Friday, 6 May 2016

Minister Kirby, Please Don’t Close Our Libraries

Minister Kirby, Please Don’t Close Our Libraries

By: Ryan Young

The decision to close 54 libraries to save $1 Million as part of this year’s budget cuts may be the most unpopular thing that our provincial government has ever done as part of a budget measure. As mad as people are about the increased taxes and fees or the levy, the cutting of more than half of the libraries in the province cuts right to the heart of Newfoundlander's and Labradoreans. People are gearing up for more public protests and the literary community has promised to “rise up” against this attack on literacy. The NLLA started an online campaign to Save NL Libraries that has grown to almost 2000 followers in just a few days and they are just getting started. The writing seems to be on the wall – pun intended – for the Liberals. The battle to save our libraries has only just begun.

Just last week, Education Minister Dale Kirby publicly stated that he believes that closing libraries will actually help to improve our dismal literacy rates. The government position is that our literacy programs were not having good success and as such keeping the libraries open didn’t make sense. There was no mention of how our libraries were underfunded already and that the government does not have a viable strategy to deal with the issue of literacy rates. That was conveniently left out of the discussion as Minister Kirby seemingly abandoned the past principals that he had developed while in opposition as a vocal supporter of our children and our libraries. When Paddy Daly pressed him on VOCM Openline last Friday on how his position could change so much in such a short time, the answer given by the minister was that he had the luxury of criticizing while in opposition because he did not have all of the facts that he has now. I don’t know if Mr. Kirby realizes what a bold admission that was. It is not often that we have a Minister willing to publicly admit that they were basically full of it while on the opposition side. The irony is not lost on me personally, as just last fall I sat in on a panel discussion that featured Minister Kirby, Lorraine Michael, and then PC minister Clyde Jackman. In one feisty exchange, Mr. Jackman told Kirby that thinks look different from the government side when hard decisions have to be made. The answer from Dale Kirby was along the lines of “we’ll see.” Well indeed we are seeing, and it looks to me that the vision at the top has not changed at all.

All of the comments I have heard from the education minister have revolved around no loss of service. He tells us that children would still be able to drive to a library a half hour away or order books through the mail. He says that communities may be able to step in and save their libraries through their own initiatives. What he doesn’t tell us is that 15% of the population will now be up to an hour or more away from the nearest library. He also doesn’t tell us that many of the people who use local libraries are low income earners who don’t have the means to travel to use a computer to complete an assignment or pay a bill or check in with loved ones. He doesn’t talk about the reading circles and the early learning programs that are hosted by our libraries to the great benefit of our children. He doesn’t talk about the adult reading programs that have changed lives all across this province. Most of all he doesn’t talk about how the libraries are so important to their communities. Libraries are a place to gather and share and learn. Libraries are about so much more than books, they are essential to the very fabric that holds our rural towns together. Closing these libraries for such meager savings is wrong for so many reasons and it is just one more example of how our elected officials are so out of touch with the needs the people.

I don’t think that Dale Kirby has suddenly become a bad person or lost his marbles. I still hold a great deal of respect for him as an educator and an intellectual. I have always felt that he is very well spoken and his points are generally always well researched and on-point. I have had the pleasure of personally speaking with the Minister many times and I have always felt that he was one of the few people in government that truly “gets it.” For many people his sudden turnaround comes as a shock, but if you understand how our revolving door party system works, you already know that long-term vision in government is limited to the end of the current election term. We can be angry with Minister Kirby, but at the end of the day what choices does he have? He is simply personifying everything that is wrong with party politics. Word from above said to find cuts and cuts were found. Despite everything we throw at him about what he said in opposition, he has no choice but to go along for the ride. Like many before him he most likely believes that this pain is just a short-term sacrifice that will lead to the opportunity to make positive changes in the future. It is a great and noble idea, but sadly one that has been embraced many times before. Most politicians gets involved in public life for the right reasons, but those reasons always find a way to get pushed aside in the quest to stay in power and toe the party line.

One positive story worth mentioning was hearing Liberal back-bencher Scott Reid speaking out about the need to revisit library closures. After connecting with communities and volunteers in his district, he quickly learned how valuable libraries were to these communities and that the residents of his district were not about to accept the closures without a fight. It is never an easy decision to speak out against a party decision and Mr. Reid deserves credit for standing up and sharing the frustrations of his constituents.

The Liberals have failed miserably in their attempt to communicate this budget but I am not sure that they understand just where they failed. With so many cuts, the people needed to be shown a long-term plan to justify such harsh measures and they need to know how they plan to rebuild. Without that we are left wondering; “what’s next?” Closing libraries or taxing books are not the answers to any of our problems. It is an easy way to achieve meager savings but is it really worth what is lost? I know the two have absolutely nothing to do with one another, but when you see Ed Martin walking away from Nalcor with a severance pay of nearly $1.4 Million while we close 54 libraries to save $1 Million, it is hard for human nature to not connect the two and feel angry. Our children are already beginning to bear the brunt of bad decisions and how far will it go unless we take a stand and say enough is enough? Do what you can to stand up and demand that our libraries stay open. Write the minister and your MHA, support the NLLA, go to a public protest, or maybe best of all get your child to write a letter or postcard to Minister Kirby at Confederation Building to let him know what he is doing is hurting our children. It might not change his mind but the message will be loud and clear. We need our libraries.

You can send your mail to:
Dale Kirby
Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development
3rd Floor, West Block
Confederation Building
P.O. Box 8700
St. John’s, NL
A1B 4J6

Phone: (709) 729-5040
Fax: (709) 729-0414

For more information about Save NL Libraries visit:

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