Opinion Column

Never take libraries for granted

By Katelyn Schubert

Imagine a world where libraries didn’t exist.

It’s a pretty scary thought isn’t it? That nightmare nearly became a reality recently in Saskatchewan, when the provincial government made plans to cut its public library fund by $4.8 million. It all changed this week when the announcement came that funding has been reinstated for the time being. And what was the deciding factor for this incredible change? Library lovers!

It felt like something right out of a teen dystopian novel where communities were stripped of basic resources simply to save pennies. But the threat was very real and worst of all, happening within our own country. When the announcement of the decrease in funding to the libraries of Regina and Saskatoon was made, staff and board members scrambled to make the hard decisions about what would be eliminated from the wide variety of resources made available through the public library system.
The result was the elimination of the popular inter-library loan services, which allowed libraries throughout the Saskatchewan to share materials province wide; a service that has been around for more than half a century and had nearly one million uses in 2016. At least 100 library staff jobs were also in jeopardy due to the cuts. So it makes people ask the question of why? Why are libraries being ‘picked’ on when clearly so many people rely on them? Of course the answer lies within dollar signs but then we have to ask ourselves, can we really put a price on knowledge?
When the public heard the announcement, communities took stand to show the government just how important libraries are. On April 7 thousands of people throughout the province showed up outside their local government offices and did the one thing they hoped would capture the attention of decision makers….they read. People young and old protested in a distinguished and powerful way chanting “save our libraries!” and sat on benches, below trees, on curbs and read a book. People took to social media like Twitter and Facebook, joining groups and hash tagging words of disappointment about this drastic decision that would directly affect so many.
Working in the library system for 10 years now, I have grown to love and adore library lovers. It’s not very often you get to hear them express their gratitude and appreciation for this service in a public manner. I get the chance to hear and see it everyday. Not a week goes by when patrons doesn’t vocalize how grateful they are that their toddler has educational programs to attend that prepare them for school, or a senior having access to large print books, or teens having a space to go after school to finish their homework. Being immersed in this world for a decade, I sometimes forget just how magical a library really is.
If there’s one lesson we can take from the recent Saskatchewan news, it’s that we should never take these services for granted. Even if your library isn’t in jeopardy of losing funding, make the effort to be the change in your community. If you aren’t a library user, start! There are so many amazing resources and trust me…the dusty old books are few and far between.
I am so proud of what the communities in Saskatchewan chose to do for their library in a time of need. It’s just one more reason to believe that readers really can change the world! I encourage everyone to write their local municipality and tell them just how much your library means to you! It could literally change everything. Cheers to the power of readers!
Katelyn Schubert is the children and teen services co-ordinator at the Petawawa Public Library

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