Feds cut funding for public library computers

CRD chair doubts fed funding cut will hurt public computer access

Libraries in the province have lost the federal funding for providing public Internet access.

In the recent federal budget, the Conservative government cut funding of $515,000 for community access programs in British Columbia libraries.

Cariboo-Chilcotin NDP candidate Charlie Wyse is calling on federal MPs to restore computer access funds to local libraries.

“Locally, these cuts affect 15 libraries in the Cariboo region. These libraries – in larger centres like Quesnel, Williams Lake, and 100 Mile House and in rural communities from Bridge Lake to Anahim Lake to Nazko – have lost the funds that provided computers, software and Internet access for use by the public.”

While the federal government is responsible for this cut, he says local governments will have to squeeze their own budgets to make up for the loss.

“Larger libraries may be able to reallocate funds to cover this loss, but small libraries don’t have that choice. They relied completely on the federal grant to provide this service.”

However, Cariboo Regional District (CRD) chair Al Richmond says it is unlikely there will be any service cuts to public Internet access at its three regional branches and 12 community libraries in the Cariboo.

“Our chief librarian [Colleen Smith] feels access to the Internet is key. It’s well utilized and it’s well worth it.”

CRD directors are looking at the impacts now, which, he explains, will range from a $15,000- to $22,000-hit each year to the total budget for the Cariboo-Chilcotin.

“For the present time, we’ve just reconfigured. We’re not going to be removing that access, but it will cost us money.”

Meanwhile, Wyse says people in remote areas are disproportionately affected as many do not have Internet service available to them at home, and the library is often the only local place offering them public access to an online computer.

Richmond adds he disputes the federal government’s premise that less than two per cent of residents will remain without access to the Internet by this summer.

“The numbers may indicate that, but certainly in the real rural areas that’s not the case.

“We just need to make that case back to feds and say: ‘look we think it’s a very important program, and perhaps you need to look at the areas and target more rural areas rather having it in every library around’.”

He adds this will likely take the form of a letter to the federal government as well as speaking directly to local MPs.

Meanwhile, the CRD is inviting all its residents to complete a survey of its smaller, rural community library services.

Anyone living within reasonable range of one of its 12 Community Library Branches is asked to complete the survey, whether they use the library.

South Cariboo community libraries are located in Bridge Lake, Forest Grove and Lac la Hache.

The survey is available online at www.cln.bc.ca or can be picked up at any CRD branch library.