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VANCOUVER—The message at last night’s Vancouver Public Library (VPL) board meeting was loud and clear: members of the public love their libraries and don’t want to see their cherished services reduced or eliminated to meet the City of Vancouver’s budget shortfalls.

I was extremely proud of our communities, of how they rose up to defend public libraries,” said CUPE 391 president Alex Youngberg. “Some of the most interesting comments were from people who were very articulate in expressing how the Riley Park branch is a living room for their community.”

The staff lounge at the VPL’s Central branch was filled to the limit, with about 150 people showing up to hear the board justify its proposed operating budget for 2010.

The proposed closure of the Riley Park branch was clearly the hot button issue. Of the dozen delegations who presented to the board, most expressed serious concern that local residents had not been consulted in any way before the VPL’s recommendation was made public.

In CUPE 391’s presentation, executive member Randy Gatlui stressed that the library’s unionized staff provides virtually all of its public services.

The cuts have been disproportionate,” he said. “Since 2006, exempt staff has grown by 35 per cent.”

CUPE 391 is recommending that the burden of budget shortfalls be shared with exempt staff through attrition or retirement. The Local is also calling for an independent external review of exempt staffing levels.

By the end of the meeting the VPL board voted to reduce branch operating hours at up to 14 branches to save $349,000 and directed management to identify an additional $166,000 reduction in the budget that could result in the closure of the Riley Park Branch “or reductions in other areas”.

It also voted to close the Central Library for an additional three hours per week and reduce the related staffing budgets for savings of $419,000, cut the Technical Services budget by $360,000 and the Collections budget by $180,000, and trim administrative costs by $100,000.

CUPE 391 has been told, however, that cataloguing, barcoding, and other preparation of materials for shelf readiness will remain in house—a positive development that Youngberg attributes in part to “CUPE Writers Fest”, an event held at the VPL last month in which five local authors and media commentator Bill Tieleman spoke to the value of locally-provided library services.

 Youngberg will be the first speaker among the delegations addressing City Council on December 3. The final budget will be approved on December 18.