Increased funding for rural libraries in this year’s budget was highlighted by Manitoba Sport, Culture and Heritage Minister Cathy Cox during a visit to Thompson with cabinet colleague Conservation and Climate Minister Sarah Guillemard.
Speaking at the Thompson Public Library Oct. 22, Cox said the budget included $769,000 in additional funding for rural libraries, including $600,000 being distributed on a per capita basis, $100,000 to help support the long-term stability and sustainability of the library sector and $69,000 for all Manitoba library systems to have access to resources and services thought the Centre for Equitable Library Access (CELA), a nonprofit organization that offers access to library resources for people with print disabilities.
Cox, whose father is legally blind, said the investment is the first provincial funding increase for Manitoba libraries since 2004.
“This will ensure that all Manitobans have a place where they can safely gather to broaden their knowledge and expand their horizons through reading, research and community activities,” Cox said.
Thompson library administrator Cheryl Davies said the $19,560 her library is receiving as a result of the budget increase will help ensure that the library can purchase items that patrons want and pay staff who are vital for children’s programming and help with services such as internet access, computer use and printing.
“As funding remained stable and wasn’t increasing, we had to constantly make the decision between increasing the resources that we have to offer and paying to keep good quality staff,” Davies said.
She noted that CELA is something many libraries couldn’t afford on their own.
“Provincial access to CELA … is a huge bonus for library patrons. CELA allows patrons to access materials from the comfort of their own homes simply by having a local library card. We are just so grateful that this is something that is now being funded for all libraries in Manitoba.”
Guillemard was part of the provincial government’s library review four years ago.
“To be here and to see the recipients happy to have been listened to and heard is very rewarding to me.”
Funding increases show that lobbying the provincial government pays off, said Thompson Mayor Colleen Smook and Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM) northern director Kathy Valentino, who is Thompson’s deputy mayor.
“Cheryl always put a bug in my ear [when I went to AMM meetings], let’s get upgraded funding for the library,” said Smook. “While it’s taken a while we have been listened to. It shows that when you do advocate and you do show partnerships that it does reward and pay off.”
“Local libraries provide valuable services to all Manitobans and act as community hubs,” said Valentino, noting that the COVID-19 pandemic and increased offerings of e-services by private businesses and all levels of government have made access to free internet vital for people who can’t afford it at home.
Davies said having a little more money for programming and staff after a difficult period for libraries due to pandemic-related closures is an extra bonus.
“When you’re a library, it’s all about people. It was very difficult to be closed. We are thrilled that we’re coming out of the pandemic and we can start to have people through the doors and interact with people again.”