Staffing cutbacks at local libraries cause concern

Guysborough change follows Open Library launch, Mulgrave closed til summer

By Lois Ann Dort    

GUYSBOROUGH – Over the Labour Day long weekend of 2019, Guysborough became home to an innovative Open Library pilot project at the Cyril Ward Memorial Library. The project, announced in an Eastern Counties Regional Libraries (ECRL) press release in July of 2018, offered extended access to the library during non-staffed hours for adult patrons with a library card.

At the time of the launch, in both an interview with this newspaper and in an FAQ press release about the Open Library project, ECRL CEO Laura Emery stated that there would be no reduction in staffed hours. As of November 2019, two months after the Open Library project was implemented, staffed hours at the Cyril Ward Memorial Library have been reduced, eliminating two days of staffed service including Saturdays.

In addition to the reduction of hours at the ECRL Guysborough Branch, an announcement was made on the ECRL website that the library in Mulgrave would be closed until the summer.

ECRL board member and Mulgrave Town Councillor Ron Chisholm spoke to The Journal about the situation in Mulgrave on Saturday. He said that council and the ECRL did a study of library use over the past year to determine when the branch was most utilized by the community. With that information, a decision was made to close the branch over the winter.

“We put it to a vote and council agreed that we should close it over the winter months and just open it when it will be used over the summer months,” said Chisholm. He added that people wanting books could still access books through the Headquarters Office in Mulgrave.

This week a letter to the editor in this newspaper raised additional questions about the reduction in hours and the funding for the Open Library project in Guysborough. In an interview with the ECRL Board Chair, Shirley MacNamara, The Journal put forward some of the concerns of the community.

MacNamara stated that no funds from the Jim Drysdale bequest, monies earmarked for the continued operation of the Cyril Ward Memorial Library, had been used to fund the Open Library project. In several ECRL press releases about the Open Library project, funding from the Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage’s Culture Innovation Fund amounting to $88,000 was acknowledged. The full cost of implementing the project -- which included ECRL staff information-gathering trips to Europe, installation of CCTV cameras, sensors and staff hours -- were not reported in the press releases.

When asked about the reduction in service at the Mulgrave branch, MacNamara pointed out that several municipalities have reduced their funding to the ECRL in the past fiscal year. “That is certainly causing us to be very careful.”

The Journal has requested an interview with Emery as well as financial documents pertaining to ECRL operations. In response an email was received from Emery Tuesday afternoon stating: “Thank you for your emails. We're looking into the issues and questions you've raised and anticipate responding back to you early next week.”

ECRL press releases about the Open Library project are available online at the ECRL website: http://ecrl.library.ns.ca/.