As It Happens

More than half of N.L. libraries to close after budget cuts

On Wednesday, the Newfoundland and Labrador library board announced it will close 54 branches, following the government's decision to cut $1 million in the provincial budget.
Newfoundland and Labrador library board said they have been forced to adopt a regional library model, which will see more than half of the provincial branches close in the next two years. (Loic Venance/AFP/Getty Images)
Listen5:42

It's is a tough day for library workers in Newfoundland and Labrador, and for residents who rely on libraries.

The provincial library board announced this morning that it's closing more than half its branches. The board says it's trying to manage a $1 million budget cut. 

"It will make it harder to have a literate province." - Russell Wangersky, author and columnist

Russell Wangersky is an author and columnist with the St. John's Telegram newspaper. He tells As It Happens host Carol Off that the "public response has been less than golden."

Giller Prize nominee Russell Wangersky arrives on the red carpet at the gala in Toronto on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012. (Frank Gunn/CP)

The Liberal government recently revealed that the province is running a budget deficit of $1.83 billion. 

Wangersky says some Liberals are singing a different tune about library cuts since forming government. "Their past tweets about how horrible it was for the Tories to cut finding to libraries are all now being re-posted," he says.

He says the decision is particularly difficult as it comes on the heels of news of increased book taxes, another cost-cutting measure in the budget.

The Liberals say even with branches closing, 85 per cent of residents will still be within a 30 minute drive to a library.

(Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Education Minister Dale Kirby says few people were using the libraries that are being closed.

"The ones that are going to be closing are open on average only 18 hours a week," he said. "And they have low levels of usage, well, because they're not open very often.  So clearly something had to change."

When reminded of comments he made in 2013 as a New Democrat, before joining the Liberal Party, calling library cuts "an attack on literacy," Kirby said he now has a new perspective.

Wangersky points out that Newfoundland and Labrador has one of the highest illiteracy rates in Canada. He says closing libraries wont help improve those statistics. 

"It will make it harder to have a literate province." 

This isn't the first time that a Newfoundland government has struggled with the balance between literature and more mundane matters. Here is an excerpt from a speech given by late Premier Joey Smallwood, back in 1967. 

From 1967, politician Joey Smallwood speaking on the importance of books at the opening of the Arts and Culture Centre, which houses the A.C. Hunter library. 0:57

With files from CBC News 

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