Fairview Library has good news and bad news.
First, the good news. The branch will get a partial overhaul while some capital repairs and automated check-out and return systems are being installed. After much consideration, Toronto Public Library reports the most efficient coordination of capital needs is to address all of the issues in one large project. Unfortunately, the bad news is that the library will be shut down for a year to make it happen.
At a recent town hall in Henry Farm, I was asked: “How can you be cutting librarians even as you are doing big projects like this?”
Fair question and it demonstrates the challenge in communicating Toronto’s finances since amalgamation. Capital budgets (the things we build and maintain) march along in Toronto under the watchful eye of our credit rating agencies. There is always a ceiling on the amount of debt the city can have in order to keep our excellent rating and to keep our principal and interest payments ticking over. Despite the amount of road and facility work you see this summer, we still have one of the lowest debt per capita ratios among North American megacities.
But it’s the operating budget that continues to be Toronto’s struggle, as we continue to rely too heavily on your property tax dollars. Recent talk of removing an important revenue tool for relieving the pressure on property tax bills, the land transfer tax, threatens to make the problem worse. In this equation, the library operating budget is one of the toughest to solve. It is a service oriented business. Staff make sure that what you came for is there on the shelf or in the catalogue when you need it. At Fairview Library, reconfiguring the entrance to fully automate checkout and return reduces staffing costs so the capital investment comes with a sound business case. But going forward, we still need to decide what we want our libraries to be.
Fairview Library is an amazing hub of community and cultural activity, day and night. Theatre groups, homework and literacy clubs upstairs, community computer access and job-finding programs are all fully enrolled whenever offered.
It remains for community members to decide if automation at the front door should be used to simply send another librarian to the unemployment line, or instead be redistributed to the many other vitally important tasks in our modern day library hubs.
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