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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

A Dramatic Spring for Saskatchewan Libraries

It has been an unexpectedly dramatic season for the Public Libraries of Saskatchewan. In the provincial budget in March the government unexpectedly announced that $4.8 million in library funded was being cut from funding.

The government said they were eliminating all provincial funding, $1.3 million, for the public libraries in the major centres of Saskatoon and Regina.

The balance of $3.5 million was being cut from the regional library system. It meant the regional libraries were to receive 58% less money.

Funding for northern libraries was not directly affected.

The Saskatchewan Party, the governing party, is facing a $1 billion plus deficit and was looking to a combination of spending cuts and tax increases to address the deficit.

I have been a member of the Melfort Public Library for almost 40 years. It was a shock to hear the government was planning such devastating cuts to the funding of provincial libraries. There had been no consultations with library boards and library staffs.

Going into the budget announcement everyone in the province knew there would be cuts in government spending but I could not believe libraries were targeted with such extreme cuts.

Saskatchewan has a wonderful integrated library system where any library card holder can access books and material from any library in the province. There is a daily flow of library items around the province.

Starting in our part of the province in 1950 regional libraries were developed that now cover the whole province. Each regional library has a central headquarters which organizes materials and provides much of the library administration for the region.

Most recently a provincial library card system was established that allows a card holder to walk into any public library in the province and borrow from that library.

The proposed cuts would have effectively ended the provincial library system. It would have been impossible to carry on the provincial wide system. We would have returned to a fragmented system of individual community libraries.

The primary government rationale was that the number of items checked out of libraries had declined by 1.7 million items in the last 10 years and that there were 175,000 fewer library card holders.

Both justifications were flawed. Checking out books has declined but usage of electronic services, such as e-books, has increased dramatically. On card holders the decrease took place during the conversion to the one card system. Before the new system many Saskatchewan citizens, including myself had at least 2 library cards. I had cards for both Melfort and Saskatoon. After the change everyone has only one card.

I could not believe that the Party I supported would propose a fundamental re-structuring of a pivotal information service for the province even without consulting the public and libraries. I was dismayed when our local MLA, Kevin Phillips, raised the question of whether libraries were a core service. It appeared to me that the government no longer valued libraries.

Negative reaction was swift and widespread across the province. Defenders of public libraries appeared in every community.

Well known mystery author, Gail Bowen, was among the most public protesters.

While I was in Florida read-in protests were held in 70 communities including Melfort. In our city of 6,000 over 200 people came for a read-in outside Kevin’s office. I would have been there had I been in Melfort.

With protests continuing and the proposed library cuts eroding support the Government abruptly announced at the end of April that all the library funding cuts were reversed. Education Minister, Don Morgan, said the government was not afraid to admit it made a mistake. 

There will now be a consultation process on the future for libraries in Saskatchewan. It remains a puzzle to me why the government ever embarked on the budget cuts for libraries. There was no movement in Saskatchewan that funding for libraries should be slashed. I do wonder what will be next for our libraries. I will be doing my best to convince the government they are at the core of learning and information in Saskatchewan.

7 comments:

  1. Glad to hear there are protests about the proposed cuts Bill and I hope you'll keep us updated on their success.

    Cutting library funding has been a very common "low hanging fruit" area of government spending across the world in the last 10-15 years because short-sighted people think libraries are all about poor people borrowing physical books. Of course to my mind that's good enough reason to keep them open but libraries offer so much more - a way to keep voracious readers supplied with all manner of choices, a place to learn research and information gathering skills, a free place to go for the lonely and marginalised where they can feel welcome and find things to do...I could go on and on. We were largely successful in staving off the proposed cuts in our system a few years ago - a key factor being to mobilise the mums. Even "not poor" people with young kids make extensive use of libraries and the mums were a vocal and organised support base. Bless 'em.

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    1. Bernadette: Thanks for the comment. I echo all your comments. Within our library one of the popular programs is storytime for pre-kindergarten children. And there are special evenings occasionally. One spring evening a few years ago I went down to the library in my pyjamas and read a story I had originally written and illustrated for my oldest son.

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  2. I'm so glad, Bill, that people everywhere, including Gail Bowen, stepped up and spoke out to keep the library funded. And I think Bernadette's right that cutting funding for libraries is an easy target for politicians. There's been talk about cutting our library funding, too, but so far, it hasn't gotten beyond talk. Yet. I think it's important that we not be complacent about such things, and I'm glad the people of Saskatchewan weren't.

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    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. For the modest amounts expended on libraries they provide an immense amount of information to everyone. They are resource used by the whole community. I think the government was surprised by the breadth of the protest involving babies to our eldest citizens.

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  3. I am always devastated to hear of any library cuts anywhere. When I was a child the library was my dream palace, my safe haven, and the source of so much happiness and knowledge. I wish every child could have that. Your story had an unexpected ending, rare in these sad times - I hope the libraries stay safe. Stick to your guns and fight the good fight Bill.

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  4. Moira: Thanks for the comment and your childhood experiences. There are many facilities for the athletic. Libraries are about the only choice for the child who loves to exercise the mind. I expect to be working for years to come on behalf of libraries in Saskatchewan.

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  5. I agree with everyone on the need to preserve libraries. I'm so glad the protests made a difference and the cutbacks were stopped.

    As a child, I, too, loved going to libraries and getting books. To this day, I feel awe and excitement going into a library, even though few books remain at my local branch and most people reserve books online, which are then gotten from other branches and transported to the one closest to the reader.

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