BURNABY— Funding cuts for B.C. libraries, announced last week by the BC Liberal government, are not as deep as first feared but will still have a negative impact on public libraries throughout the province, says the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
“Our public libraries are a huge asset to the province, so the government should be investing more in them, not less. Instead, we’re seeing funding cuts of 22 per cent,” says CUPE BC president Barry O’Neill.
“This doesn’t exactly square with the premier’s own words about the importance of our public libraries. Not so long ago, Mr. Campbell called them ‘the front lines of the effort to make British Columbia the most literate place in the world.’”
On Thursday, the government announced that provincial funds to support public libraries would be $13.7 million, or about 78 per cent of anticipated provincial funding for 2009-10. O’Neill says the announcement is likely a pre-emptive move by the BC Liberals—already reeling from widespread opposition to the Harmonized Sales Tax—to strike a conciliatory note in advance of other, deeper cuts to public services expected in next week’s budget.
He adds that last week’s announcement was partly the result of a province-wide campaign against the cuts by library workers and their many supporters among the public. However, he added: “I don’t think we can claim any sort of victory when more than one-fifth of library funding is being gutted. Alberta has actually increased its funding to libraries by 39 per cent.”
O’Neill said that both Premier Campbell and Education Minister Margaret MacDiarmid are aware of the importance of operating grants to public libraries’ ability to provide quality services such as literacy programs.
“While all libraries suffer from reduced provincial grants, smaller libraries are disproportionately affected. Generally, the grants form a higher percentage of total revenues for those libraries,” he says.
CUPE BC represents over 2,600 public library employees in 25 public library systems across the province.