REGINA –The Saskatchewan government says it made a mistake and will restore $4.8 million in funding for the province’s libraries.
Money for regional branches was cut 58 per cent in last month’s provincial budget and was scrapped altogether for libraries in Saskatoon and Regina, prompting a number of protests.
“While there were many difficult decisions taken in the budget, the reductions in library funding without giving libraries any tools to meet the new challenge was a mistake,” Premier Brad Wall wrote in a Facebook post Monday.
Funding was cut as part of the government’s plan to reduce Saskatchewan’s nearly $1.3-billion deficit.
When the cut was announced, libraries said transfers of material between branches across the province would be eliminated and staff were laid off.
Thousands of people held read-ins at legislature member offices, wrote letters to politicians and more than 6,100 joined a Facebook group called Save Saskatchewan Libraries.
Education Minister Don Morgan said restoring the funding means the inter-library loan service allowing people to borrow books from any library can remain operational.
“We’ve heard from the people pretty clearly that they value the library system in its present form,” Morgan said.
“It’s important to them, not just to have the electronic capability, but they also want to have the physical space to go to. And what I think we heard most from them was that the inter-library system has got to be maintained.”
Morgan said the $4.8 million could come out of a contingency fund in the provincial budget or from other efficiencies within the ministry. But there won’t be other cuts made to libraries, he said.
He also said the government will consult with libraries, municipalities and the public to develop a long-term strategy.
That will include reviewing the Public Libraries Act and working with libraries to find efficiencies, including options for transportation and location.
Christine Freethy, one of the founders of Save Saskatchewan Libraries, said the group is ecstatic about the decision to restore funding.
“Of the 312 Saskatchewan libraries, at least 50 per cent of them are in towns that don’t have schools, that don’t have any community services. And in those towns the library is the community hub. People have a tremendous emotional investment in the one remaining service that’s left,” said Freethy, who lives in Rabbit Lake, north of North Battleford.
“We don’t have access to the Internet everywhere in Saskatchewan, unless you go to a library. It’s very expensive and a lot of people don’t have it in rural Saskatchewan. It is an absolutely essential service.”
Freethy said Saskatchewan’s one-card, one-province library program is world class and to take that away “was enraging to people.”
Local library support groups will be formed to help advocate for libraries in the future, she said.
“These groups are going to be very actively campaigning and attempting to inform the government about what we, as citizens and library patrons, expect going forward. We’re not stopping.”