Here are some quick thoughts on today’s announcement that the Province of Newfoundland will close 54 public libraries, leaving the system with only 41 locations. It’s a travesty for a province’s educational, literacy, and information access goals, regardless of its fiscal crisis. You can follow the public fallout of this poorly conceived plan by following the #nlpublib hashtag.
One thing that really bothered me in this announcement is the consolation that the Newfoundland Library Chair, Calvin Taylor, tried to make. What follows is a statement that tries to focus on the positive in a very bad situation, but what it does is pinpoint how awful and shortsighted this action is. The CBC reports that:
[Taylor] said 85 per cent of residents in the province should be within a 30-minute drive of a remaining branch — which will be open a minimum of 30 hours a week — and available to people in a service area where they go for groceries or to do their banking.
This argument is incredibly shortsighted. It presumes that all library users have vehicles or are able to drive, or even have access meaningful public transit. But that doesn’t begin to describe the makeup of our contemporary towns, cities, and communities. Even in rural and remote communities, the poor, the young, and the elderly often don’t have access to a car, and these three groups often represent a very, very large percentage of a library’s users.
If a library is open for only a paltry 30 hours a week (and likely mostly during afternoon weekday hours) but only a few can make their way to its doors, will anyone care?
The CBC article also mentioned that Newfoundland has some of the lowest literacy scores in Canada. I can’t speak to that since literacy is not my field, but certainly closing so many access points to free learning, educational, and cultural resources cannot improve such a rate.
If you live in Newfoundland and Labrador, then you should contact your MHA and your local councillors immediately to make a protest because time is of the issue in situations like this. If you live outside of Newfoundland, like I do, then you can still lend a hand by raising a flag and making the situation known. The closure of so many library locations is an unacceptable policy decision and unacceptable cost-cutting measure than can kneecap a generation.