Friday, 11 May 2012 09:37

Funding cut expected to reduce public internet access in libraries Featured

Written by  Susan Quinlan
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Southern Alberta
Launched in 1995 to provide Canadians with access to the internet and its economic benefits, the federal government recently cut funding to the Community Access Program (CAP), originally intended to be a grant program.


“It allowed libraries to purchase and maintain equipment that allows the public free access to the internet.
They’ll have a hard time replacing equipment without that funding,” said CEO Maggie Macdonald, Chinook Arch Library System,.
“In smaller libraries, it’s a huge loss to them. We don’t quite know how these libraries are going to replace their equipment.”
CEO Petra Mauerhoff, Shortgrass Library System, concurs with Macdonald.
“Libraries have been able to refresh their public access stations within a few years. They’re going to feel that crunch.”
Mauerhoff added that, like Macdonald, her greatest concern is for the smallest branches of the area’s library system, where the $1,500 they’re allotted actually makes up the majority of their budget.
“Even though it’s grant money, it was built into their budgets. People have become dependent on it.”
Mauerhoff explained restrictions have always accompanied CAP funding, where that funding must be used exclusively for public internet access.
Macdonald said in Alberta, the total amount of CAP funding received and subsequently distributed to member libraries has been $500,000, an incidental amount when one considers the scope of the federal budget. However, that same funding has a significant effect for each rural library.
“Specifically, those with the fewest resources are going to be hit. As well, they don’t have high-speed connections in their homes, but in their libraries they do because those libraries have access through the Alberta government to the SuperNet.”
Macdonald has a long list of examples of specific families who will be affected, including Low German speaking Mennonites.
“They’re rural; they’re farm labourers, their families don’t have that kind of thing at home.
“Libraries suffer and therefore the communities suffer, because libraries are funded by the community.”
Blairmore Library Manager Diane Delauw said the CAP funding cut will eliminate future computer access by the public.
“Not immediately, but anything needing to be replaced in future would have to come out of the library budget.”
Delauw said the Blairmore Library replaced one terminal and purchased a laptop this past year, but that hardware will inevitably wear out.
Redcliff Library Manager Tracey Weinrauch said the CAP funding they’ve received in the past has gone toward upgrading their six computers on a rotational basis, with the purchase of a new terminal every year.
“I’m not sure how we’re going to come up with funding on our own. It’s not just our patrons that use this. Anyone can use the terminals because funding is provided by government.”
Weinrauch referred to those passing through town, wanting to check their emails.
As with Macdonald and Mauerhoff, Weinrauch pointed out those with the lowest incomes will likely be hardest hit by loss of the service.
“Not everyone can afford their own computer, but they still need to look for a job so where do they go? Lots of businesses advertise jobs online and not in the newspaper.
“It’s going to hurt us. There’s no way around that. It’s going to be a service that’s not going to go away completely, but it’s not going to be what it is now.”
In the Chinook Arch Regional Library System, CAP provided funding for Internet access terminals to 32 libraries, while the Shortgrass Library System provided funding to 12 libraries, all with a focus on providing access to government services, job searching and improving computer skills.
“I’ve encouraged all the managers of our member libraries to write letters to their Member of Parliament, telling them we really depend on (CAP funding),” said Mauerhoff.
In addition, Mauerhoff said the Shortgrass Library Board has sent a letter outlining their concerns about the funding cut to Medicine Hat MP LaVar Payne, with a copy of that letter going to Christian Paradis, Minister of Industry and Minister of State (Agriculture), in the hope the decision will be reversed.
Mauerhoff said the government argument for the cut is the claim that every Canadian who wants the Internet has access at home.
However, figures for 2011 show in the Shortgrass Library area, 37,500 users accessed the Internet for a total of about 54,000 hours.
“Clearly, there’s still a need.”

Read 1646 times Last modified on Friday, 11 May 2012 09:41

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