Libraries in St John’s

Contributed by David Brake.


Newfoundland made national headlines in April last year when the province proposed to cut $1m from the libraries’ $12m budget (which has not kept pace with inflation since 2011) and in response the library board suggested closing more than half of the smaller libraries across the province (though none in St John’s). Public outrage was such that an independent report was commissioned and public consultations were held. The report revealed that libraries in the province receive 42% less per head than the national average, even though by some measures NL has the country’s lowest levels of literacy. It noted however that more than 80% of library funding across Canada comes from municipalities, while here municipal contributions (across the whole province) are about 8%.

The St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre, home to the A.C. Hunter Public Library.

Province vs municipality

Libraries in Newfoundland and Labrador are a provincial responsibility but the province will be negotiating with the municipalities to change this as part of plans for a comprehensive review of cities’ powers and responsibilities. Municipalities NL says cities are presently not allowed to fund day to day running of libraries, though they do give space in their buildings and support special library programs. Many cities outside of the NE Avalon peninsula will also be facing significant future bills to pay for long-neglected wastewater treatment, and they will be reluctant to take on partial or complete funding responsibility for libraries.

Nonetheless, the Friends of the St John’s Library and the St John’s library board are calling on the city to do just that. The city already provides occasional ad-hoc funding for library activities but these groups say the city should allocate consistent ‘line item’ funding to the library system in its budget with a view to raising funding for the libraries here to the national average. This would cost St John’s around $1.6m a year (if the province does not itself raise the library budget) – to put this in perspective, the city spent $302m in 2016.

The Athenaeum, an early downtown library lost to the fire of 1892.

A new central library for St John’s?

In 2014 Halifax opened a $57m central library downtown including an auditorium, coffee shop and music studio. Inspired by the success of that building and other new libraries that have been built across the country, a group of citizens has formed to campaign for a library in downtown St John’s as well, and the library board and friends of the library both call for this. Several candidates, including incumbent council members have endorsed the idea in principle. A third of the cost of Halifax’s library was paid by the federal government and 22% by the province – it is not clear who would foot the bill for a central library here.

Friends of the St John’s Public Library is hosting a ‘meet the candidates’ event at 13:00 on Saturday 16th at the A C Hunter library where candidates will talk about their vision of the city’s role in public libraries. It is one of the few public events remaining where a large number of ward and at large candidates as well as mayoral candidates will be attending.

  1. September 19, 2017 by Judy Gibson

    I find it incredible that one answer to this question calls a downtown library a ‘colossal waste of real estate and money’. The top cities in the world, in every country, have a central library; and often, a number of them. This answer makes me furious. Without a daily national paper (hard copy/newsprint) serving the Province, we need to get our education from books. The Internet is only useful if one already knows part of the answer!!–‘trolling for news’ will bring abundant advertisements and lots of opinions of ‘know-it all’s’ who know not very much, but are happy to express their point of view nevertheless. If we believe in getting an education, books always were, and always will be, the most valuable resource we have…they have been ‘tested’ by time and by keen minds analyzing their accounts of events and of people; and the Internet is useful too, in helping one find resources. Books, books, books, newspapers, magazines, etc.: they create jobs and educate us all. Forget developing centres of cities, make the centres vibrant and useful: build libraries.

  2. September 15, 2017 by BB90

    A central library should replace the existing A.C. Hunter Library! The building is crumbling, it inaccessible to those with disabilities, and has heat problems in the summer. A new building, close to downtown like many other cities have would benefit all of St. John’s.
    This, as well as putting money in the the buildings of the existing west end and east end libraries.
    Putting municipal money into the current libraries in St. John’s will free up funds for smaller libraries around the bay – we can afford to help pay for our libraries, where they cannot. It benefits everyone.

  3. September 15, 2017 by Ryan

    People live downtown as well.

    • September 15, 2017 by Leo

      Certainly they do! It’s also where several buses easily run through and bring riders to the MUN or West End area. Adding a large library to a newer, developing area where the infrastructure costs and such would be much lower makes more sense and could be incorporated into a large park space, which the city has done little about in decades.

  4. September 14, 2017 by Leo

    I think a library downtown is a colossal waste of real estate and money. There are no shortages of libraries in the city, if anything, further development of the existing libraries would be a benefit: no one from the west end will go downtown to get a book. Few in the east end will. However, I do believe it should be a municipal responsibility, not provincial, and I do believe that should be reflected in slightly lower provincial taxes (very slight, obviously) to allow for municipalities to raise additional funds through taxation.

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