Libraries cite stable funding, updated legislation as two priorities

Province looking for public feedback on eight themes

John M. Cuelenaere Public Library director Alex Juorio. Arthur White-Crummey/Daily Herald

The provincial government wants to give the general public the chance to weigh in on what the province’s library systems see as their top priorities for the future state and future of public libraries in Saskatchewan.

 The province announced the next stage of its examination of Saskatchewan libraries Thursday. The first stage was a report by Legislative Secretary Terry Dennis into Saskatchewan Public Libraries Engagement.

Dennis’ report outlined eight themes identified by the library sector. According to a press release, the report fulfills the commitment made by the government in the spring of 2017.

Dennis, alongside a panel made up of two public library directors and the provincial librarian, met with representatives from all of Saskatchewan’s public library systems this past fall.

“During these engagement meetings, stakeholders identified several important themes which are included in the report, and I’d like to thank them, and the panel, for their valuable contributions,” he said in a press release.

Dennis and the panel saw the discussions “as an opportunity to listen to the experiences, dig deeper into the current state and explore possibilities for the future of public libraries in Saskatchewan,” the report reads.

The discussion looked at legislation, governance, role clarity and responsibilities, fiscal pressures and the future of public libraries.

The public portion of the consultation asks Saskatchewan residents to review the report, rate the themes individually in terms of importance and provide input on themes that may have been missed. The survey and report are available at https://www.saskatchewan.ca/government/public-consultations/report-of-saskatchewan-public-libraries-engagement-survey.

The eight themes identified were:

•    Funding Structure and Predictability

•    Provincial Public Library Strategic Plan

•    One Card, One Province

•    Communication with the Provincial Library

•    Governance Training

•    Indigenization

•    Value of Public Libraries

•    Legislation

Several regional libraries called for more predictable funding. In the 2017 budget, the provincial government cut funding to libraries. A public outcry led to the funding being reinstated. Funds, though, have remained frozen since then, and library systems say that with rising costs of doing business, that’s made it harder to provide services.

The funding situation, though, differs between library systems. The province has three municipal libraries, seven regional libraries and one northern federation of libraries. The Prince Albert Public Library is a municipal library, while the Wapiti Library is a regional library.

The municipal libraries are funded through property taxes and a provincial grant. Regional libraries are funded by provincial and municipal grants while the northern federation is funded primarily by provincial grants.

Provincial grants make up about three per cent of municipal library budgets, 37 per cent of regional libraries and 83 per cent for the northern library system.

“Several regional systems indicated that funding from municipalities had increased, but that municipalities were reluctant to provide any more increases,” the report found.

“This was also shared by SUMA and SARM, who said that their members were concerned that stagnant provincial funding was affecting municipal budgets and that their members were reluctant to fund a larger percentage of public library budgets.”

The Wapiti Regional Library has previously expressed concern about provincial funding levels for library services. The Herald was unable to reach the Wapiti Regional Library for comment.

Prince Albert Public Library director Alex Juorio said his main concern was with legislation.

“The legislation that governs public libraries hasn’t been touched since 1996, and a lot of the things raised have to do with age and the way the world has changed in the last 20-some years,” he said.

“We want the act opened and modernized,  one of the core issues for us is that the act talks about basic library services quite a bit, and the de facto standard for basic library services is books. A lot of library (services) these days are electronic. There is no mention of that in the legislation. We’d like that looked at.”

Juorio said he got a sense both from the report and from the engagement sessions that there was widespread agreement in what needs to change. He’s hopeful the province takes a serious look at what the report found.

“We’ll have to wait and see to see what the province does and how happy people are with it. It’s very clear now that there is very widespread support for libraries around the province, and I think the government is showing all kinds of evidence that they’re wiling to listen to the people,” he said.

“It’s too early to tell where this will go … (but) I’m optimistic that things are happening and the government is listening. We’re having some good conversations. I’m looking forward to some good dialogue.”

Thierman Financial