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Library closures “more symbolic than economically driven”

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Dear Dwight Ball and Cathy Bennett,

Everywhere I go I hear people talking about the proposed tax on books and the closure of libraries. Taxi drivers, waitresses, students, retired people, professors, secretaries, doctors, nurses, and teachers, grocery clerks, teenagers, elementary school children. 

I have been taking note because though I am devastated by the proposal of these cuts, I have to admit I was afraid my disappointment might have something to do with the fact that I live and breathe books. As a writer and a teacher of creative writing, I am engaged with books pretty much all day long. 

But it seems that everyone feels the same. These cuts have the power to severely damage literacy in this province, and yet they offer the government very little financial return. 

They are, in fact, more symbolic than economically driven. They seem to say: we will level everything no matter the intrinsic value of those things to individuals and communities, no matter how little money saved; no matter how much is lost. 

But these cuts have also come to symbolize the bulldozing, wrong-headedness of the whole budget.

Literature matters to the people of Newfoundland very much; books matter to the people here; libraries matter. 

I am, in fact, writing this letter with my daughter, Eva. She shows me a photograph on her phone of the library bulletin board in Bell Island, covered with snapshots of children using books. Looking at the pictures in the books, reading them, engaged in a variety of activities held by the library. A stuffed tiger with his arms spread to suggest it might be king of all the stories in that library. 

The government has said that people can replace visiting a library with finding literature online. 

Eva flicks through more pictures of libraries – the one on Fogo Island, the one in Greenspond. She reminds me that in many communities people go to libraries in order to access the Internet – and access to the Internet has recently been recognized as a right

At the same time, the government is dead wrong when it suggests libraries can be replaced with Internet browsing and that is because they are curated spaces. Librarians choose books that are relevant to the communities they serve. Librarians help people find resources, both online and offline, that they would not necessarily be able to find their own. Resources that allow them to find employment, complete school projects, identify local birds and lichen or discover the novel that reflects their experiences and changes their lives.

Libraries are also community hubs — they host visiting authors, teach children arts and crafts, have games night, celebrate holidays and share tea buns.

 The cuts to libraries and the tax on books threaten the very essence of what we all want to save, what is unique and powerful about this place: who we are as reflected in the stories we tell. 

As a child in grade four I went to the A.C. Hunter Library every single day after school. Sometimes the librarians showed NFB film shorts and gave us apple juice and cookies. They held contests to see who could read the most books and offered a prize. They had Highlights magazine and I always waited for the new one. And I read there, so lost in young adult novels I sometimes forgot to meet my father, who was waiting in the car outside. 

As a young mother, I took my children there and we read the picture books, the cellophane covers crinkling. Or better still, the librarian read to a crowd of children on the story carpet, holding the illustrations out, balanced on her knee, changing her voice to suit the different characters.  As a writer, I have been a guest in libraries all over the province, asked to read in book clubs, and discuss literature with the people who gathered there for that purpose.

The cuts to libraries and the tax on books threaten the very essence of what we all want to save, what is unique and powerful about this place: who we are as reflected in the stories we tell. 

And it is a cut against the next generation, our children and grandchildren. It is a cut that will make it harder for those children to tell their stories, or to read them. 

Newfoundlanders and Labradorians from all walks of life feel that cut and are enraged by it. While these cuts are a very real financial threat to literacy in the province, to the quality of life here, the cultural fabric of this province, the local publishing industry, bookstores, book buyers, library goers and writers, these cuts also have a significant symbolic power. 

This government is saying that a commodity is a commodity. A pair of socks is the same as a book. A pack of smokes is the same as a book.  A budget should be a dialogue. This budget came together quickly. Now there is time to listen to the public response. But the government seems to be digging in its heels on the tax on books and the closure of libraries. This refusal to listen makes me think there’s a cynicism at work in this cut. Surely this is a time for showing flexibility and respect for the culture here. 

Our stories reflect who we are and why people will stay here – those born here and those that have chosen this place. 

Sincerely,

Lisa Moore and Eva Crocker

Lisa Moore is a Newfoundland writer who lives in St.John’s. She teaches creative writing at Memorial University. Eva Crocker is a writer living in St. John’s.

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