Libraries aren’t just for books; Regina Public Library provides technology services like access to computers, Wi-Fi and 3D printing, and literacy and adult learning services such as EAL tutoring and homework help.
Last fall, RPL had requested a mill rate increase of 2.9 per cent from the City of Regina for 2017 to ensure that they could continue to meet the needs of patrons.
The $3.5 million cut to regional library systems is expected to significantly impact rural communities said Eleanor Crumblehulme, library director at Lakeland Library Region.
The library region is based in North Battleford and serves 33 surrounding communities, covering an area of approximately 46,600 square kilometers.
Crumblehulme expressed her disappointment on Twitter, saying “I’ve said it before, cutting libraries when times are tough hurts communities.”
“Cuts to Saskatchewan’s libraries will be devastating to regional systems serving small, rural libraries” Crumblehulme said.
There are over 300 library branches in Saskatchewan that will be affected by these cuts.