Sherbrooke library hours expand, but no Saturdays

·4 min read

ST. MARY’S – Despite increasing the number of weekly hours open to the public, from 15 to 18, the Eastern Counties Regional Library [ECRL] won’t staff the Sherbrooke branch on Saturdays, says the organization’s CEO and Chief Librarian Laura Emery.

Securing Saturday openings, when children and older people are more likely to use the facility, has been a priority of the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s council – whose 14-month dispute with ECRL over funding and public operating hours is now the subject of review by the provincial government.

But, in an email to The Journal this week, Warden Greg Wier declined to comment on the issue directly. “We are at an impasse [with ECRL],” he stated. “We are looking for a positive outcome for our library and as the review will be starting soon, answering any questions at this time may be detrimental to that outcome.”

The change is an extension of Thursday hours to 6 pm. Effective April 29, the Sherbrooke Library will be open 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m., and 12:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays, but 9:30 to 12 p.m. and 12:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursdays.

“This provides after school and after work opportunities for library use,” Emery said. “Unfortunately, we are unable to staff the Saturday hours at this time.”

St. Mary’s council and ECRL came to loggerheads earlier this year when the former balked at the latter’s demand for 60 per cent more money—from $17,000 to $27,600 in yearly fees—to keep the Sherbrooke branch open to the public 25 hours a week. Unable to resolve the problem by budget time in March, ECRL cut weekly hours to 15 and restricted the number of open days to three, not including evenings or weekends.

Last December, council said it agreed to pay the additional fees in return for restored services, including Saturday openings, but reported that ECRL had rejected its offer. At that time, Wier told The Journal, “We did exactly as suggested by ECRL in March; that if the municipality would propose to pay for an additional 10 hours per week and agree to $20.50 per hour, the services could be provided. The municipality, despite already paying quite a fee for services, decided to propose exactly this.”

In February, council sent a letter to Communities, Culture, Tourism and Heritage (CCTH) Minister Pat Dunn asking for permission break off its relationship with ECRL and either forge a new one with different regional library board or strike out on its own. Late last month, in letters to St. Mary’s council and the ECRL’s board of directors, Dunn announced an “external review” to resolve the situation.

Asked whether that correspondence played a role in ECRL’s decision to increase hours at the Sherbrooke Library, Emery told The Journal: “The increase in hours at the Sherbrooke branch is related to the provincially mandated increase in municipal contributions to library funding across the province that came into effect April 1, 2022.

“Now that all our municipal partners, along with all municipalities across the province, are contributing more to library funding, ECRL is turning that increased funding around to increased library service in the respective geographic regions.”

She added: “In Guysborough County, this has meant an increase in library open hours. We are currently working to determine the best way to use our other municipal partners’ increased funding to also increase library service within their geographies. This distribution of service continues to be in line with the funding alignment that ECRL announced in March 2021, which treats all of our municipal funding partners equitably.”

Regarding the review, Emery said: “We are pleased to provide the Nova Scotia Provincial Library and the Department of Communities, Culture, Tourism and Heritage with the information they need to complete a comprehensive review, and to collaborate with them, or a consultant they may hire, in any way that might be helpful to the process.”

On this, at least, Wier concurred.

“We will be cooperating with the [minister’s] office as required,” he said. “We look forward to the recommendations from the review so we can move forward with a sustainable and equitable solution for our library in Sherbrooke.”

He added that CCTH Deputy Minister Justin Huston has assured him the review will be completed in “two to three months”.

Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal

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