ALMAGUIN – A barrage of angry letters is burying Canada’s Industry Minister.
Two-year-old Sebastian Litster and his mom Amanda use the Internet access at the Burk's Falls library.
Following a recent announcement to cut the Community Access Program (CAP) local librarians say they are fighting back.
“We had a board meeting soon after the announcement and began drafting letters that night,” said librarian Jan Heinonen, of the South River-Machar Union Library.
Since 1995, public libraries have used CAP funding to cover the cost of providing free public access to the Internet. As of March 31, 2012, the program has been disassembled leaving libraries with a hefty funding shortfall.
For the South River library, that shortfall lies in the $3,500 range.
According to Heinonen, letters have been sent to local politicians, as well as Industry Minister Christian Paradis.
The library has sent out the draft letters, which need only be signed, to other area libraries and municipalities.
“This makes it easier for people to protest,” she said. “We thought individual letters would be more effective than a petition. We send a big batch off to Ottawa every week.”
Heinonen said the library makes the letters available to every adult patron, and so far, they haven’t had anyone turn down the opportunity.
“Last year we had well over 5,000 patrons use our computers, and that doesn’t include those who bring their own laptops and use the wireless connection,” she said. “So many of the federal and provincial services are done online now instead of on paper, so people need access to these programs. Also, some of the seniors require assistance in using them.”
Heinonen said the library might have to begin charging a fee for computer use, which she says hits low-income patrons the hardest, including children who need computer access for school assignments.
“They’re the ones that can least afford to pay for it, but they need computer skills to be employable,” she said. “People are being hit in more than one way.”
Marie Rosset, librarian of the Powassan and District Union Library, said because of the cut the library can no longer afford new technology or replacement computers.
“We understand the need for cutbacks, but this will really hurt the less fortunate,” said Rosset, who is also part of the letter-writing campaign. “We have people coming in here all the time to use the computers to look for a job. It’s a reason to go out and be around people.”
Rosset also noted the lack of access to high-speed in rural areas like Almaguin Highlands because the towers just aren’t there.
In Kearney, things are not quite so dire, according to librarian Brandi Nolan.
“We’re very fortunate because the Town does pay for our Internet because we’re in the same building as them, but some other libraries aren’t as fortunate,” she said.
The Kearney and Area Public Library boasts four computer workstations, which won’t be affected by the cut until the technology needs to be upgraded. Although Nolan said the library is continuing to operate with the status quo in the interim, the bite out of the library budget will eventually catch up to them.
“When those computers need to be replaced, it’s going to hit us hard,” she said.
Librarian Sandy Henshall of Burk’s Falls, Armour and Ryerson Union Library said she too has joined the letter-writing bandwagon.
She said the library sees about 400 patrons a month and that number explodes by summer once the cottagers arrive.
“They’re downloading this cost onto all of us and that’s a big problem,” she said. “They’re leaving us scrounging around looking for that money. We’ll have to find alternative sources of funding.”
Henshall notes the difference between a rural area compared to larger city centres with Internet cafes on every corner.
“Some people in this area can’t even get Internet,” she said. “This is what helps make the library a hub.”
Sundridge Deputy Mayor Bill de Vries sits on the Sundridge Strong Union Public Library Board said the cut is a major blow to the community.
“In rural areas, we don’t have the greatest Internet access and the Internet availability in our libraries helped offset that,” he said. “We’re going to continue to have Internet, but this is definitely going to negatively affect library budgets. We’re going to have to find that money somewhere.”
De Vries said the board has sent letters on the subject to Parry Sound-Muskoka MP Tony Clement and MPP Norm Miller.
“We have reacted to it, but I think this just might be the beginning of the cuts,” he said.