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I don’t often write about political issues, however, today I’m willing to make an exception.

Reports in the media advise that Southern and Northern Ontario Library Services are facing a 50 per cent budget cut from the province. Tourism, Culture and Sport Minister Michael Tibollo has defended the cuts, saying they are part of the government’s efforts to deal with the deficit: “We are keeping our promises to the people of Ontario and putting the province back on a path to balance so that we can protect what matters most to Ontarians.” The media also reports that Tibollo said later in a statement that the government is not cutting local libraries, describing both Ontario library services as “arm’s length agencies that have no involvement in the day-to-day operations of Ontario’s public libraries.”

I don’t recall the issue of library funding being discussed in the last election. Just to be sure, I checked https://www.ontariopc.ca/plan_for_the_people and the word library does not appear once. I suppose in all fairness, we should not be totally surprised. After all, in 2011 Doug Ford, who was then a Toronto city councillor, is quoted as saying that he would close a library in his ward “in a heartbeat.”

To put the matter into perspective, I looked up some information on the Southern Ontario Library Services (SOLS). (NB: there is also a Northern Ontario Library Services, however, since I live in the south, I limited my discussion to this part of the province). To paraphrase librarycardtheir mission statement, SOLS exists on behalf of the people of Ontario so that the public has equitable access to library services at a sustainable cost. Libraries have been around since 2600 BC and they currently provide a myriad of services including access to historical records, reading materials, activities for children and youth, and public spaces that afford the poor a reprieve from the cold or heat. Locally, the Owen Sound & North Grey Union Public Library provides access to thousands of books, "research documents, magazines, career and skill building courses, a children's play area, computer resource section, eBooks, and many other helpful resources. Visitors can also use WiFi, computers, mobile apps, request materials, and rent rooms for outside functions.” And, as if that is not enough, they can request books from the other 227 Ontario public libraries that participate in the interlibrary loan system. Just think about that for a minute … … by walking through one door, over 220 more doors just opened for you!

My next question was to ascertain the cost of operating SOLS. To their credit, SOLS’ financial statements are readily available. Their annual expenditures are $3,732,915. That may sound like a lot, so a little more perspective is in order. SOLS’ expenditures represent 0.0026% of provincial spending. Again, just think about that for a minute … … with a budget the size of Ontario’s, one would have to do a lot of digging to find this little cog in the big wheels of government. By way of another example, replacement of the 10th Street bridge is expected to cost $7.5 million. "OK, so what does the taxpayer of Ontario get for this 0.0026% of our expenditures?” Well, I’m glad you asked: we received 437,687 inter-library loans of which 8,420 came from libraries elsewhere in Canada or beyond. We paid an average of $9.15 per item of which … wait for it … $0.32 was postage. Even if you had a friend who could find that item for you in another library you would pay more than $9.15 to get it mailed to you, let alone maintaining and operating the technology to keep track of all these books. One last figure - SOLS processes an average of 1,118 books per day!!!

Finally, with regards to the assertion that these cuts do not affect "the day-to-day operations of Ontario’s public libraries,” I suggest that the Minister reconsider the impact that these cuts will have on the very day-to-day services that Ontarians receive by walking through these 227 doors every time we use a library. Further, when the Minister talks about "what matters most to Ontarians” I hope that he is taking into consideration the 4,535,186 Ontarians who hold library cards. I can’t speak for all of them, but I’d hazard a guess that they are quite happy with the $0.82 cents per year it costs them to have this service.

- David McLeish, Owen Sound


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