Why We Can’t Afford to Abandon Libraries

by | July 28, 2009
filed under Politics

“And on the subject of burning books: I want to congratulate librarians, not famous for their physical strength or their powerful political connections or their great wealth, who, all over this country, have staunchly resisted anti-democratic bullies who have tried to remove certain books from their shelves, and have refused to reveal to thought police the names of persons who have checked out those titles.”

-Kurt Vonnegut, “I Love You, Madame Librarian”

We’ve been hearing a lot in the news over the past couple of weeks about impending provincial cuts to services. We’ve seen the BC Liberals propose cuts of 50% to arts and culture, and a funding shortfall in the Fraser Health Authority which is likely to cause operating room closures and cuts to day care for seniors. And in yet another example of misplaced priorities the Liberals are imposing a regressive tax that will make average British Columbians pay more for school supplies, funeral services, and haircuts while the provincial services our taxes are supposed to fund also get clawed back.

Now those of us who have been awake for the last 8 years of Liberal government are only somewhat surprised, but I feel more worried about this round of cutback rumours than I have in the past. That’s because our libraries are facing a more serious provincial funding shortfall than they have in a long time.

Last week Public Eye reported that BC’s libraries have not yet received their annual operating grants from the province, nor any indication of the amount they will be receiving. For some libraries, the grant makes up over 10% of their budget.  The BC Library Trustees Association is scheduled to meet with Education Minister Margaret MacDiarmid today, after their President Andy Ackerman expressed great concern that libraries will be facing deep provincial cuts.

I worked in libraries for seven years – three at Vancouver Island Regional Library in Courtenay and four in the Vancouver Public Library system, and I’ve seen first-hand how important libraries are to the life of our communities. Now, more than ever, we can’t afford to abandon our libraries.

Some people argue that in a recession, cutbacks are inevitable and perhaps even desirable. However, library workers and patrons know how crucial library resources are to job seekers. During my career planning class we spent a morning at the nearby public library and several of my classmates expressed gratitude at learning about the helpful resources the library had for us. In this economy, library usage is going up, not down.

Online resources are extremely helpful to the job seeker, and our local libraries provide access to newspapers and databases where we can look up potential future employees, conduct labour market research, learn to put together an effective resume, and browse job postings, all from the comfort of our own home just using our library cards. Stopbclibrarycuts.ca reports that cuts could inhibit patrons’ access to these crucial resources.

Gordon Campbell vowed that he’d make BC the most literate jurisdiction in North America by 2015. That will be a lot harder if libraries end up being forced to cut funding to early and adult literacy programs.

As Vonnegut points out in the quote above, libraries fight censorship on a daily basis and ensure that the public have access to a wide range of ideas. Libraries support life-long learning for everyone, regardless of race, gender, or income. Libraries are vital to the strength of our communities.

So now’s the time to check out Don’t Pull the Plug on Libraries at  http://www.stopbclibrarycuts.ca/ and join the Facebook group at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=115269260975.

Let’s make sure that we tell Gordon Campbell that cutting library operating grants would be short-sighted and detrimental to our economy and our communities.


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