Shift in funding approach unfair to Nunavut

Have advocates of computerized library services considered the real cost of relying on the Internet to raise literacy levels?



After reading Mr. Bell’s editorial comments and Mr. Wilkin’s article about cutbacks to library services (Nunatsiaq News, Feb.7) the Iqaluit Centennial Library board wants to shed some additional light on the issue.

The basis of the “Draft proposal for redistribution of funding for library services” is population size. If we docilely accept this change to the funding formula for library services, from cost-based funding to population-based funding, how many other services’ funding will be cut by more than 50%? Social services, medical services, housing?

This redistribution of library funds will result, for example, in Pond Inlet losing 57%, Pangnirtung 48%, Rankin Inlet 53%, Iqaluit 55% and Cambridge Bay 50% of current budgets; two Western Arctic libraries will get just over 65% of current levels and Yellowknife’s budget will increase by 228%. Population-based funding does not reflect economies of scale, actual costs and service levels. It is not equitable for Nunavut.

Expertise absent

The intent of this proposal is not to give every community a library, but to give every community one new library services computer workstation. Funding for 19 existing libraries will be redistributed among 59 communities “to provide on-line library/information systems in one location in each community…”

The technology exists – but the GNWT does not have it now and with more budget cuts projected we can’t expect to have it soon. Even if, by some miracle, we get the technology, the expertise required to set up, repair and maintain such systems is seldom present in remote communities. When the system needs repairs technicians must fly in, which may create long delays. Remote communities’ library services budgets under this proposal will range from $1,500 to $3,500, barely enough to pay telephone bills for modem costs.

Under the terms of the draft proposal, residents of all communities can access the database to see and request items (technically) available in the library system. However, after budget cuts, libraries won’t have enough money to pay for staff hours to locate and prepare materials for mailing or for postage costs. Also, only people who are computer-literate in English can use these on-line systems. And with one computer workstation per community, can everyone access this service at suitable hours?

The Centennial Library is one of a diminishing number of public libraries in Canada to offer open hours on Sundays. We can do so only through our dedicated volunteers who give up their Sunday afternoons to serve other Iqaluit residents. We agree, everyone deserves access to library services, but let’s maintain existing services so they will have something to access!

Health, pride linked to literacy

Why, we wonder, does Mr. Bell seem to think that caring about funding for library services and caring about other social issues are mutually exclusive? Many of the people working to save Regional Libraries are also volunteers on the Crisis Line, the Women’s Shelter and other worthy organizations. Funds redistributed within libraries services will not go to other services in Nunavut. It is not a case of money for libraries or money for health care; it is a case of money for Nunavut.

Mr. Bell mentions the loss of pride and loss of income that result from the social problems wounding not only Iqaluit but all Nunavut. How do we become proud, how do we earn income? By learning the skills necessary to support ourselves in this society, the first of which is the ability to read and write in at least one language.

Libraries offer a place and materials to practices literacy skills in the reader’s area of interest, without the pressure of tests and grades. Literacy increases employability and self-supporting, proud people are not as likely to require treatment for alcohol and drug abuse. They are not as likely to abuse others. Is this not a worthwhile goal?

Catherine Dallas chairs the Iqaluit Centennial Library Board in Iqaluit, NT.

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