Libraries are underrated as part of the bedrock of our communities.
The equitable access to knowledge through books, technology and programming is vitally important to our society, especially for disadvantaged people. Libraries are also important social gathering spaces for both work and play. It can be easy to overlook libraries in an age when the world’s information is at your fingertips, but they are still well used and necessary.
Which is why it is disappointing that the county is eyeing cutting branches. It is why we have to carry a message to all levels of government.
The County’s library board floated the idea at its latest budget meeting. Highlands East is an anomaly in the county with four library branches and with increased cost pressures, it is not an unreasonable consideration.
We have covered some of the cost pressures in recent months. The province cut and then brought back the interlibrary loan service, but left libraries paying much more to keep them. ebooks are very high in demand but are cost-prohibitive on library systems, leading to our municipal leaders to lobby for provincial and federal counterparts to implement rule changes.
Year-over-year wage increases and inflation are also a factor. With how few hours some Highlands East branches run, and how many of them there are, it is easy to see why the library board would consider a cut. The Dorset library branch was also cut and turned into a library depot, a model that could get applied in Highlands East.
But ideally, that would not be necessary.
We’re in the midst of a federal election campaign and through all of billions worth of promises, I have yet to hear “libraries” listed amongst them. I cannot recall the last time I have heard any election campaign talk about them.
Although you can find books about anything, I suppose libraries are not exactly sexy.
Perhaps that is why the Ford government thought it could suddenly cut library services. The backlash was significant and although they relented, they did not exactly fix it. As board vice-chair Reuben Maughan aptly put it, the province just passed on more responsibility to the municipalities. Municipalities that ultimately draw upon the same taxpayers.
If you love your library, send a message.
That message should go out to municipal officials. People should not be too kneejerk about the Highlands East branch discussion; it was very preliminary, and the board was cognizant of what kind of impact such a cut would have. The public should engage in this discussion but should do so in good faith. More than any other level, municipal leaders probably have the best understanding of the value of libraries.
But the message needs to be sent to higher levels of government too. We should be calling on provincial and federal governments to stick up for libraries. Federal candidates should get their ear bent about eBooks, which should be a no-brainer issue to address.
Libraries can be simple to overlook. They are a long-lasting institution that has survived through so much change and continually adapted to technological advances. If you judge them by their cover, they might appear unshakeable.
But we cannot take our libraries for granted. Fight for them.