Close some libraries, make towns share cost: consultants' report

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'It's very comprehensive': N.L. education minister defends report on libraries

'It's very comprehensive': N.L. education minister defends report on libraries

A review of Newfoundland and Labrador's public library system recommends that some libraries be consolidated or closed.

The report, by consulting firm EY, also suggests a system of regional boards to run libraries and a cost-shared arrangement between the province and municipalities.

The company was asked to review the library system after a public uproar about 2016 budget cuts and a plan to close 54 libraries, more than half the existing number.

What EY recommends in a report released Thursday is philosophically what the library board announced a year ago, but any decision about which libraries remain open will require further discussion.

"We'll go into a number of two or three-day meetings over the next number of months," said Cal Taylor, chair of the Provincial Information and Library Resources Board.

The goal: "What we can do to make the most beneficial use of the money we receive."

The Liberal government in 2016 announced it was moving to a regional library model, which would save $1 million a year.

Money that remained in the library budget — about $650,000 — would be used to better finance the 41 branches that continued to operate.

Underperforming in key areas

The provincial library network has been "significantly underfunded for some time," the EY report said, 42 per cent below the national average, with 95.7 per cent of the money coming from the province.

The report also pointed out that a number of libraries are located very close together, and in small communities with declining populations.

As a result, the libraries are "significantly underperforming in key aspects of service delivery including operating hours, collections, programs, technology and facilities."

EY recommends "reassessing and adjusting the number and locations of public libraries" as well as regional organizations to run the libraries and deliver services.

Towns which now pay only $2 per capita for libraries should bear a greater share of the cost, the report recommends — starting with larger towns, and allowing smaller communities to contribute "in-kind," covering costs like heat or snowclearing.

Thirteen libraries pay rent to municipal landlords, something EY said should be done away with.

A full-time head librarian and more professional librarians should also be hired, the report said.

With many issues still unresolved, did the report deliver on its $250,000 price tag?

"You ask me that question in four or five months when we've had a chance to do our work, and then I'll be able to answer it for you, honestly," Taylor told CBC Radio's On The Go.