ECRL addresses concerns about staffing and use of funds

By Lois Ann Dort    

GUYSBOROUGH – Last week a letter to the Editor of this newspaper raised concerns about a reduction of staff hours for the month of November in Guysborough, the funding of the new Open Library system in Guysborough, and the use of funds left to the Guysborough library by the Jim Drysdale bequest. In addition to the reduction of hours in Guysborough, there was also an announcement on the Eastern Counties Regional Library website stating that the Mulgrave Branch of the library system would be closed until the summer of 2020; leading to questions about the closure of the facility over the winter.

The Journal had requested information from the CEO of the Eastern Counties Regional Library Laura Emery last week, but answers were not available before the paper went to press on Tuesday, November 12, 2019. An email was received that day stating that questions would be addressed the following week.

Later in the week, the hours at the Guysborough Branch of the ECRL were restored.

This Tuesday, CEO Emery has answered the concerns and questions posed last week in a detailed email. In regard to the reduced hours in Guysborough for the month of November Emery explained, “Staffed hours were temporarily impacted due to staff being on approved leaves and difficulty finding suitable replacements. We restored regular staffed hours as of November 13th, 2019.”

In last week’s article in this newspaper, it was reported that ECRL Board Chair Shirley McNamara stated that no monies from the Drysdale bequest were used in funding the Open Library project in Guysborough. Emery clarified this information as follows, “For the 2018-2019 budget year $22,033 dollars from the bequest was used for staffing to implement the Open Library system at the Cyril Ward Library. In 2019-2020 an additional $8,696 will be used to work on the Open Library. There have been no other funds from the Drysdale bequest used for the Open Library project. To clarify, our Board Chair, Shirley McNamara thought she was being asked if any of the Open Library technology had been purchased using funds from the Drysdale bequest and she answered correctly that they had not.”

Questions were also raised last week about the funding for the information gathering trip to Denmark ECRL staffers took to become familiar with the new Open Library program in Guysborough. ECRL budget and board meeting minutes provided by Emery this week indicate that a $5500 grant, specifically intended to fund the trip, was used to meet those costs. Emery’s email addressed this issue as well stating, “I sought and obtained $5000 in funding from provincial library organizations. Deputy Chief Librarian, Patricia McCormick was awarded the APLA (Atlantic Provinces Library Association) Memorial Award ($500), an award given to support library related research which was also put toward expenses. The ECRL Board contributed $5,199.31 to cover the rest of the costs of this trip to Denmark for the three project team members.”

Emery also wrote a detailed explanation of the decision to close the Mulgrave Branch throughout the winter and what town patrons can expect in terms of service over the coming months.

“The Town of Mulgrave pays ECRL rent for their library space which ECRL then uses for their library’s staff salary. The Mulgrave Library circulated 1,416 items in the 2018-2019 year. Paying $16,500 in yearly rent with such low use and with Mulgrave’s many community priorities didn’t make sense. ECRL worked respectfully and in partnership with Mulgrave to find a service solution that was more affordable, and yet still maintained a valuable service in the community.

“A summer opening means that youth will have access to books and library services when they are on their school holiday. Both ECRL and the Town agreed that supporting youth and being open during the busy months, when family returns home to visit, was vital. ECRL’s difficulty is that without the rent monies we don’t have the staff necessary to provide yearlong library services but we care and want everyone to be able to get books.

“Our headquarters is located in Mulgrave and staff there do essential work that supports our ten locations across our three Counties. They have been providing books to a few seniors in Mulgrave with transportation issues. They also help the general public with photocopying and faxing services. There is no public computer access available.

“It is true that staff would try to help anyone that came looking for a specific book but as much as possible ECRL is redirecting people to the Port Hawkesbury Library. It is fifteen minutes away and offers the full range of library services. We don’t advertise on our website or Facebook page what we are doing for the Mulgrave residents because we don’t want to encourage people from outside of Mulgrave to visit expecting public library services. If anyone in Mulgrave is having difficulty, they are welcome to get in touch with me at our headquarters location and we’ll try and figure something out,” wrote Emery about the situation at the Mulgrave Branch library.

Emery wrote in closing, “The support of provincial library organizations and the investment on the part of the ECRL Board is prudent in light of the critical importance of the Open Library project. We are trying to build a future for rural public library service across Nova Scotia that would make the library truly available to everyone.”

In addition to issues raised last week, there have been questions raised about access to the Canso Library Resource Centre. In board meeting minutes from September 2019, a question of insurance coverage led to the board advising the Resource Society that they were “not to allow other groups into the building.”

This past Monday, a conference call meeting resolved the insurance concerns. Municipality of the District of Guysborough Warden Vernon Pitts said in an interview Tuesday that the issue had been resolved in consultation with two insurance companies. “There is no issue in regard to community use by various community groups. A policy will be developed, and we should be dealing with that the first part of December. We just want to ensure we keep track of who is using it (the Canso Library Resource Centre).

“It’s great to get a resolution by working with the Library Board and MODG, working as a team together, we got this moved through the process. It was a very positive outcome; it’s good for the community, good for the library and good for the MODG,” said Pitts adding that any groups using the facility enhance the community building function of the space.