Dent won’t back away from plan to cut librarians



More than a thousand Nunavut residents have signed a petition urging the territorial government to abandon planned funding cuts to regional libraries.

But in Yellowknife this week the minister responsible for library services said the GNWT would push ahead with the cuts anyway.

Supporters of Iqaluit’s Centennial Library presented the government with 730 signatures from residents of Iqaluit and Apex earlier this week.

In Igloolik as of Tuesday, organizers had collected 377 names. And in Rankin Inlet, a group calling itself the Friends of the John Ayaruaq Library had managed to get 200 signatures by presstime on Wednesday.

Nunavut-wide support

“I’m impressed. I can’t believe the response that we’ve had,” said Lisa Rigby, Iqaluit organizer of the Friends of Nunavut Libraries campaign.

People from as far away as Pangnirtung, Arctic Bay, Grise Fiord, Broughton Island, Kimmirut, Cape Dorset, Hall Beach, Cambridge Bay, Inuvik, Yellowknife,-even Ontario and the United States-have been moved to register their protest.

“We, the undersigned,” the petition from Iqaluit reads in part, “object to the radical change which the GNWT Department of Education, Culture, and Employment has planned for library services in Nunavut…”

“Literacy, especially Inuktitut literacy, is very important to the future of Nunavut and libraries play a critical role.”

Lightning rod

Layoff notices for two remaining regional librarians were issued last week, touching off a spirited protest across Nunavut, the likes of which no government downsizing to date has mustered.

“It was like a lightning rod,” commented Iqaluit MLA Ed Picco, who presented the petition to the legislative assembly.

By the middle of last week, supporters had rallied closely around Baffin regional librarian Yvonne Earle and Denise Andersen, regional librarian for Rankin.

“I think in our case, our regional librarian has been very pro-active for literacy,” said Picco, who was also overwhelmed by the reaction of the community to news of the cuts.

“She’s a well-known figure in the community and well-known in the Baffin region. So I think it’s someone most everyone can put a face to.”

Technology to replace people

Charles Dent, minister of education, culture, and employment defended the layoffs in the legislative assembly as a necessary budgetary measure. Dent also vowed community libraries wouldn’t be affected by staff reductions, thanks to computers.

“The technology is progressing to the point where we believe that certainly in the course of the next little while, the services will be able to be delivered adequately to all communities,” Dent said last week during question period.

“Sometimes I think this technology is becoming almost like a Frankenstein monster,” Picco retorted.

The Department of Education, Culture and Employment plans to redistribute funds for libraries across the Northwest Territories. Money for 19 existing libraries in Nunavut will be reduced to make more resources available to 40 other communities where no public libraries currently exist.

Eleven community libraries in Nunavut would be affected by the proposal.

Part of the restructuring plan includes putting computers into these communities so that users can search the NWT library’s catalogue of publications on-line. Details of the proposal have not been made public.

What is known is that the territorial government wants to distribute funds for library services according to the size of population in each community, rather than on the current formula, which only takes into account the number of hours each existing library stays open.

Compromise possible

Critics like Rigby say the new funding proposal, which would see money for existing library services dispersed over twice as many communities, will simply produce a greater number of poorer libraries. She’s confident that this concern is now being taken seriously in Yellowknife.

“I certainly think we’re making progress on the restructuring of the library system and re-organizing the funding,” Rigby said, adding optimistically that a compromise on the regional librarian jobs is not out of reach.

“I could see them maybe turning those positions into a Nunavut librarian’s position to oversee regional services or to coordinate the division of library services when they divide up the Territories in ’99,” Rigby said.

“I think that would be the most ideal solution.”

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