Greater Victoria libraries’ Internet access safe, for now

Federal access funding cut means adjustments in other areas

Despite losing a $26,000 grant for Internet service, the Greater Victoria Public Library will not be cutting any of the coveted computer stations at its branches.

“Because we are a larger system, it does impact our operating budget, but we are in the fortunate position that we can absorb the reduction,” said Maureen Sawa, CEO of GVPL. “But (for) many of our colleagues on the Island, in some of the smaller library systems on Vancouver Island, this is really going to be a blow.”

Sawa was speaking out in solidarity with these smaller libraries, which stand to lose their only public computer stations.

On March 31, the federal government cut its Community Access Program, which has helped to fund computers and Internet technologies in libraries since 1995.

According to Industry Canada, the program met its objective to make Internet accessible. It launched in an age when only 10 per cent of Canadian households had Internet service at home. As of 2010, that proportion had grown to 79 per cent.

But from the perspective of GVPL’s manager of public service, the need for computers at the library has not changed over time.

“We see no sign of that diminishing, in spite of statistics that say that a huge number of Canadians have access to Internet in their own home,” said Patricia Eaton.

The computer stations are well used and often have a queue, she said.

A wide cross-section of people use the stations, including those of limited means, students and seniors without the knowledge to set up a home computer.

The issue of the cut came to the attention of Victoria city council this week.

“All Canadians, regardless of economic status or location, should have the ability to access information and services through broadband connection to the Internet,” Coun. Pam Madoff wrote in a report. She recommended that city council write to local Members of Parliament requesting their support in reinstating the federal program. Council is due to vote on the matter today (June 7).

GVPL’s management are now looking at ways to absorb the $26,000 cut without affecting service.

“A lot of the funding that we received helped to do the upgrades to our computers,” Sawa said. “It will mean that in some of our locations, that won’t happen as quickly.”

Whether the library will ask area municipalities for an increase in its annual budget request to compensate for the cut is yet to be seen.

“We’re going to adjust some other areas,” Sawa said.

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Did you know?

• The Central Saanich branch is the smallest of the Greater Victoria Public Libraries and has five public computers. Each month, an average of 650 people log on for a session at one of these computers.

• The Central branch downtown is the largest in the system. It has 60 public computers, which are used 10,000 a month.

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