The provincial government has made a 50% cut to the funding that it provides to Ontario Library Services – North (OLS-N), which has downsized from 11 to 5.5FTE positions. This is capacity and expertise that Northern libraries cannot afford to lose.
Based on the revised OLS-N budget, a number of programs and services will no longer continue. For example, there will not be any in person annual consulting visits by OLS-N staff. While virtual consultation options will be available these are no substitute for face to face meetings. OLS-N staff must be able to personally and directly experience public libraries in order to tailor services to meet community needs.
OLS-N will also discontinue website maintenance. Small rural and Indigenous libraries are particularly dependent on this service and their websites will quickly deteriorate or be discontinued. This will exacerbate the problem of maintaining connectivity in the North to remote communities. This will also be compounded by the withdrawal of technology advice from OLS-N.
Another victim of the cuts is the OLS-N fall conference which provides a unique opportunity for library workers in the North to get together, network and exchange ideas and best practice. This leads to more efficient ways of working, which is exactly what the Ford government hopes to achieve from these funding cuts; in fact these budget reductions will make libraries in the North more inefficient as we all seek to reinvent the wheel.
Good governance will also be damaged by these cuts when OLS-N board meetings change from four in person to two in person and two virtual per year. All OLS-N staff travel has also been reduced and so there will be a greater reliance on virtual meetings and telephone to provide service. This will make the challenges of physical isolation even worse.
These cuts will have a devastating impact on small rural and First Nation libraries which are heavily reliant on OLS-N services. It will also impact the communities they serve. Libraries across the North have banded together in solidarity to resist these reductions. Thunder Bay Public Library (TBPL) will fight back with a coordinated campaign involving library workers, trade unions, local communities and other agencies which have also seen their budgets reduced. TBPL has over 30,000 active members and more than three million interactions with our community every year. You can write to your MPP protesting these cuts and sign the petition at any branch library, or online at the TBPL website.
If TBPL attempts to absorb these cuts and manage services on 50% less funding this will send the wrong message to the Ford government who will come looking for more. Despite reassurances they no doubt already have their eye on the funding they provide directly to public libraries. TBPL receives around $200,000 in provincial funding p.a.
TBPL has evidence of the economic benefits of public libraries. A Social Return On Investment (SROI) study demonstrates that for every $ invested in TBPL there is $6.70 in economic benefits to the community. Ironically, this SROI model was developed and promoted by OLS-N.
There is also evidence of the social benefits of public libraries. In the UK, where hundreds of libraries have been closed and thousands of library workers laid off, this has had a negative impact on crime, health, education, teenage pregnancy, addiction, and obesity. Libraries are the social glue that holds communities together.
Despite all this evidence from at home and abroad the Ford government will not listen to reasoned arguments. Rob Ford went looking for the ‘gravy’ at Toronto Public Library (he didn’t find any) and now Doug Ford is making these cuts in the name of austerity politics. But this is not really about economics and the smoke and mirrors of balanced budgets and managing deficits. This is about neo-liberal ideology and what Naomi Kline called The Shock Doctrine. It is the mantra of ‘private sector good, public sector bad.’ It is a calculated and sustained onslaught on public services.
John Pateman – www.tbpl.ca. If you have a comment about today’s column, we would love to hear from you. Please comment below!