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July 23, 2009

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CUPE BC monitoring Liberals on library funding

BURNABY—CUPE BC is keeping a close eye on the Ministry of Education amid speculation that public libraries throughout the province could see their funding slashed in the next BC Liberal budget.

Concern was raised earlier this week when Public Eye Online, a political investigative website, released a letter to Premier Gordon Campbell from Andy Ackerman, president of the BC Library Trustees Association.

In the June 17 letter, Ackerman—noting that B.C.’s public libraries had not yet received their annual operating grants—requested a meeting with the premier to discuss the importance of library funding and why it must be maintained. Although notice of operating grants sometimes does not occur until August, there is concern about the government’s priorities this year, given the economic climate. A meeting has been scheduled for July 28 with Education Minister Margaret McDiarmid, but the premier will not be in attendance.

“We will be very interested to learn the results of that meeting, in terms of what the government’s intentions are,” said CUPE BC president Barry O’Neill.

“I can’t see how cuts in library funding could possibly serve the premier’s pledge to make B.C. the most literate jurisdiction in North America by 2015. Libraries are a vital part of all our communities—and not only for books. People rely on them for a range of services, from access to international newspapers to help with job searches via the Internet, and even applying for unemployment insurance. So gutting their budgets makes no sense at all.”

Given the range of services libraries provide, said O’Neill, library trustees should be demanding funding increases rather than simply maintaining the status quo.

“During the economic downturn, people have been using library services more often—not less,” he said. “So after 90 years of supporting public libraries through these operating grants, now is not the time for the Province to pull the plug.”

O’Neill added that CUPE BC will be monitoring the situation over the next few days before commenting further.

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