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EDITORIAL: Consider these services essential

If you’re reading this in print or online right now, consider yourself fortunate because, when it comes to literacy rates in this province, there are many who can’t do what you’re doing right now.

And if you are reading this, perhaps you may have noticed two stories in The Western Star on Wednesday that help explain why there are some people who don’t have the same luxury as you. One article was about Literacy NL’s fears that federal funding cuts could shut down the organization by the end of this month. The other story, published on the same day, included the chair of the Kindale Public Library board in Stephenville addressing speculation he’s heard about provincial funding cuts to Newfoundland and Labrador’s library system. Those cuts would be over and above the clawbacks to public libraries in the last provincial budget.

Both of the stories dealt partly in speculation about budgets, but each effectively amounted to a necessary pre-emptive plea to both governments in an effort to stem what would be a literacy crisis if these services are cut any further.

When it comes to reading words, it’s the numbers that don’t lie.

The most recent Statistics Canada numbers available show that slightly less than half of the population aged 16 to 65 in this country have low literacy skills.

In this province, it’s worse: 56 per cent of our population has a literacy level below Level 3 — a Level 5 being the most proficient.

The good news is that even a one per cent increase in literacy rates can generate millions of extra dollars in economic growth. But with Newfoundland and Labrador’s budget so closely tied with the price of oil, every indication is that Budget 2015 will be a cut-and-slash one in this province — and that’s the bad news.

With the above statistics, we’d like to believe the current governments can see the literacy forest for the oil-soaked trees. We’d like to believe our politicians would consider nearly everything else before devastating entities like these even more than they already have.

The numbers show that literacy is so vital that the role libraries and groups like Literacy NL ought to be considered essential services for any population, any government. That’s why it’s so important for people not just to hope, but to speak out and for these stories to be written.

If governments can’t read the writing on the wall, they must listen to those words when we speak.

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