Fewer books available to library patrons
BY KATHRYN HRYCUSKO
Special to the VOICE
The Pelham Library faces some tough changes following budget cuts to Southern Ontario Library Services (SOLS). The Ontario government cut the SOLS budget in half, reducing it from just over $3 million to $1.5 million, an action which Pelham Library’s Acting CEO Amy Guilmette said will have an impact on library services for the town’s residents.
SOLS is a service that facilities the acquisition of materials and resource sharing between some 150 libraries in Southern Ontario. It provides libraries like the Pelham Library with four major services said Guilmette—Interlibrary Loan, LiNC (Libraries in Niagara Cooperative), training for librarians, and negotiations of book purchases.
Effective last Friday, two of these services, the Interlibrary Loan and LiNC, were halted.
Interlibrary Loan, a region-wide resource sharing scheme, allowed library users to access material that their local library did not own. LiNC operated similarly, allowing residents to easily access material from Pelham, Thorold, Fort Erie, Vineland, and Niagara-on-the-Lake libraries, without having to drive there themselves. The five libraries share their catalogue system, allowing users to see a wider variety of available materials, and in the future were looking to coordinate their purchasing efforts as well to expand the variety of books on offer.
“We had actually talked just last month about sharing our collection development, so that we actually didn’t mirror all of our collections,” said Guilmette. “We would spend the same amount of money on the budget, but we would increase how many titles we had by not multiplying the same titles over and over.”
Any future plans for the program have been slashed, however, as the LiNC service depended on SOLS’ Interlibrary Loan, and since the same couriers were used to transport the books between libraries.
The CEO of SOLS, Barbara Franchetto, wrote in a public statement, “Last year, [the couriers] drove almost 1 million kilometers to deliver over 710,000 packages to 153 main library branches across southern Ontario. They also made reciprocal agreements between libraries like the PCIN and LiNC network possible. They brought new purchased material from jobbers to over 100 libraries at cost effective rates. Truly the end of an era in provincial resource sharing.”
As a result of the cuts and stoppage of the service, 24 drivers will lose their jobs.
Already the libraries have seen a difference in the number of books being used. Guilmette said that normally the hold shelf of books waiting to be picked up at the Fenwick Maple Acre Branch has two rows of books, but last week had only half a shelf. Likewise, the hold shelves at the Fonthill Branch were less than half full. Missing as well are the eight bins of books, around 200 total, that are prepared for transfer weekly.
Guilmette suspects the end of the Interlibrary loan and LiNC services will affect the library’s elderly patrons the most.
“We have a huge retirement population here. We would see people come in every day with their [book] lists and they would be going book-by-book, and most of the time we’d have some of them. Some of them would come from LiNC and then a few come from Interlibrary loan, but now they’re just stuck,” said Guilmette.
“Now you’d be forcing them to drive to get to other locations if they want those items, and if they’re not at those locations, they can’t get them at all.”
Guilmette added that for many patrons with mobility issues driving to other locations is not an option.
Pelham Town Councillor and Library Board member Marianne Stewart said she has used the system many times, and adds that it will affect book clubs as well.
“So much of what the small libraries do is based on a cooperative system where if we don’t have something, we can get it from another library,” said Stewart. “For example, in a book club if you have, say, six women that are all going to read the same book at the same time, our library, a small library, can’t afford to buy six copies of that book for a book club. So they depend on bringing copies of it in from other libraries.”
Chairman of the Library Board, Tim Wright, said that board members are “disappointed” and “confused,” considering that past communication from the government had indicated to them that they were looking to support cooperatives between small, rural libraries.
“They are brutalizing the small libraries,” said Stewart.
According to an article in the St. Catharines Standard, which quotes Executive Director of Communications, Laryssa Waler, the Ontario government has explained its cuts to the budget by saying that in today’s economic climate, the government must look for efficiencies and “ways to make sure we protect what matters most in our province.”
The Interlibrary loan program was identified as one such area of inefficiency.
In a statement, Niagara West MPP Sam Oosterhoff said, “While the concept is admirable, couriering books by vans on demand between different library boards across southern Ontario is actually slow, inefficient, environmentally unfriendly, and expensive now that digital resources are available.”
Guilmette however disagreed that digital resources were a solution.
“For a library it’s probably between $60 to $120 per [e-book]. You get one user at a time and you can only get [the book] usually for two years. So you’re paying way more than you would for the cover price of the book in print, and you get a lot less uses,” said Guilmette.
E-books are also not shareable between libraries. Ironically, this service is also threatened by the budget cuts to SOLS, as the service negotiates for affordable prices on behalf of libraries.
Guilmette says that it is too early to say how many other services will be affected by the SOLS budget cuts and whether programs at the library will face changes.
Oosterhoff asserted that, “Despite the reports in the media, our government is maintaining base funding for our libraries across the province.”
Both Stewart and Guilmette said that although base funding has not been cut, the library will still feel the effects of the SOLS cuts.
“They said that they’re not going to cut the base budget for libraries,” said Sewart, “but that [funding] hasn’t changed in 20 years.”
Guilmette said that at the moment the cuts do not affect the library’s budget, but will if they want to continue loan services, which is likely considering the library had only seen a growing demand for the service since its inauguration. To do so would require cuts to some of the library’s programs and hours, which are already at risk due to the Town’s recent decision to deny the library’s request for an additional $44,000 for the coming year.
The request had been made to cover inflation, rising janitorial and utility expenses, and changes in staff pay to keep up with cost of living increases so they don’t fall out of job equity said Guilmette.
Asked to comment, Mayor Marvin Junkin said, “This year’s budget process represented many difficult decisions for council. We eliminated the rural ditching program for one year, scaled back some road resurfacing work, and, yes, denied the library their request for $44,000 in additional funding. Every Town department faced cuts this year. They were needed as this council wrestled with unexpectedly high operating costs of the MCC. As a council, we have faith that the library’s employees and the many volunteers will deal with this situation to the best of their abilities, and continue to provide great service to the community.”
Stewart said that she believed the council’s vote might have been different if they had known the challenges the library was about to face as a result of the SOLS cuts.
“I think had council known what was coming down the line through the province there may have been a more moderate decision made. I can’t say that for sure, I can’t speak on behalf of everyone, but I think if we knew ahead of time how they would be decimated, I think it may have made a difference,” said Stewart, adding that she will fight to find more resources for the library.
Whether that happens remains to be seen.
“Best-case scenario would be [the SOLS budget] gets reinstated,” said Guilmette. “Worst-case scenario is we’re going to have to find room in the budget to do [the loan program] again because I really think it’s something we need to do.”
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