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Another communication breakdown

Budget discrepancy shows disconnect between Whistler council and library board



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"I've seen this movie before. We pontificate and make all these grandiose statements and, 'Let's work together.' We know that the work's already been done. The library board has spent hours, the mashing of teeth, the wringing of hands to figure out how we're going to solve this problem."

He added, "Communication is a two-way street and one party needs to listen. And that's council."

"We're totally open to anything that they can come up with," said library board chair Alix Nicoll. "We've scraped the barrel as far as we possibly can do, which is why we're going to close the library. We don't have an option to put up prices because we don't charge anything."

The Whistler library is facing an issue haunting many others across North America: municipalities don't necessarily have the money to be funding 100 per cent of the operating costs in this new economic climate. This raises the issue that Councillor Eckhard Zeidler commented on at the Dec. 21 council meeting - perhaps the expectation that taxpayers are the only funding source for libraries should be examined.

On one hand, the library board represents the traditional view (and legal view, as articulated by the Library Act) that all libraries should provide information free of costs.

"Public libraries are free," Forsyth said. "That's why people of all stripes and all political persuasions support public libraries, because they're the ultimate bootstrap mechanism for society. They level the playing field. If you want to go better yourself, public libraries are available for your use."

On the other hand, the RMOW administrative staff is telling the library board to find other ways to cover that shortfall, even if it means selling out their "free information" principle in exchange for keeping the library open seven days a week.

One way to do this may be to charge for Internet usage on library computers.

According to the Library Act, a library cannot charge its members for borrowing its materials and must provide free access to all reference materials. The Act was written long before electronic information was a reality, so charging for time on the Internet is not explicitly covered. The Act is currently under revision, but it could take years for a full revision to be completed.

In any case, the library board views an Internet-usage fee as against the spirit of the Library Act. It goes against their philosophy that all information should be freely available to everyone, although they currently charge non-residents $1 per hour after the first hour.