Province to intervene in Sherbrooke Library dispute

·2 min read

SAINT MARY’S – The province will intervene in the long-running funding feud between the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s and the Eastern Counties Regional Library (ECRL) as early as next week, according to a spokesperson for the Department of Communities, Culture, Tourism and Heritage (CCTH).

“We want to see equitable library service in our communities, and the Department is looking into a potential path forward,” Mikaela Etchegary told The Journal in an email last week, adding: “Once the Legislature rises [April 22], we will be reaching out to both parties regarding next steps.”

Earlier this year, council for the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s asked CCTH Minister Pat Dunn to dissolve its service agreement with ECRL – which provides staffing and administration to the Sherbrooke branch – citing irreconcilable differences.

“It is no secret that the relationship between the Municipality and the ECRL has been strained over the past year,” St. Mary’s Warden Greg Wier stated in a February 21 letter signed by every member of council. “We find that further positive communications with … Eastern Counties Regional Library will bear no positive fruit.”

He asked Dunn either to “allow the Sherbrooke Community Library to stand alone” or “allow [it] to dissolve [the] relationship with ECRL and join a library system that is more responsive to community needs and services, such as the Pictou, Antigonish Regional Library.”

At the heart of the dispute is ECRL’s new cost-service regime, effective this year, which requires St. Mary’s to pay an additional $10,531 per year ($27,458 compared with the previous $16,927) to keep the Sherbrooke branch open to the public 25 hours a week.

The ECRL – which serves Guysborough, Richmond and Inverness counties with about $960,000 provincial and $234,000 municipal funding (2020-21) – is one of nine libraries systems that provide specific regions of the province with branch and online lending services.

In an email to The Journal last week, Weir stated that council had not yet received a response from CCTH. “Our next move will be based on a reply to our letter,” he said. “We will keep all our stakeholders posted of any information as we receive it.”

Meanwhile, the council is moving ahead with plans to staff its new Seeds of Literacy Program, effective May 1. According to a job posting in the municipality’s April newsletter, the coordinator will work five hours a week “under the direction of the Municipal Clerk and undertake initiatives working to improve literacy skills for youth in St. Mary’s.”

The program that aims to bring mobile library services to communities across the district during times of the week when the ECRL-operated Sherbrooke library remains closed – notably, evenings and weekends.

Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal

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