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Newfoundland and Labrador to close 54 public-library branches

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Woody Point Public Library, one of the 54 branches facing closure

Woody Point Public Library, one of 54 branches facing closure

More than half of all public libraries in Newfoundland and Labrador are slated to close in the next two years, the result of a $1 million reduction in funding announced in the recent provincial budget.

Fifty-four branches of the existing 95 will close, leaving 41. The NLPL has revealed the branches that will close, and many are in rural areas of the province, with 64 library workers expected to lose their jobs.

“We’ve been working with the provincial government to acknowledge the unprecedented fiscal situation,” says Andrew Hunt, executive director of Newfoundland & Labrador Public Libraries. Hunt describes the new regional model turning the remaining libraries into “service centres,” increasing the variety of services offered.

Hunt acknowledged that this is a sad day, but says that as population patterns have changed, so has usage. “This won’t fundamentally change what libraries do in the province, with 85 per cent of the population still within a 30 minute drive of a public library.” He expects an increase in the hours of existing libraries with more of a focus on ebooks, and more investment in the surviving branches. “With these changes we will have a larger budget for fewer libraries.”

“We were shocked and dismayed at the extent of the closures,” says Krista Godfrey, a librarian and the vice-president/president elect of the Newfoundland and Labrador Library Association. “We are very concerned of the impact on a variety of programs, from children’s story time to outreach for new Canadians to Internet access for people looking for work. Would you drive half an hour to take your three-year-old to story time at a library in another community?”

Godfrey says the NLPL has done a good job to continue to offer services in an era of fiscal austerity – $1.2 million was cut from Newfoundland and Labrador libraries in 2013 – and she’s seen the trend toward ebooks. “But are people going to be able to afford all the devices needed to read ebooks? The provincial budget is a problem for everyone.”

Just hearing details of the announcement, Garry Cranford, publisher at Flanker Press in St. John’s, does some arithmetic on the spot.

“With a full complement of libraries, and depending on the book, they might buy one copy of each new release for each branch. That’s 95 books. We can expect that number to be reduced by the number of branches closed.” He says there will be fewer chances for authors to get out into communities to read for people, and diminishing promotional opportunities. Along with the 10 per cent book tax announced last week, Cranford expects his annual revenue to take a hit. “Ninety-eight-point-seven percent of our sales are of paper books, not ebooks,” he says.