Stroll into NWT Centennial Library on any given day and you might see a few individuals on their personal laptops, but they’re most likely not urfing the net. The free wireless that has been offered to users of the public library in Hay River was one of the first services to hit the road after this year’s municipal operating budget was passed in late 2012. A sign posted in the library explains the absence of the service that had been offered for almost two years.
Staff isn’t receiving their normal annual increase, either.
The library committee requested $190,000 for 2013, but was awarded $160,000 or $30,000 less than what it was seeking.
For now, there are still four computers with Internet access in the library that are available to the public, not including one extra for short-term use.
It’s not dire news for the library, yet. The library committee and staff sat down with town council on Jan. 22 to devise some solutions. At first, they said they could face more cuts if they don’t find other resources.
“They had to make cuts because of the budget and that’s understandable,” said librarian Christine Gyapay. “Our budget is so small in the first place, (any other cuts) would have to go from different areas, like collection development and programming.”
Library committee chairperson Pat Wray said the library’s budget has been submitted already, but there are areas that might need adjustment. She said committee members emerged hopeful from the meeting with council and talked about ways to find funds to make up the difference.
“It’s not going to kill us,” said Wray. “We are just going to have to be careful about what we do spend. We want to keep much of the programming free, because it’s a public library. It shouldn’t cost people too much because that’s one place people can go for free.”
Another matter on the table is the NWT Public Libraries Act. Currently the Hay River library is the only one in the NWT that doesn’t fall under municipal responsibility.
The GNWT passed the act in 2009. It states that “ownership and responsibility for the local library rests with the municipal corporation.” A municipal corporation is defined as a corporation or body that represents the community.
That is something the library committee brought up to the new town council on Jan. 22.
It can be confusing where the responsibility lies because library resources come from three different directions, said Wray.
The GNWT provides the library building and part of the librarian’s wages. The town provides a large chunk of funding and the library committee provides work hours to decide where funding is funnelled.
“We believe it is the town’s library,” said Wray. “We want the town to realize that the library is theirs. It’s not the library committee’s. Right now, we have volunteers running the library.”
Mayor Andrew Cassidy said it was a tough decision to cut back on the library’s budget.
“It wasn’t a decision council made lightly,” he said. “There weren’t just cuts. There were a lot of areas where spending was reined in, but there were also cuts across the board in all of our departments.”
Cassidy pointed to the main reason the town scaled back: it was also scaled back by $300,000. That expected amount, usually given to the town by the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs, was taken away.
“That directly affects the level of finances we have to deliver programming and maintain and run the town,” said Cassidy. “So somewhere along the way there has to be cuts, even though we’d like to fund the library at the highest level possible.”
The mayor acknowledged that the public library relies quite heavily on town financial support, adding councillors are keen to lobby government for secure funding. Council plans to arrange meetings once the legislative assembly is back in session.
Ideally, that would mean getting the library back to its normal level of funding so that it can continue to offer existing programming and even potentially expand.
The library committee will be making a full presentation at the public meeting of council on Feb. 4.
— Angela Cano