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Wednesday, 26 April 2017 11:36

Relief for Chinook Regional Library after funding restored

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The Maple Creek Branch Library received 2016 branch library of the year award at the Chinook Regional Library annual general meeting, April 22. Pictured, from left, Maple Creek Branch Librarian Violet Wong, Chinook Regional Library Rural Branch Manager Andrew Moore, and Chinook Regional Library Manager Dr. Jean McKendry. The Maple Creek Branch Library received 2016 branch library of the year award at the Chinook Regional Library annual general meeting, April 22. Pictured, from left, Maple Creek Branch Librarian Violet Wong, Chinook Regional Library Rural Branch Manager Andrew Moore, and Chinook Regional Library Manager Dr. Jean McKendry. Matthew Liebenberg

The decision by the Saskatchewan government to restore funding for regional and municipal libraries to the 2016-17 funding levels came as a huge relief for Chinook Regional Library Director Dr. Jean McKendry, who was preparing to implement some drastic measures after a large reduction in funding to libraries in the 2017-18 provincial budget.

Education Minister Don Morgan announced April 24 the government will restore $4.8 million in funding, consisting of $1.3 million in municipal library funding for the Regina and Saskatoon public libraries and $3.5 million for seven regional library systems.
“It was a relief that we would not have to make terminations in our region,” Dr. McKendry said. “I was going to have to start my terminations because you have to give them adequate notice, and some of our employees have worked here for a very long time.”
The government’s decision to reverse the budget cuts came only two days after the Chinook Regional Library’s annual general meeting, where delegates had a lengthy discussion on options to deal with what was then a 58 per cent cut in provincial funding.
The majority of delegates, 47 out of 50, voted for the reorganization of the Chinook Regional Library with fewer branches, around nine, and a reduction in staff.
That option would have required an additional financial commitment from municipalities, but without that support the Chinook Regional Library was facing the possibility of being unable to continue operating as a regional library system after June 30.
The provincial government’s decision to restore funding to the same amount as provided during the 2016-17 financial year means the Chinook Regional Library will not have to proceed with those harsh decisions.
Dr. McKendry heard from many people who were concerned about the cuts to library funding and she was looking forward to sharing the good news with them that their libraries will now be able to continue to provide a variety of services to residents.
“I heard from parents whose children were sad that the library wouldn’t be open and I heard from people who were in nursing homes who didn’t know what they were going to be able to do because they wouldn’t be getting their outreach books, and I heard about home-school families,” she said. “They didn’t know where their kids were going to get the books they need to learn, and teachers, and it just went on and on. Every day I would answer all these e-mails saying we’re really, really sorry that this has happened and now I’m sending out good news e-mails to these people. So it’s great.”
The proposed provincial budget cuts had a negative effect on the morale of staff employed by the Chinook Regional Library.
“It was a crisis,” she said. “We all felt that our work was undervalued, that the government had broken their trust with us and that the work that we do is not appreciated by the government.”
The provincial government’s decision to restore funding provides libraries with financial certainty for this year, but it is not clear what will happen thereafter. As a result, the directors of the regional libraries and of the municipal libraries in Regina and Saskatoon have asked for an operational audit of the whole system.
“We want to work together with the provincial librarian’s office and the Ministry of Education and look at the way we do things,” Dr. McKendry said. “We don’t want to be faced with this kind of a situation in the future. Right now, we have no guarantee of funding for the next budget cycle. ... We don’t know what would happen in the next budget. So we need to work together to come up with a sustainable plan.”
She welcomed the decision of the provincial government, which was announced along with the decision to restore funding, to develop a long-term strategy for the future of libraries. This will include a review of the Public Libraries Act and co-operation with libraries to find efficiencies.
“Here in Chinook Region, we have the library board developed mission, vision and values, they developed a strategic plan and we talk about action items,” she said. “We have work plans for the individual branch libraries and for the management and we work together to achieve our goals for the year, and if we could do that as well with the provincial library office in Regina and to work together with the other regions I think that would be great.”
The Chinook Regional Library will also continue discussions with municipalities in the region with regard to the provision of library services to communities.
“We still need to work together with the municipalities on our community engagement and we also want to develop a multi-year budget for the municipalities to give them an opportunity to do some advance planning for funding our libraries,” she said.
The Chinook Regional Library operates 32 public libraries and 14 corner libraries throughout southwestern Saskatchewan, and it provides employment to 109 people.
The 2016 annual report for the Chinook Regional Library indicates that 298,420 library items circulated in the region during the year, which was an increase of about 2,000 items per month.
“Every branch had new people come and join the library and every branch had increased circulation and increased programs,” she said. “The use of the libraries have gone way up because we’re trying to be more responsive to the needs of the communities that we serve.”
The Chinook Regional Library issued 1,267 new library cards during 2016. During the year the internet was accessed 22,862 times at the 32 public libraries in the region. Last summer the TD Summer Reading Club gave an opportunity to 664 children in the region to read 8,000 library books and to participate in 92 free library events.
The Chinook Regional Library started a community engagement process for rural communities in 2016.
The initiative was launched in the communities of Eastend and Leader.
“That’s a really good way for us to find out how to better serve the communities through library services,” she said about the initiative. “It’s not just getting people to come to the library. The library can reach out and do more literacy work, they can engage with people who don’t normally use the library, and there’s a lot of other things that libraries can do besides truck out books.”
Two awards were presented at the annual meeting. The Maple Creek Branch Library is the 2016 branch library of the year and the Cadillac Corner Library received the 2016 corner library of the year award.

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Matthew Liebenberg