Newfoundland libraries lack municipal cash compared to other provinces: consultant

Some libraries could still be closed


Published on May 18, 2017

Education Minister Dale Kirby reads to Kindergarten students in Pouch Cove earlier this year.

©Telegram file photo

Public libraries in Newfoundland and Labrador need more money and more staff, but more resources should not necessarily come from the province, according to consultants with EY.

Municipalities should be tapped for a greater contribution, EY suggests, noting other jurisdictions in Canada share costs.

The report — released Thursday afternoon and based on a review launched by the provincial government in June 2016 — said public libraries should also pay less rent, or no rent, to municipalities for space. Of the 94 public libraries in the province, 13 lease space from municipalities.

The report shows the library system in Newfoundland and Labrador is not keeping up with the rest of Canada, with funding “very low” when compared to other provinces. Total funding is $22.67 per capita, or 42 per cent below the national average of $39.21 per capita.

Lining up the provinces, per capita funding in Newfoundland is the second-lowest in Canada, after Prince Edward Island.

At the same time, the provincial government is providing more funding per capita to the system than are other provincial governments. That is because other provinces share the cost with municipalities.

Funding from towns and cities for Newfoundland public libraries is 92 per cent below the national average, according to EY.

The report noted $17.7 million per year, over a three-year period, offered by the Halifax Regional Municipality to the library system there, compared to the $70,700 in cash and $1 million of in-kind contributions from all the municipalities in Newfoundland and Labrador in 2015-16.

“Expectations on achieving increases in municipal funding need to be realistic,” the report adds. “The immediate focus should be on larger municipalities. Smaller municipalities should continue to provide, and increase where possible, valuable in-kind contributions.”

 

Closures still possible

The study by EY addresses hours of opening, governance and programming. It was launched in the midst of an uproar after an announced push for sudden regionalization and talk of the possible closure of more than half the libraries in the province.

Closures are still possible.

The EY report suggests the provincial libraries board establish standards for locations, then consolidate and close libraries as required to meet those standards.

“Several communities with physical libraries have very small and declining populations, calling into question the sustainability of libraries in certain communities,” the report stated.

 

Further review

Education Minister Dale Kirby made no immediate commitments after the release of the report.

“The recommendations put forward in the report will inform next steps in the decision-making process for the Provincial Information Library Resources Board and our government,” read a statement issued on behalf of Kirby.

The recommendations, it said, are under review.

The work by EY included 11 consultation sessions in October and November 2016 at various sites in the province, plus staff interviews, online surveys and written submissions. The final report is available in full on the provincial library board’s website.


The report can be viewed on the PILRB website at www.nlpl.ca/provincial-public-library-system-review-report-released.htm.

 

Improving public libraries

The EY report made it clear this province is well behind the national average on many fronts when it comes to public libraries. Recommendations addressed library funding, governance and service delivery. A few suggestions:

• Install a provincial librarian — The Provincial Information and Library Resources Board should have a head librarian to help co-ordinate training, and oversee implementation of new standards and pilot programs.

• Hire more librarians — There are 94 public libraries, but only 12 professional librarians in the province, with one of those in an administrative role. The province’s public librarian count per capita is almost 70 per cent below the national average.

• Increase fundraising — EY recommended creating a dedicated, province-wide, not-for-profit foundation focused on fundraising for libraries.

• Standardize hours — It was recommended the provincial board establish minimum hours of operation, including specific days and times. Libraries currently operate roughly 24 per cent fewer hours per year compared to the rest of Canada, with hours sometimes wildly different from one library to the next.

• Spend more on collections — This province spends $1.66 per capita on its public collections, or 62 per cent lower than the national average of $4.31 per capita. EY estimated the system requires an extra $1.4 million a year to get to par.

• Try new services — EY noted different services — mobile libraries, library vending machines, pickup lockers (akin to community mailboxes) and kiosk services — are seen elsewhere in Canada, but not in Newfoundland and Labrador.

• Develop a multi-year plan — Whether it’s launching new services, changing the means of public funding or closing locations, any collection of major changes in the public library system will require time. EY recommends a plan be developed to see public libraries through change and set expectations.