Position Statement on the Threat (Promise?) of Cuts and Future Branch Closures and/or Privatization to Toronto Public Libraries

Peggy McEachreon. PLG Founding Member, London Ontario Chapter. M.L.I.S candidate, UWO.

In response to this: “The final vote on the library’s budget is scheduled for City Council’s next meeting on January 17 – 19. Despite a massive outcry by Torontonians, and a new report that shows the city will have a 2011 surplus of more than $150 million, our cherished public library system is still facing a 10% cut. A cut of this magnitude would close several neighbourhood branches, drastically reduce hours of operation, slash programs and cut librarian and other staff positions.” (Maureen O’Reilly OurPublicLibrary.to) PLG formulated the following statement:

Keep all Toronto Public Library branches open. Keep them public. Please continue to fund your libraries! The Toronto Public Library provides free information and recreation services. Without TPL, what recourse do citizens have to meet their information needs?

Public libraries are more than the collections they house: they are vital community spaces that provide free and equitable access to information; they provide a space where people can connect with each other and their neighbourhoods.[1] Recent research (2007) on public libraries in the US commissioned by the Urban Libraries Council documents a “shift in the role of public libraries — from passive, recreational reading and research institutions to active economic development agents”[2]. This same shift is occurring here in Canada. It is important that our municipal, provincial, and federal leaders are aware of this.

Mayor Ford has stated that he is a “believer in building better communities through community action”;[3] he is passionate about “promoting the positive development of youth.”[4] Public libraries play a significant role in community action and the positive development of youth. Closing library branches and reducing services will result in the removal of access to free information services for Torontonians. “The combination of stronger roles in economic development strategies and their prevalence… make public libraries stable and powerful tools for cities seeking to build strong and resilient economies.”[2] In other words, having multiple branches is good for the city.

The City of Toronto must reduce its costs to avoid a $774 million budget shortage.[4] However, cutting funding to the Toronto Public Library could prevent the city from balancing its budget. Research has proven that for every tax dollar spent on public library services, the community receives close to a five dollar return on investment.[5] As a result, cuts to the city’s public library system could also decrease tax revenue for the city and make it more difficult for the city to balance its budget.

The Urban Libraries Council commissioned report highlighted 4 ways in which a public library contributes to the economic well-being of a city:

1. Early literacy services contribute to long-term economic success
2. Library employment and career resources prepare workers by training them in new technologies
3. Small business resources and programs reduce barriers to market entry
4. Public library buildings are catalysts for physical development [2]
(For further details on these points, please follow this link to the 35 page report.)

The Progressive Librarians Guild – London Ontario Chapter beseeches Toronto City Council to keep all 99 branches of the Toronto Public Library open, to adequately fund the branches so they can maintain accessible hours for patrons, and to support and celebrate the services provided by library workers to their communities. Further, we urge Toronto City Council members to begin working with TPL — take advantage of the amazing potential your excellent public libraries provide. Your public libraries can be your partners in community and economic development in Toronto.

[1] Toronto Public Library: http://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/about-the-library/mission-vision-values/. Retrieved August 5, 2011.
[2] Making Cities Stronger: Public Library Contributions to Local Economic Development. Research funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. http://www.urban.org/UploadedPDF/1001075_stronger_cities.pdf Retrieved January 9, 2012.
[3] City of Toronto: http://www.toronto.ca/mayor_ford/index.htm.  Retrieved July 30, 2011.
[4] Ibid.
[5] City of Toronto: http://app.toronto.ca/tmmis/viewPublishedReport.do?function=getAgendaReport&meetingId=5052. Retrieved August 4, 2011.
[6] CUPE: Nova Scotia Provincial Library: https://www.library.ns.ca/content/use-public-libraries-hard-economic-times. Retrieved August 4, 2001.


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