Thursday, 06 April 2017 03:45

Chinook Regional Library trying to cope with impact of budget cut

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Chinook Regional Library Director Dr. Jean McKendry Chinook Regional Library Director Dr. Jean McKendry

The Chinook Regional Library has started the process of reviewing the impact of a large reduction in provincial funding on library services in southwest Saskatchewan.


The 2017-18 provincial budget, which was announced March 22, included a 58 per cent decrease in operating funding to seven regional libraries in Saskatchewan.
Chinook Regional Library Director Dr. Jean McKendry said the provincial budget cut was unexpected.
“Previous years, we’ve had no reductions in funding to our libraries,” she said. “It was a total surprise. “For the last several years, it’s been the same level of funding from the provincial government, but this year we got a little worried because other organizations like SUMA and SARM were told that everything was on the table, but nobody talked to us.”
Library directors were informed of the budget cut in a meeting in Regina that took place an hour before the budget presentation in the Saskatchewan Legislature. The provincial budget eliminated any funding for the Regina and Saskatoon public libraries. The funding allocation for the Pahkisimon Nuye?áh Library System across the entire northern Saskatchewan remained the same as the 2016-17 allocation of $974,000.
The budget allocation to the other seven regional libraries across the southern half of the province was reduced by $3.5 million to $2.5 million.
“So for the rest of the province, we have to divide up $2.5 million, and I don’t know what portion I’m going to receive down here,” Dr. McKendry said. “We have quite a large geographical area, but not a large population. It costs me more money to ship books out to where the people are in our region. One of our costs is we pay the courier service within our region. ... The provincial government pays the courier to move books from region to region. Within our region, we pay that.”
A shared online catalogue has been a significant benefit of the public library system in Saskatchewan. It has made it possible for residents with a valid Saskatchewan public library card to place holds on public library materials that are located anywhere in the province. This service has become the first casualty of the provincial funding cut.
Since April 4, the requests for library materials from other regions were not filled, unless the material was already in transit on this date. From April 10 it will not be possible for Chinook Regional Library users to place holds on public library materials from other regions in the province. These changes have been implemented across the public library system in the province.
“If we get funding restored, then we may be able to reinstate it, but for now the feeling in the region is we can’t support that,” she said. “We can’t continue to support it at the level we were, and that was one of the best features of the reciprocal borrowing throughout the province.”
The Chinook Regional Library covers an area of 49,949 square kilometres and serves a population of more than 46,000 people through a network of 32 branch libraries and 14 corner libraries.
The corner libraries are located in very small communities such as Admiral, Bracken, Neville and Success. They have a smaller selection of books, no computer access and library hours are also limited.
“Some of our corner libraries are in R.M. offices and so when the R.M. office is open, the library is open,” she said.
One of the main challenges of the provincial budget cut is the Chinook Regional Library is already operating on a lean budget. Its total budget for 2016 was $1,583,960.
“We already operate extremely efficiently,” she said. “We’re driving a 10-year-old vehicle, it’s  a cargo van. Our computers need replacing and we have to save up the money in a reserve fund to be able to afford to replace the computers.”
The Chinook Regional Library receives funding from three sources. In 2016 the provincial government’s allocation was $664,959 or about 42 per cent of the total budget. The rural villages and towns contributed $528,056 or about 33 per cent while the City of Swift Current’s contribution was $390,945 or about 25 per cent.
According to Dr. McKendry, the 58 per cent reduction in overall provincial funding for the regional library system in 2017 will amount to a loss of about $420,000 in funding to the Chinook Regional Library compared to last year.
“I don’t know yet how much money I’m actually going to receive from the provincial government,” she said. “We have to send in what we call a statutory declaration and it tells them how many hours we were open, how much money we spent on things, and then they will figure out how much money they want to give us for this year.”
Her concern is that municipalities might also have to review their contributions to the Chinook Regional Library as a result of the impact of the provincial budget.
“I’m not sure if they’re going to be able to pay what they’ve committed,” she said. “They voted on our budget last November for this year and so at our AGM on April 22 some of those municipalities may come back and say we can’t pay.  I don’t know yet, and so we’re sending out letters to all the municipalities.”
The Chinook Regional Library spends about 70 per cent of the annual budget on wages. It employs more than 100 staff members, but most of them do not work full-time hours.
“They don’t earn a living wage,” she said. “They only work a few hours and they’re paid just above minimum wage. Our pay grid starts at $12.79 an hour and the highest pay grid, which we have nobody working in, is $22.29. Most of the rural librarians, the branch librarians, are in pay grid five. So they make between $14.49 and $15.92 per hour. That’s not much, considering how much they need to be trained to use our online catalogue system, and that’s why I’m saying it’s not a living wage.”
The remaining 30 per cent of the budget is spend on courier services to transport books and other library materials between libraries, and to purchase new books for the libraries. They pay a fee to an e-book provider for leasing electronic books and they also pay a fee to access the online provincial catalogue records.
“We don’t really have a budget for programming,” she said. “I will apply for grants for programs from places like the Saskatchewan Library Association if I want to do Freedom to Read or Aboriginal storytelling. Those are all grants. So I do quite a bit of programming with money that I get, and there’s some Saskatchewan Library Week money, but it’s drips and drabs.”
She is hoping to avoid any staff layoff as a result of the budget cut, but it is too early to tell and it will depend on whether there are any changes to funding commitments from municipalities.
“I’ve had a couple of retirements since the budget was announced,” she said. “So there may be some attrition and we will eventually have to adjust our staff level based on the workload. So if the workload decreases because we’re only distributing books within our region, we’re not sending holds to other regions or asking for books to come from other regions or borrowing from other regions, then we may have to look at our staffing levels.”
In 2016, the Chinook Regional Library circulated almost 300,000 items, which was an increase of about 2,000 items per month, and a total of 1,200 new library cards were issued.
Last summer, the TD Summer Reading Club provided an opportunity for 664 children in the region to participate in 92 free library events and to read 8,000 books.
The increase in circulation of items and the issuing of library cards were due to a change in collection develop to purchase books and materials that appeal to library uses. They bought more best sellers, books by Canadian authors and more non-fiction, as well as new DVDs.
“People came to the library more, because they found good books and DVDs,” she said. “We have to find out what the community wants and then we have to provide the right format. So it might be more large print in some communities, and we worked really hard to figure out what the different libraries needed and every library signed up new people.”
She considers libraries to play an important role in the social well-being of communities. It is a place where people meet and interact, where they can receive assistance with various tasks such as access to the internet or submitting an online job application, and most importantly libraries are helping to create informed citizens.
“We need technology, because it’s part of our society, and we need literacy and we need people to question and know what’s going on in the world,” she said. “That’s a basic human trait, and so if we deprive people of access to information, we’re harming society.”
The annual general meeting of the Chinook Regional Library will take place at the Alpine Church of God in Swift Current April 22, starting at 1 p.m., and the public is welcome to attend.

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Matthew Liebenberg

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