Mediator in library dispute calls for public comment

·3 min read

SHERBROOKE – The consultant appointed by the provincial government to mediate in a dispute between the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s and Eastern Counties Regional Library Board is looking for public input.

Davis Pier, which was hired last month to help resolve a 16-month funding and service disagreement between the two parties related to the Sherbrooke Library, was scheduled to stage community consultations on Monday and Tuesday of this week (Aug. 8 and 9) between 8-9 p.m. at the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s Council Chambers in Sherbrooke.

The announcement — which appeared for the first time on the municipality’s website and Facebook page on Aug. 5 — also indicated that the public was welcome to “provide feedback by email until Friday, August 12.”

Specifically, it said, “Davis Pier is hosting a community conversation. They want to hear directly from library users and community members. When and why do you go to your library? When and why do you take your children to your library? What might help you choose to go to your library more often? What services do you need from your library? Are these services available when you go to your library? When is the best time for you to go to your library?”

The notice added: “Davis Pier is focused on understanding your needs for your local library. We value your input and look forward to hearing from you. Your feedback will contribute to our recommendations for library services available to you.”

St. Mary’s council and ECRL have been at loggerheads since the latter — which serves Guysborough, Richmond and Inverness counties, with about $960,000 in provincial and $234,000 in municipal funding (2020-21) — announced a new cost-service regime in March 2021. Under the formula, St. Mary’s would be required to pay an additional $10,531 per year ($27,458 compared with the previous $16,927) to maintain the Sherbrooke branch’s 25 hours of weekly operations open to the public.

In February, council sent a letter to Communities, Culture, Tourism and Heritage Minister Pat Dunn asking that it be allowed to either “stand alone, as its own entity” or “join a library system that is more responsive to community needs … Conflicting budget numbers, inaccurate reporting, non-responses to legitimate queries, as well as a completely condescending verbal attitude towards the Council and the general public during an informational meeting have brought us to this point.”

In an email last month, Department of Communities, Culture, Tourism and Heritage spokesperson Mikaela Etchegary told The Journal: “Due to the complexity of the situation, the skillset required, and the need to address the conflict in a timely manner, Davis Pier was selected to conduct the review. [It] has successfully worked with Nova Scotia’s public libraries in the past and has sufficient knowledge of the sector and the capacity to complete this work in a competent and expedited manner.”

According to last week’s notice, “Davis Pier Consulting is a homegrown Nova Scotia consulting firm hired to make recommendations on improving your library services. We understand how important libraries are in rural communities and we are aware of some of the challenges in providing services to library users.”

For its services between June 24 and Sept. 15, Pier will receive just less than $40,000. Comments may be emailed to Project Manager at James.Brown@davispier.ca. until Friday, Aug. 12.

Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal