A Timeline of Major Events in the #SaveSKLibraries Campaign #skpoli #SAVEDSKLibraries

Hopefully Saskatchewan’s public libraries will never have to go through what we just went through over the past month ever again.

But I thought I’d try to document some of the various events and happenings during the multi-pronged resistance to the massive library cuts in the 2017 Saskatchewan budget (which ultimately led to the cuts being reversed after a month of protest) in case people in other jurisdictions or library school students/profs or anyone else might find value in knowing what just happened in our province.

(I mostly compiled this by scrolling backwards through the “Save SasK Libraries” Facebook group but I may have some dates/details wrong or have missed certain things.  If you have any corrections/additions, feel free to post a comment, e-mail me or send me a message on Facebook.)

Wednesday March 22, 2017
Along with numerous other cuts to public services in an austerity budget, Saskatchewan Budget Day includes a 100% cut of provincial funding to libraries in Regina and Saskatoon ($1.2 million) and cuts that are equivalent to 50-60% of the total budgets of seven regional libraries ($3.5 million).  This is especially devastating to the seven regional library systems around the province (the unique system in Northern Saskatchewan retains full funding) who are much more reliant on provincial rather than municipal funding unlike the two major cities, Regina and Saskatoon.  It is quickly clear the cuts will not serve to streamline the operations of regional libraries but will threaten their very existence.

Wednesday March 22, 2017
(This isn’t really a notable event but I have to pat myself on the back because, in my blog post the same day as the budget was released, I wrote:

There are a couple things in this budget that may get more pushback from Brad Wall’s rural base than he realises…Big cuts to rural libraries could really backfire as I’ve seen firsthand how much libraries mean in small communities.  (The anecdote in libraries is that the men on council will try to cut library funding since they never use it but then their wives will get wind of the cuts and suddenly funding gets restored!)
[Edit: At the time, I couldn’t remember if that anecdote was a bit of an urban legend or based in fact.  I have since been told by a former colleague in rural Saskatchewan that it actually happened.]

Thursday March 23, 2017
The “Support Sask Libraries” (later “Save Sask Libraries”) Facebook group is formed by two women who are from Rabbit Lake, Saskatchewan (population 113). It attracts 500 members within the first 8 hours, 1500 within the first 24 hours, and over 7000 within a month.  The group becomes the main focal point for a variety of activities – letter-writing campaigns, planning “Drop Everything and Read” protests, collecting stories of the library’s impact on people across Saskatchewan and around the world as well as responses received from MLAs (including those with factual errors, spelling errors, and promises of MLAs to look up letter writers in party databases then provide “EPIC” responses!)

The group’s admins make some tough decisions in the early days – to focus completely on posts and discussion relating to library funding cuts (even though there are many other important issues deserving attention), to be completely non-partisan, to be ruthless with trolls, anyone arguing, or otherwise undermining the purpose of the page, to (mostly!) not encourage memes that make fun of the government or the Sask Party MLAs. 😉

Saturday March 25, 2017 
A hastily arranged protest in Victoria Park in downtown Regina, Saskatchewan draws a crowd of over 100 people to hear speeches from NDP MLA and Education Critic, Carla Beck and others including authors, former library workers, and local activists.

(Not Sure of The Exact Date But It Happened Early In Process)
CUPE Saskatchewan launches the SaveSaskLibraries.ca web site which allows people to easily email the Premier and Education Minister, provides news and advocacy materials, and is home for a non-binding petition that collects thousands of signatures and is regularly read in the Saskatchewan Legislature.

Monday March 27, 2017 
Less than a week after the budget, it is announced that six staff at Palliser Regional Library Headquarters are being laid off, effective the end of May.

Monday March 27, 2017
A post on this blog refuting one of the government’s main talking points that Saskatchewan has too many libraries per capita (“Saskatchewan has too many libraries” say MLA.  “Saskatchewan has too many MLAs” says Librarian) is shared by dozens of people on social media and becomes my most viewed post of all-time with thousands of views from around Saskatchewan and across Canada within 24-hours.

Monday March 27, 2017
A petition drive is started which, under the Saskatchewan Referendum & Plebiscite Act (and which is possibly a unique or at least uncommon piece of legislation in Canada?) will force the issue of the library cuts to be put to a referendum if 115,000 signatures (15% of registered voters) can be collected.

Tuesday March 28, 2017
NDP MLA, Ryan Meili, posts an essay on his Facebook page about what libraries meant to him growing up on a farm in the Palliser region and what the cuts could mean for Saskatchewan.

Thursday March 30 to Friday March 31
An email blitz organized by the “Save Sask Libraries” group shuts down Don Morgan’s email server for an extended period.

Sunday April 3, 2017
Saskatoon Public Library releases a graphically appealing, easy-to-read, and fact-filled “Report to Our Community” explaining the role the library serves in the cultural, educational, recreational and economic life of the city.

Monday April 3, 2017
The six laid-off Palliser staff are introduced in the Saskatchewan Legislature and later scrum for the media.  One of the laid-off staff members is later interviewed nationally on CBC’s “As It Happens” radio program.

Monday April 3, 2017
The Saskatchewan Library Association creates an “information clearing house” page to collect various news releases, advocacy materials, media coverage and more. (I’m not sure when their page was started but the Saskatchewan Library Trustees Association has a similar page collecting information related to the cuts and their own press releases.)

Monday April 3, 2017
Saskatchewan’s library systems announce that in one week’s time, they’ll be ending the province’s unique and innovative SILS “library-to-library” lending program which allows anyone in the province to borrow items from any other public library anywhere in the province and which was originally funded by the Sask Party in 2010 who provided $5.2 million in initial funding.

Tuesday April 4, 2017
Education Minister Don Morgan urges libraries to keep the library-to-library loan system running but offers no additional money to do so.

Friday April 7, 2017
The Sask Library Association releases a document to counter some of the government’s main talking points about why they cut funding to libraries.

Friday April 7, 2017
Thousands of people at 85 locations across Saskatchewan participate in “Drop Everything and Read” read-in protests at MLA offices, public libraries and other locations across the province.  The protests are the largest in a generation and not one but two hashtags for the event (#dearSK and #saveSKLibraries) become top trending hashtags in Canada that day.

Sunday April 9, 2017
Well-known Saskatchewan author, Trevor Herriot, writes an opinion piece for the Globe & Mail entitled: “Saskatchewan Should Take Note: Libraries Are Sanctuaries of Civil Society” evoking some of what he’s witnessed firsthand as the Regina Public Library writer-in-residence.

Monday April 10, 2017
The ability for library patrons to place holds on items from other regions is turned off provincewide.

Monday April 10, 2017
As soon as the cuts were announced and then, throughout the entire process, NDP MLA and Education Critic, Carla Beck led the opposition to the library cuts from within the Legislature (including the preceding clip which features Ms. Beck speaking in the House after the DEAR protests) – speaking at rallies, calling the Minister to account in Question Period and grilling him in committee.  Saskatchewan’s library cuts also got some attention in the House of Parliament in Ottawa.

Monday April 10, 2017
A library patron comes up with an ingenious form of protest.  With the library-to-library lending program between Saskatchewan library systems turned off, a Saskatoon patron decides to return a Moose Jaw book to her local MLA, Eric Olauson, and ask him to return it for her then posts updates on the “Save Sask Libraries” Facebook group about the book’s (lack of) progress in getting back to its home.

Monday April 10, 2017
Perhaps angry at the patron asking him to return a book for her, MLA Eric Olauson accidentally hits “Reply All” when responding to another constituent who expressed a concern about library funding cuts.  His reply says he’s going to look up the constituent in a private Sask Party database and provide an “EPIC” response.  At the Premier’s request, he later apologies saying he “mis-typed”.

Wednesday April 12, 2017
The Eric Olauson story makes the national news via CBC’s “At It Happens” who interview the constituent who received the erroneous “Reply All” email.

Wednesday April 12, 2017, Thursday April 13, 2017
Regina Public Library hosts two information sessions to explain some of the history of public libraries in Saskatchewan, the legislation governing libraries, what the cuts mean for Regina Public Library as well as the regional system going forward and answer questions from the general public.  As part of the information sessions, they also post “What’s Being Said?” Fact Sheets to correct some misconceptions about libraries.

Saturday April 15, 2017
Southeast Regional Library holds its AGM.  Library trustees approve a one-time increase to the library levy to get the region through to the end of the year as well as a variety of cost-saving measures right down to the elimination of janitorial services.

