Tuesday, 11 April 2017 11:02

People rally against budget cuts to Sask. libraries

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Sandra Hill stands with a placard (centre) at the Swift Current Branch Library, where people gathered for the April 7 rally against provincial budget cuts to libraries. Sandra Hill stands with a placard (centre) at the Swift Current Branch Library, where people gathered for the April 7 rally against provincial budget cuts to libraries.

Thousands of Saskatchewan residents attended rallies across the province on April 7 to express their concerns over major funding cuts to the provincial library system.


The provincial government reduced funding to seven regional libraries by 58 percent in the 2017-18 budget and also eliminated all funding to the Regina and Saskatoon public libraries.
According to the grassroots initiative Save Saskatchewan Libraries, the “Drop Everything and Read” rallies in 85 communities were attended by more than 5,800 people. People gathered outside the office of their local MLA with their books and read for 15 minutes.
In Swift Current, more than 200 people participated in the rally outside the office of local MLA and Premier Brad Wall during the noon hour.
Close to 100 people gathered at the Swift Current Branch Library and walked to the central downtown area, where they joined other people in front of Premier Wall’s office.
A number of speakers shared their concerns about the library budget cuts with the crowd. Swift Current Branch Library Manager Andrea McCrimmon said the cuts came without warning and although only announced on March 22, the budget reductions will be retroactive to January 1.
“These 58 per cent cuts to library funding represent a tiny savings to the government of just $4.8 million, but Saskatchewan public libraries do so much with that money,” she noted.
Shouts of “shame” came from the crowd when she spoke about the extent of the budget cuts. There was also some booing when she mentioned that Premier Wall was invited to this rally, but his office indicated just before the start of the event that he was in Regina for the day.
Chinook Regional Library Director Dr. Jean McKendry told the crowd that similar rallies were taking place in communities across southwest Saskatchewan including in Maple Creek, Fox Valley, Leader and Vanguard.
“It’s really, really important that we send this message to the Minister of Education,” she said.
Swift Current resident and musician Michael Lyngstad spoke about his relationship with libraries.
“I started thinking about what it is to be a human being through reading these books that I found in the library,” he said. “I kind of feel like I sort of grew as a human and kind of raised my level of consciousness, and I completely give that to the library because I could have never afforded all those books that I was reading there without the library.”
He spoke about the connections he made at the library in Swift Current since he returned to the city from Alberta in 2012.
“There are all these things that bring people together and raise our knowledge and get us together as people,” he said. “The reason I’m here is it taught me how to be a citizen, and it got me interested in being a citizen and caring about other people in the community.”
Maverick School student Matt McDonald mentioned he will always see youth of different ages at the library in Swift Current. Some are young children learning to read and others are high-school students working on assignments.
“Libraries have a huge impact on the education of youth in our community, a huge positive impact,” he said. “So I ask Brad Wall and the Saskatchewan government to save our libraries.”
People from surrounding rural areas attended the rally in Swift Current. Val Marie resident Laureen Marchand spoke about the importance of libraries in rural communities.
“I think this is one of the most important issues for rural Saskatchewan of our time,” she said.
In Val Marie, with a population of about 135 people, the book circulation for 2015 was 4,500 books, and most of them came through interlibrary loan.
“That kind of use is repeated across Chinook Regional Library, it’s repeated across every other library system in the province, and it adds up to an awful lot of people and an awful lot of books who need the library service that we’re threatened with losing,” she said.
After the speeches, the rally participants opened their books and read. A distinctive feature of the Swift Current rally was the presence of a donkey and therapy dog.
The donkey, Shimmer, has been a regular part of the Swift Current Branch Library’s summer reading club activities during the past two years. The therapy dog, Talla, comes to the library a few times every month for the Reading to a Dog event, which makes it easier for children to practise their reading skills.
“These are programs that kids love, and Talla and Shimmer the donkey encourage even the most reluctant readers to improve their reading skills,” McCrimmon said.
She added the Read to a Dog and Read to a Donkey activities are just a small example of the important work that happens in libraries across Saskatchewan.
“They’re an example of libraries doing a lot with very little,” she mentioned. “Our message to the government of Saskatchewan is that Saskatchewan libraries matter enormously to the people and that funding must be restored to serve our library system.”

Read 1207 times Last modified on Tuesday, 11 April 2017 12:10
Matthew Liebenberg

Reporter/Photographer

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