What happens when the libraries are gone?

This story from today’s National Post is an excellent summary of what the real role of a library is in a community—it’s not just a place to get books. The ideas discussed here are appropriate for any library, not just those in remote communities.

A rural town in Newfoundland is losing its only library. What will Fogo Island do when it’s gone?

Fogo Island, Newfoundland's only public library is one of 54 slated to close province-wide in the next two years.

Photo: Fogo Island Library Facebook/National Post

Nick Faris, May 31, 2016

The Fogo Island Public Library has more than 14,000 books. Children go there for homework help, fishermen to download work documents and just about everyone else in town to use the Internet. It hosts card game nights, colouring sessions and Easter egg hunts. It is the only library on the island, an hour’s drive by ferry from the rest of Newfoundland and Labrador.

It is closing on Oct. 31.

The library’s demise is a decision that came down to money, set in motion by a Liberal government elected last fall. Their first budget, unveiled in April, projected a record deficit of $2.2 billion. Soon, taxes will rise. Schools will axe teachers and increase class sizes. The public library system will be trimmed by more than half, as 54 of 95 locations shutter their doors in the next two years.

“We’ve been telling people this will touch every single person in this province,” Finance Minister Cathy Bennett told reporters when the budget was released.

Although there are 2,620 public libraries in Canada, according to a 2014 Royal Society of Canada report, it is possible that the condemned branches of Newfoundland are the most important of all. They are located, mainly, in rural communities and small towns, from 1,000-person Arnold’s Cove to the settlement of Woody Point, tucked deep in the expanse of a 1,800-km national park.

Books are often scarce in these areas — but their libraries, like Fogo’s, are not just repositories of printed words. They make the Internet freely accessible, in places where broadband connectivity is not quite universal. They provide public space where movie theatres and sporting arenas have never been built.

And they mean the world to people like Christine Dwyer.

Dwyer, 68, has been a member of Fogo’s library board for 39 years. Before retiring in 2008, she taught for three-plus decades at the island’s only school: Fogo Island Central Academy, where the library is housed. “The school is like family to us, and the library especially,” she told the National Post.

When Newfoundland’s government announced the library closures, they tried to soften the news through a compromise: 85 per cent of residents would still be within a 30-minute drive of a branch, in what Andrew Hunt, executive director of the Provincial Information and Library Resources Board, called a move to a regional “service-centre approach.”

Fogo’s 2,500 or so townspeople are part of the final 15 per cent. The only way to get to and from the mainland is an hour-long commute by ferry, by way of a wharf called “Farewell.”

Google Maps

“If ours closed down and I were to go to a library, I drive 30 minutes to get to the ferry, I wait for God knows how long, I have one hour on the ferry, and then I have a one-hour drive to see which library I want to go to, whether it be Gander, Lewisporte or Twillingate,” Dwyer said.

“So people are just not going to do it. The residents of Fogo Island are just not going to read as much.” …

Read the full story here.

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