Sunday April 16, 2017
Independent journalist Tammy Robert (whose influential OurSask.ca blog is widely read by politicians and others in the media), writes a blog post entitled “Screwing With A 100 Year Old System: A Brief History of Public Libraries in Saskatchewan” which ends with her musing why a political party would do so much damage to themselves over such a (relatively) small budget amount.

Thursday April 20, 2017
Christine Freethy, the founder of the “Save Sask Libraries” Facebook group posts a video message encouraging people to start forming their own local support groups for their libraries.

Thursday April 20, 2017
A laid-off employee of Parkland Regional Library writes a blog post which contains perhaps the most unique analogy of this entire process – public libraries are like the Tardis in Dr. Who. 😉

Friday April 21, 2017
Seeing a twenty point drop in his popularity in the wake of the budget and facing some other potential scandals, Premier Brad Wall announces that he’s asked Education Minister, Don Morgan, to review the library funding issue and report back within a week.

Saturday April 22, 2017
At their AGM, Chinook Regional Library announces that they will have to close all but nine of their thirty-two branches by the end of June if funding is not restored.

Saturday April 22, 2017
Former Reform MP and first-ever leader of the Sask Party, Elwin Hermanson weighs into the fray (on April 13) suggesting on his Facebook and Twitter that people who support libraries should “donate” to keep them operating.  When the “Save Sask Libraries” group realises that his Facebook post is Public about a week and a half later on April 22, they swarm his page with comments to “correct the record”.  (This development also leads to my fifth post to get over 1000 views in the past month!) 😉

Monday April 24, 2017
Less than one working day after the Premier requests a review of the library funding issue, the Sask Party government admits it made a “mistake” and that it will be restoring full 2016 level funding to both urban and rural library systems without any restrictions or conditions.  Most regions immediately announce the reversal of planned layoffs and the work is begun to reverse the changes that have already been put in place to restrict lending between libraries within the province.

Monday April 24, 2017
At the time of the announcement of the restoration of funding, the legally binding petition that was circulating had around 20,000 signatures, 20% of the way to its goal after less than a month in existence (and they’re going to keep the signatures since their is no time frame for collecting for a petition).  The “Save Sask Libraries” group had 7200+ members.  Many other advocacy ideas were also being quietly planned behind the scenes.

Saturday April 29, 2017
A planned rally at the Swift Current office of Premier Brad Wall will still go forward. But its focus is changed to be a party instead of a protest!


In books, there is often an Afterword.  So why not have one for this timeline as well?

Afterword
I’ve never been more disappointed in my province than I was when the recent Saskatchewan budget was released with millions in cuts to libraries, education, healthcare, transportation, municipalities, regional parks, and numerous other services that are particularly heavily used by the least fortunate among us (while people in the highest tax brackets and corporations receive tax cuts) during a time when we’re all (supposedly) sharing the pain.

But I’ve never been more proud of how so many people came together – at all levels and from everywhere in the province – to save the province’s libraries.

I said near the start that I had predicted the cuts to libraries would surprise the Sask Party with the backlash that would result.  Now, I’ll make another prediction – these cuts (especially to libraries) have been a political awakening for many people who have never before written to their MLA, read a word of Hansard, or attended a protest.

Many are saying people have short memories and this will all be forgotten by the next election in 2020.  I’m not so sure – I think this decision, even though it was ultimately reversed, is going to haunt the Sask Party for a long time.

Here’s one of many memorable (and telling) images from the past month – protesters outside the Sask Party Provincial Office with Regina Public Library’s Sherwood Village Branch in the background during the April 7 “Drop Everything and Read” protests.

Let’s hope some of the Sask Party MLAs and staff take the opportunity to stroll next door and get a sense of the important role a modern public library plays in society in so many different ways – not just by circulating books but by being a community hub, an economic driver and yes, Minister Morgan, even as a sanctuary for so many.

This is clearly something the people of Saskatchewan – young and old, rural and urban, conservative and liberal value greatly.

Comments 2

  1. Jan SMith wrote:

    Can I put this blog on our about us page of the website. We are putting up some of the letters, the press releases and other information for our RMS and any inters ted parties ad this is a good summary of the past 6 weeks.
    Thanks
    Jan

    Posted 05 May 2017 at 2:11 pm
  2. HeadTale wrote:

    Sure, no problem!

    Is it possible for you to put a link back to my site or mention my site as the source?

    Also, is there anything I missed that you think I should add on the timeline?

    Posted 07 May 2017 at 8:50 am

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