Communities hold read-ins to protest library funding cuts

Florence Holt participates in the Drop Everything and Read event held outside the Lumsden Library April 7. At 11 a.m. more than 50 people gathered to read for 15 minutes, silently protesting the provincial funding cuts made to the public library system. Photo by Sarah MacMillan.

In a silent show of solidarity, community members in Lumsden and Regina Beach dropped everything to read in protest of funding cuts made to the public library system.

Community members of all ages gathered to show support for their local library April 7. In Lumsden, more than 50 patrons filled the sidewalk in front of the library building, some holding signs with “this book is overdue,” a drawn book cover and the title “Keep Saskatchewan strong” depicted underneath.

Allison Stelter, chair of the Lumsden Library Board, described the gathering as a peaceful protest towards the Saskatchewan library funding cuts.

The 2017-18 provincial budget slashes regional library funding by $3.5 million and eliminates provincial funding for public libraries in Regina and Saskatoon.

Board chair Stelter recognized the board was expecting cuts, but the libraries were hit hard.

The budget cuts forced the province’s libraries to stop library-to-library loans last week. As of April 4, requests for materials not already in shipment were set to be unfulfilled, with the system allowing patrons to place holds on items from other regions no longer available April 10.

Saskatchewan’s “one card, one library” system has given patrons access to public library materials throughout the province. Provincial funding paid for the cost of shipping the materials between regions and from regional library headquarters to local branches.

In 2016, 693,000 holds were filled between libraries across Saskatchewan.

According to a public library budget cut fact sheet, without restored funding, the budget cuts will also impact the amount of new material available in libraries as well as province wide literacy programs, such as the Summer Reading Club and Aboriginal Storytelling Month.

Regional library headquarters are also responsible for payroll and administration of staff, and without the support, public library staff could have to become employees of their municipality.

“We have been putting much of our attention and effort into an advocacy campaign to try and recover all or some of the provincial funding,” said James Richards of the Southeast Regional Library, in a written statement. “We have also been working on contingency plans on how the region will continue to function in the event the provincial funding is not restored.”

In Regina Beach, patrons also gathered outside to read.

Regina Beach Library Board chair Darlene Freitag said it was sad to hear of the cuts since the Southeast Regional Library celebrated their 50th anniversary just last year. The Regina Beach Library was the first branch to join the regional system.

Freitag recognized the role the library plays within a community.

“We support the intellectual health of our community,” she said, referencing an European term for the institution — the house of words.

The board chair noted a library is not only a place to find books and research topics of interest, but it also becomes a gathering place. In the summer, Regina Beach library circulation doubles and sometimes triples, more than half of youth participating in the Summer Reading Club summer residents.

Freitag complimented the library staff for all they do, acting as both allies and often mentors for patrons.

“(The library) is a safe environment and we want to keep it that way,” she said.

The read-in’s were part of the provincial campaign Drop Everything and Read (DEAR), encouraging Saskatchewan residents to gather outside their MLA’s office or local library and read for 15 minutes. DEAR was designed as a rally asking the government to reconsider the cuts to public libraries.

Participating in the Regina Beach read-in was Nahanni Adams-Lindberg. An avid library user, Adams-Lindberg, who has lived in the community for eight years, said she came to the silent protest to show her support.

The Regina Beach Library board will be holding their annual general meeting April 21 at 2:30 p.m. in the Long Lake Lodge.