Saskatchewan libraries were only saved from deep cuts in the 2017 budget by widespread public outcry, with thousands of people rallying in support. The government walked back those cuts, announcing it would conduct a review of the library system to determine next steps.
Now, serious concerns are being raised about how little is being shared about that review process, and whether the focus of the review is positioning our libraries to meet the evolving needs of communities, or simply cutting costs. The NDP is calling on the government to release the submissions received as part of their review and be transparent with its plans around the library system, but has so far met with silence and obfuscation.
“The double standard we’ve seen when it comes to this government’s approach to public consultations shows they simply can’t be trusted with our libraries,” said NDP Education Critic Carla Beck. “The Sask. Party was quick to invite public comment and share all responses to their trespassing survey. Why hasn’t the public been invited to participate in the library review panel? And why hasn’t the same transparency been applied to this review?”
The NDP submitted a Freedom of Information request for all the submissions this review had received, but was told that the records don’t exist. A previous FOI request for documents related to this review turned up eleven almost-completely redacted pages. And advocates have raised concerns that the public has been completely shut out from the review process.
One of the libraries that had been contacted by the review panel shared with the NDP the questions they had been asked, raising concerns with questions such as, “If HQ were to cease to exist, what impact would that have on your library and the services you are providing to your patrons? Could your local library branch survive?”
“The answer that I’ve heard from librarians and people concerned about their local library is that no, they can’t survive without this central pillar of our library system,” Beck said. “People were rightly upset when the Sask. Party tried cutting libraries without warning, and now they are rightly upset that the Sask. Party isn’t being open and transparent about its library review or its plans for libraries. With this government vowing further belt-tightening in the next budget, I’m standing with Saskatchewan people in demanding protections for our library system from further cuts.”