July 21, 2005

Shockingly Provincial

What's that saying about giving with one hand and taking away with the other?

While I was delighted that the same-sex marriage bill finally became law this week, I was distressed to learn yesterday that Canada Post, one of our Crown corporations, is proposing to eliminate the Library Mail Rate, also known as the Library Book Rate, first established in 1939. If Canada Post gets its way, the rate would jump next April from under $1 for each book to as much as $14 each. This is progress?

The huge rate increase will, of course, come as a tremendous blow to rural libraries and their patrons. Especially those patrons who are home educating. Our family orders in hundreds of books every year by interlibrary loan (ILL), because our small town library has an exceedingly limited selection.

I suppose I wouldn't be as upset about this if the jump wasn't so dramatic, and if Canada Post's library rate didn't include only books; in fact, until 2003 we were able to get audiovisual materials by ILL, but that came to an end because the Library Mail Rate includes only books and Alberta libraries couldn't afford the usual unsubsidized postal rates. Canadian readers might be surprised to learn that down south, the U.S. Postal Service not only has a special Media Rate, once (and sometimes still by old-timers) called Book Rate, including books as well as "film, manuscripts, sound recordings, videotapes, and computer media (such as CDs, DVDs, and diskettes)", but also has an even further discounted rate just for libraries. How 'bout that? If anything, we'd like the Library Mail Rate extended, not cut back. That, my friends at CP, of which I as a taxpayer am a shareholder, would be progress.

Typically, Canada Post is spinning this as a "good business" decision. According to a CP spokeswoman, maintaining the special library book rate isn't efficient: "The bottom line is: we are a business and it is our mandate to operate as a business so that we are not a drain on the taxpayers." She added that CP would lose $13 million a year if it continues to offer libraries the subsidized rate. However, Don Butcher, executive director of the Canadian Library Association, pointed out that "A $13-million project in a multibillion-dollar corporation ... isn't a whole lot of money." Making another good point, Mr. Butcher said that CP's legislation "also says that [it has] a duty to a public or a social good, so it's well within their mandate to continue a special rate for libraries." Hmm, libraries as a public or a social good. What a very novel idea!

What to do? Talk to your librarian, write to your MP, notify your small town newspaper (ours never seems to know about news until after it's happened), and tell your bookloving friends. A letter to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, the Hon. Liza Frulla, can't hurt, either; after all, some of us actually ILL books about Canadian heritage and history. I might even plump for a stamp and send her a letter by Canada Post, just to make more of an impression. In addition to that, I'm also going to join the board of our local library. It's something I've been meaning to do for a while -- I'm already on the Friends of the Library board for fundraising -- but was having trouble finding the time. With Canada Post's new salvo, I'll have to make the time.

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