The outcry from lovers of books and life-long learning is “heartening” in the wake of the province’s deep cuts to two Ontario library agencies last week, the CEO of Newmarket Public Library said.
While the impact of the budget slashing to the Southern Ontario Library Service (SOLS) and Ontario Library Service North (OLSN) is not as extreme for Newmarket library patrons as it is for smaller libraries and rural, northern and Indigeneous communities, Todd Kyle said the public is joining library staff across the country to speak out against the province’s move.
“There is shock, concern and quite a lot of dismay, particularly because of the magnitude of the cut. The response from the public is heartening,” said Kyle.
Online petitions now circulating urge the province to reverse the cuts, as are social media #SaveOurLibraries posts.
More than 21,200 signatures have been gathered on this change.org petition "Stop the cuts":
"SOLS is fundamental to libraries' abilities to serve their communities, as places where everyone can empower themselves and enrich their lives.
"We call on The Honourable Michael Tibollo, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport, Premier Doug Ford, and the Ontario Government to reconsider and rescind these cuts. We must ensure all public libraries in Ontario are able to provide the services we need for the people of Ontario, our healthy communities, and a functioning democracy," writes petition organizer Shauna Costache.
People should care when library funds are cut, Kyle said.
“Libraries play such an important role in our communities, and books are only a small part of it. They are centres for life learning and community development. And even a small change in the availability of resources affects equity of access,” he said.
Kyle also serves as vice-chair of the Canadian Federation of Library Associations, which is drafting a response to Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport Michael Tibollo, who announced last week that funding to SOLS and OLSN would be cut by 50 per cent.
Tibollo promised to maintain base funding for libraries, referring to SOLS and OLSN as “arms-length agencies that have no involvement in the day-to-day operations of Ontario’s public libraries.”
While the majority of Newmarket Public Library’s $3.5-million annual budget is funded by the Town of Newmarket ($3.2 million), Kyle said, SOLS and OLSN provided efficiencies and cost savings for libraries by coordinating interlibrary loans, offering professional training for staff, and negotiating contracts for the purchase of digital resources.
In 2018, just under 2,500 loans were made through SOLS for Newmarket library patrons, while the Newmarket library provided 3,000 loans to other libraries, he said.
“In our library, the (SOLS) loans tended to be for things that were more obscure,” Kyle said, such as out-of-print editions, and academic and archival materials.
He added he used the SOLS service himself when conducting genealogical research to access difficult-to-find books about Acadian settlements in Nova Scotia.
It’s likely the cuts will impact the availability and cost of e-resources. Libraries have become community hubs in recent years, adding access to digital resources and learning to their catalogues of print books and magazines.
And, undoubtedly, book clubs that require access to multiple copies of the same book will be affected by the cuts.
As of April 26, the SOLS interlibrary loan service is suspended, according to SOLS CEO Barbara Franchetto, as $1.5 million must be cut from its approximately $3-million annual budget this year.
As well, jobs are being cut, she wrote on the SOLS website.
“The end of the SOLS delivery service means that 24 drivers (full time, part time and occasional) will lose their jobs. Last year, they drove almost 1 million kilometres to deliver over 710,000 packages to 153 main library branches across southern Ontario. ... Truly the end of an era in provincial resource sharing.”
The services had been operating under a budget freeze for nearly 20 years.
It’s not determined yet if layoffs will occur for the agency's 42 staff members.