Although the threat of library closures seems to have passed for now, patrons may still find the doors locked as the city looks to reduce branch operating hours.
To discuss the matter, Ward 13 councillor Sarah Doucette arranged a public consultation meeting at Runnymede Library to hear what residents think about the possible cuts. Other councillors, including Gord Perks, have already done the same.
“I think we’ve had about 10 consultations, which is pretty good but its not enough,” Doucette said. “I would have liked to see 44 of them.”
The proposed service cuts would reduce operating hours at Runnymede Library by six hours a week. On Mondays and Thursdays the library would open at 12:30 p.m. rather than 9 a.m., but would stay open an extra hour on Fridays, closing at 6 p.m.
“We have line ups for computers now,” Doucette said. “What are you going to do when you have even less hours?”
The city has requested every department reduce their operating budget by 10 percent. According to Anne Bailey, director of branch libraries, the Toronto Public Library has been able to reduce their budget by 5.7 percent, or $9.72 million, through various efficiencies and revenue increases. The proposed service cuts would provide an addition $7.33 million.
Part of the original 5.7 percent reduction that was recently adopted by the board includes the removal of 100 full-time positions for behind-the-scenes workers. Maureen O’Reilly, president of the Toronto Public Library Workers Union, who was at the Runnymede meeting, said getting rid of 100 full-time positions would result in the loss of approximately 150 staff members as half of library workers are part-time employees.
“We are not efficiencies,” she said before apologizing for taking up time at a public meeting.
Doucette said she did not vote in favour of the 5.7 percent cut and would definitely not vote in favour of the reduction in hours.
“I’m hoping the rest of the board will support that and we will go back to the city and say we’ve done 5.7 percent,” she said. “Not every department has done their 10 percent cut.”
Departments such as the Board of Health have met the 10 percent target, but Doucette said it benefits from provincial funding. The libraries receive 93 percent of their funding from the city and only three percent from Queen’s Park.
About a dozen people lined up to voice their opposition to the service cuts, one of whom was Mary Patterson who has been frequenting Runnymede Library for 73 years.
“I’m retired, I can come when I want,” Patterson said. “But I see other people who can’t come and that offends me badly.”
Many of those who came said they would prefer to pay higher taxes or library fees in order to keep the libraries open longer. However, the Public Libraries Act says every library shall allow the public to reserve and borrow materials and use reference and information services free of charge.
Patterson said it would be worth it to pay $5 a year to use her library card. After all, they can even save relationships, as she found out the day her friend decided to leave her husband.
“She packed up her stuff, drove 10 blocks and then said ‘Oh shoot I forgot my library card,’ ” Patterson said. “She went back to the house, her husband had missed her and the marriage was saved.”
Bailey and Doucette invited residents to try to help save the libraries’ service hours by speaking at the upcoming Budget Committee meetings on Dec. 9, Jan. 9 and Jan. 12.
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