Library-goers in Cumberland County, N.S., may find the doors closed at one of their branches — permanently — if the province doesn't improve their "desperate" funding situation, says a chief librarian with Cumberland Public Libraries.
Denise Corey said funding for the libraries in Advocate, Amherst, Oxford, Parrsboro, Pugwash, River Hebert and Springhill is up 1.3 per cent compared to eight years ago, but that isn't enough to match cost increases.
The funding shortfall has led to multiple cuts in service, said Corey. "Now we're at a desperate point."
The board of directors for Cumberland Public Libraries is expected to choose between decreasing hours at all branches in the region, or closing one location entirely.
The spokesman for Nova Scotia's Communities, Culture and Heritage Department, Daniel McNeil, said in an email the province is committed to reviewing the current funding model for libraries.
He said while the government makes a "significant investment" in public libraries each year, the ultimate goal is to build a long-term, sustainable funding plan that is not based entirely on the number of people living in each library district.
He said, in the meantime, library staff are eligible to apply for individual program grants as a way to access extra money.
That won't be enough to stop the cuts in the short term, Corey said.
"We're cutting everything," she said, including one full-time staff position.
Staff aren't buying as many copies of books and they aren't replacing those that get ruined or lost, Corey said.
They are cutting all subscriptions to online databases and publications, she said, and they won't be renewing their licence to screen movies when it expires this year.
At the same time, there have been cuts at the federal level, Corey said, including the elimination of the Community Access Program in 2012, which provided free public access to the internet.
"That's money that we're not receiving to update our technology that we're having to find someplace else," she said.
Corey said the libraries in Cumberland County are quite busy, adding that:
- 24 per cent of the population has an active library card that was used within the last three years.
- 119,000 items were signed out in 2016.
- More than 8,400 people participated in programs at the libraries in 2016.
- Users logged 18,000 hours on library computers in 2016.
Call to action
Corey said she's speaking out now because the libraries are at a tipping point, and her attempts to communicate with provincial officials are "not getting any traction."
A notice on the landing page for the Cumberland Public Libraries website urges people to contact their MLAs and the minister of communities, culture and heritage and share their concerns.
The board of directors has invited provincial politicians and members of the public to attend its annual general meeting April 6 to discuss the issue, and is expected to decide whether to close a branch shortly thereafter.