Fogo Islanders pack library in protest of government cuts
About 100 people rallied Monday to keep Fogo Island Public Library staffed
It was standing-room only at the Fogo Island Public Library Monday, as people packed the room to protest government's plan to close 54 libraries across the province over the next two years.
The library on Fogo Island is set to be closed in October because of a funding cut by the provincial government.
Fogo Mayor Andrew Shea says the community needs to organize to rally around the library and encourage Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development Dale Kirby to reverse the cuts.
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"We've had a library on Fogo Island for a long time. Before the ferry, before electricity, before telephones — before roads joined the communities. And don't tell me times weren't tough then," said Shea.
I guess we're in the 15 per cent that our government doesn't care about.- Christine Dwyer
"People believed in the library," Shea added. "We had one-room schools and we still had the library, because people saw the library … as a place you could improve yourself."
In his argument to keep the library on Fogo Island, Shea brought up the cost of renting space for libraries in Conception Bay South and Corner Brook.
According to Shea, the bill for the C.B.S. library would cover the cost of the Fogo Island Public Library for 25 more years.
"We've got the best case in Newfoundland to keep this library open. We're not near another library — we got to go on a boat that don't work," said Shea, whose statement was met with applause from the crowd.
Colourful rally for literacy
Extra chairs had to be added to accommodate about 100 people who showed up to the planned protest.
Kids came with signs that said "Save Our Small Library," part of what organizers call and SOS in the hopes of reaching politicians in St. John's.
Edmund Walbourne, a retired principal and town councillor, told the crowd about his time as a child on Fogo Island when he would check books out from the library to "discover" new parts of the world.
"We all know things would be tough. We all know there would be cuts. But Premier [Dwight] Ball — I don't know if we knew they would get this tough," said Walbourne.
"I have to quote the words of Mark Antony at the funeral for Julius Ceaser. Premier Ball, this is the most unkindest cut of all, when you go and cut the library service."
Government 'doesn't care'
Christine Dwyer has been on the Fogo Island Public Library Board for nearly 40 years. She listed out the services the library offered beyond books, describing Easter egg hunts, book clubs for kids and a recent princess party.
"This library has 986 registered users. That's 41 per cent of our population," said Dwyer.
Closing libraries in remote communities like Fogo Island shows the provincial government turning it's back on rural Newfoundland and Labrador, according to Dwyer.
She also took issue with government's claim that 85 per cent of people in the province would be within 30 minutes of a public library, even after the closures.
"It is not practical to expect Fogo Islanders to take an hour ferry ride then an hour drive to use a library, then two more hours back home. And that's not counting the wait in the [ferry] line up," said Dwyer.
"I guess we're in the 15 per cent that our government doesn't care about."