Nfld. & Labrador

2 west coast communities challenge Liberal logic in library closures

People in Lourdes and Cow Head are vowing to fight the impending closures of their communities libraries.
With half of the province's libraries slated to close, people in two of the affected communities are questioning the government's move. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Two communities on the west coast have harsh words for the Liberal government's slashing of the provincial library system, saying the move spells disaster for rural Newfoundland.

"When Newfoundland was the poorest of the poor, we had a library. Even though it measured 16 by 20 feet, we still had it and people could borrow books and use its services," said Sarah Payne, who volunteers on the library board in Cow Head.

"How could we possibly have regressed this far?"

The Cow Head Public Library first opened in 1954, and is slated to close sometime before the end of 2018, as one of the 54 libraries being cut in the provincial government's move to save $1 million.

The library in Lourdes is also on that list, along with the two others situated on the Port au Port Peninsula.

"For the people of the area, now they have nothing. We have no hope, no money, now, no library," said Henry Gaudon, the town's mayor.

"I feel the government must surely be suffering from ridicule from the rest of the nation, by destroying the very core of its population's literacy, which is the basic, basic thing that we need," Payne told CBC's Corner Brook Morning Show.

'Closing libraries closes opportunity'

Payne and Gaudon aren't alone in their concerns, with outcry against the cuts overflowing from provincial borders to the national level.

The Canadian Library Association issued a news release urging the province to reconsider, stating that "closing libraries closes opportunity."

The British Columbia Library Trustees Association also wrote to Minister of Education Dale Kirby, outlining the role of libraries beyond books.

"Libraries are where lonely seniors go to read a newspaper…where teenagers go when they need a safe place," the letter said.

Students, seniors hit hard

That's a sentiment Payne and Gaudon echo, worrying students and seniors will be hit hardest when the libraries close up shop.

"They will be denied all the access to learning. They will not be able to afford to buy books. many will not be able to afford internet services," said Payne, adding the cost to buy gas to drive to the nearest library, 35 minutes away in Rocky Harbour, will mean few people will be able to afford the trip.

The nearest library to Lourdes will be in Stephenville, about an hour's drive away.

"Can you imagine a young student hitchhiking an hour and a half to get access to a computer, to research an assignment or do their homework?" asked Gaudon.

The Lourdes Public Library is located in the town's elementary school. (Facebook)

Questioning cost savings

In Lourdes, the library is located in its elementary school.

"It's used every day by the school as part of the curriculum. The costs of running the library, the maintenance is covered by the school board," said Gaudon.

"The only cost to the government is the 20 hours salary for the librarian. And they're really getting their bang for their buck there."

We have no hope, no money, and now, no library.- Lourdes Mayor Henry Gaudon

According to documents from the province's library board, the Cow Head Library saw 5,000 materials borrowed in the last year in a community of about 475 people, despite the library only being open on a part-time basis.

"Even though we only have 15 hours weekly, these 15 hours are well used. And the library is patronized by all sorts of people, from the very young to the very old," said Payne, who also questions how library cuts will really affect the province's bottom line.

"The tax levy is bad, but this is only a temporary thing for a couple years at  the most. But once our library's gone, it's gone forever, and we'll never get it back."

With files from the Corner Brook Morning Show