A smaller network of regional libraries with reduced staff will be seeking support from municipal governments across the Southwest in order to continue providing library services in the region.
The Chinook Regional Library board received a 94 per cent mandate from voting delegates on Saturday to approach municipalities throughout the region to seek additional funding to keep a smaller number of libraries open following drastic funding cuts by the provincial government.
“We will be contacting municipalities regarding their level of support for moving forward. And then, we’ll make a decision. And if it means we can’t proceed, we’ll call this group back again and we will have a motion to dissolve,” Chinook Regional Library outgoing board chairperson Peggy Drinkle said following Saturday’s vote at their annual general meeting.
“It’s plain and simple. We need the support of our municipalities to continue, even with the reorganization and restructuring.”
During the 2017-2018 provincial budget the Sask Party government axed $4.8 million, or 58 per cent, of funding to libraries across Saskatchewan. The impact to the Chinook Regional Library system is a $420,000 reduction, and operating at their current level of staff and branches, they will not have enough funds to operate into the summer months.
Faced with a trio of options, including an option to disband the Regional Library network by June 30, a total of 47 of 50 voting delegates at the April 22 Chinook Regional Library Annual General Meeting voted in favour of the option to keep a reduced number of libraries in operation, and supporting municipal governments will be asked to pay a bigger portion of operational funds.
“It will mean probably leaving only nine or 10 libraries open across the Southwest. And those will be geographically located across the Southwest,” Drinkle said following the meeting.
The Chinook Regional Library network currently comprises of 32 rural branch libraries, 14 corner libraries that are run on a volunteer basis, the Swift Current branch Library, plus Chinook’s central office which coordinates distribution services across the Southwest.
However, without additional funding support by villages, towns, cities and rural municipalities, they will ultimately be forced to shut down the entire library network in the Southwest.
And while the
On April 20, Education Minister Don Morgan was asked by Premier Brad Wall to review the funding to libraries. However, as there is no assurance that funding will be restored, and facing a rapidly approaching deadline to make a decision, Chinook’s Executive Board presented what at this time they feel are their only possible options.
“We’re going to try to figure out if we do need an increase, how much it would be,” Drinkle noted. “It all hinges too on whether the Minister’s rethinking. But we can’t wait. Our municipalities can’t wait. We have to do something.”
Another option presented at the meeting was to retain the current structure of the Regional Library system, and ask the supporting rural municipalities and communities to fully cover Chinook’s entire operating budget. However that option was quickly ruled out and not put forward during the final vote.
Chinook’s operation is also being hampered by the elimination of the Single Integrated Library System (SILS), which was disabled effective April 10 as a result of budget cuts. The province also halted funding for the transportation of materials between the headquarters location of each regional library.
Chinook Regional Library Director Dr. Jean McKendry explained that regional branches simply can’t create their own catalogue and circulation systems, and that a system needs to be in place to work together. The Chinook Regional Library was scheduled to pay around $50,000 this year for SILS services before provincial funding was withdrawn.
The transportation of books between regions is also a major unknown, as their current system involves the shipping of books in plastic totes through the STC bus system. The Chinook Regional Library does fund the transfer of books within the region.
McKendry is concerned whether municipalities will be supporting a reorganization of the Chinook Regional Library system.
“It will take an ongoing commitment of all municipalities to make this happen. If not, Option 2, we will be dissolving as a Regional Library system as of June 30, 2017.”
She notes that all other Regional Libraries are in similar dire straits, and those library boards are exploring terminations and branch closures along with the options to cease operations.
“So this is a very sad day if all the Regional Library systems are shutting down because of a government that can’t find $4.8 million to continue funding libraries as they have since 1906,” McKendry said.
She added that their need to make a quick decision hinges on how they are funded by their municipal partners. The Regional Library receives twice a year payments, and the second funding instalment would be paid on July 1 as their current funding will take them to June 30.
“June 30 is key to us,” Dr. McKendry said. “We have to give everyone adequate notice. And we are running out of time for a minimum two month notice May 1. So do you see how horrible this situation is?”