Nfld. & Labrador

More librarians, fewer libraries — but no plan on how to actually do it

The provincial libraries association says the consultants' report released this week is light reading.

Kate Shore says libraries need to be run by librarians, and there aren't enough of them in N.L.

Kate Shore, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Libraries Association, says the report on the public library system didn't have a lot of insight into how to accomplish its recommendations. (CBC)

The review of the Newfoundland and Labrador public library system was short on surprises — and on how to accomplish recommendations, says the provincial library association.

"The report really fell short. It just hit the surface, it didn't — it just kept saying we have to come up with a multi-year strategy, with no actual strategies of how to do that with no funding," said Kate Shore, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Libraries Association.

When you only have 12 librarians for an entire province … something's gotta give.- Kate Shore

"There's a lot of mixed reaction. It basically highlights what we already knew, but it doesn't really give us a way forward."

Shore said a lot of the content of the report contained things the association had already told government before it commissioned EY to do a $250,000 review of the library system.

The report, released Thursday, recommends some libraries be consolidated or closed, as well as establishing a regional board to run the libraries and a cost-sharing arrangement between the province and municipalities.

People in rural areas like Fogo Island signed petitions to keep their local library branches open, after the province announced it wanted to close more than half of them. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

It also recommends hiring more librarians, a suggestion Shore said must be listened to.

"That's a given — we are 89 per cent below the national average. That was a bit staggering. I knew we were low, but I didn't know we were that low," she said.

"When you only have 12 librarians for an entire province, meanwhile there's 171 staff, something's gotta give."

Head librarian needed

Librarians have to do a master's degree — a Masters of Library and Information Science (MLIS) — in order to do their jobs, but that doesn't give them the credit they deserve, Shore told the St. John's Morning Show.

"They're not necessarily regarded for their skills that they go to school for, and this is one of the definite things that are most important when it comes to libraries is that people that know what they're doing are in charge," she said.

A review of the Newfoundland and Labrador public library system says there needs to be more librarians hired.

"When they said that we needed a head librarian, that was one of the greatest things you could hear because right now the executive director doesn't have an MLIS."

We don't have any fundraising action in this province on a large scale.- Kate Shore

While the report said some libraries should close, that's based on a 15-minute travel distance which Shore said doesn't actually accurately reflect where people have to go to get to their nearest library.

For example, she said driving to the Arts and Culture Centre library could take her 15 minutes from the east end of St. John's, so that measure is not really comparable for rural areas and they should instead look at kilometres travelled.

"Maybe in some cases if they supplemented with bookmobiles or having pop-up libraries on a very regular basis in different communities, but none of those innovative ideas are actually addressed."

Lack of fundraising, organization

In addition, Shore took issue with the fact that the report bases a library's performance on how frequently it's used.

But in many rural locations, the hours are so miniscule that it's hardly a fair measure.

"When they use these statistics and they're like, oh there's low usage. But if that library is only open 10-15 hours a week and it's got that many statistics, you have to take that into account and show this is actually working. You need to re-invest and find different ways," she said.

Libraries in rural communities aren't just about borrowing books or films, they're also a community hub of activity, says Kate Shore. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

One of the biggest missed opportunities, Shore said, is a lack of any organized and philanthropic fundraising efforts similar to library boards in other parts of Canada.

"There's a Friends of the Library where there's actual dedicated volunteers and a not-for-profit board that looks at fundraising," she said.

"We don't have any fundraising action in this province on a large scale."

With files from the St. John's Morning Show