Nfld. & Labrador

'It's very comprehensive': N.L. education minister defends report on libraries

N.L.'s education minister is finally speaking out about the $250,000 consultant's report on the province's public libraries — and disagrees with the criticism that's been leveled against it so far.

Dale Kirby insists consultant's review a 'good roadmap' for public libraries board to make closure decisions

Education Minister Dale Kirby says the consultant was not asked to identify library branches that could close. (CBC)

Newfoundland and Labrador's education minister is defending a consultant's report on the province's public library system, weeks after it was blasted as vague by the union representing library workers.

"It's very comprehensive ... It's well overdue," said Dale Kirby.

"I think it provides quite a good roadmap for the [Provincial Information and Library Resources Board] to make its plans for the future strategically."

EY, formerly known as Ernst & Young, was tasked with examining the library system, following a public furor about 2016 budget cuts and a plan to close 54 libraries — more than half the existing number.

'A very good job'

Kirby seemingly dismissed criticism that the report raised more questions than answers. 

"The consultant was not asked to direct the public libraries board or government to do anything," Kirby told CBC Radio's On The Go

Dawn Lahey of CUPE Local 2329, which represents library workers in Newfoundland and Labrador, has previously said the report is 'very vague' and leaves workers wanting more information. (CUPE)

"The consultant was tasked with doing, basically, an operational and service review of the public library system and they did a very good job of that."

That's not how some have described the report.

"It's very vague in the recommendations ... We also have the whole system under a cloud of what's going to happen next," Dawn Lahey, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 2329, told CBC a couple of weeks ago. 

But Kirby believes the next steps are clear. 

"There is quite a bit of detail in there in terms of suggestion on how to move forward. So now it will be up to the public libraries board to take that advice into account," he said. 

Those decisions by the board will form the recommendations for the 2018 provincial budget, Kirby added. 

'I don't have any first or last say here'

Kirby said it isn't definite that some of the 54 libraries identified for closure will be shuttered, but said something's got to give. 

Public consultation about libraries had been heated, with participants storming out of one session in St. John's in early October. (Andrew Samson/CBC)

"If it is in the interest of the public libraries board, and the public they serve, that we continue to provide an inferior service to the people in communities where these libraries operate, then I guess that's what will be done," Kirby said.

"We could very well just continue with the status quo. I don't consider the status quo to be acceptable, but I don't have any first or last say here." 

Kirby said "outdated collections, poor information technology and very few operating hours in the run of a week" are problems that still persist in some branches. 

He admitted there doesn't seem to be "any appetite" for the proposal that originally called for more than half of the province's public libraries to close, but again deferred the heavy lifting to the public libraries board. 

Dale Kirby has previously said literacy is a big priority for the provincial government. (CBC)

"Where we go now is relatively uncertain. So I wouldn't jump to any conclusions about what it's in the report. The report makes recommendations, but really, the decisions are made at the board level."

As for the report's $250,000 price tag, there's no sticker shock for Kirby. 

"There hasn't been a comprehensive review of the public library system for about 25 years ... so I think we got good value for our money."

With files from On The Go