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Reconsider cut

Dear Mike:

This letter is, in part, a response to Coun. Doug Kitowski's question in the Feb. 22 issue of the Fort Frances Times headlined: “Library hours may be reduced.”

Yes, Coun. Kitowski, there is something special about our library! In fact, the Fort Frances Public Library Technology Centre is special in so many different ways that it is difficult to know where to begin.

A good starting place to discover what makes the FFPLTC “special” is with our strategic plan; a copy of which you received in 2016 when the library board vice-chair and myself presented it to town council.

We are very proud of our plan, which was worked on by two library boards composed of community volunteers. It is the framework that guides our library's role and development.

I'd also draw your attention to our Mission, Vision, and Value Statements conceived and developed by and through consultation with members of our community.

I would hope that you, the mayor, and all of council would have familiarized yourselves with these documents before you decide to cut our operating budget by potentially tens of thousands of dollars.

I'll also remind you that at this same presentation, I gave a very partial list of 35 reasons why our library is special. I am more than willing to send you a copy of these if they have slipped your mind.

The mayor and the rest of council also seem to have realized that the library is a very special place. Each time a VIP is being guided on a tour of Fort Frances, the mayor and select councillors bring that individual to the library as part of their itinerary.

As an example, the Lieutenant-General of Ontario was brought to the library by town officials and councillors as part of her tour of Northern Ontario. She remarked that the Fort Frances Public Library Technology Centre was one of her favourite stops on the tour and that we all should be extremely proud of our library.

I would be remiss if I neglected to point out that even Trip Advisor recognizes the uniqueness and value of our community's library. The library is ranked number one on Trip Advisor under the category of “Things to do” in Fort Frances—and has been given a five-star rating.

I looked at the data that was given to council, and on the basis of which they propose to cut the library's funding by tens of thousands of dollars. It is telling in that it consists only of a list of operating hours for six libraries and the operating grant that each municipality gave its respective library.

Surely a little more analysis on the value of the local library to the community could have been done.

Is, then, the new benchmark for deciding the success, efficacy, and value of a library to its community “the operating hour”? I would think that a town that is progressive, and that values its culture and the arts, would want increased operating hours to better serve its community and attract professionals, not fewer.

If we are going to gather data, let's dig a little deeper. Council, for some reason, has decided to compare our library with that of Dryden. Since we presently are open 59 hours a week and Dryden is open 54 hours a week, Dryden apparently appears to be the better library to council since it is open fewer hours.

Dryden's library, however, only has 2,928 active members compared to our library, which has 3,759. As well, in a typical week, Dryden has 969 visits while our library has 1,774 visits.

Our Library is an active, dynamic, and evolving community institution, which is being well-used by its patrons.

Numbers are just that; they cannot illustrate the joy, the pleasure, the enrichment that the library brings to the community. Our library has something for every single person in our community . . . toddlers, children, tweens, teens, adults, seniors, visitors, those who are home bound, and even tired councillors at budget time.

We celebrate diversity, inclusion, democracy, and equity every day.

We are our community's living room and a safe space for all to discover, explore, socialize, and learn. We leverage and maximize the usage of the taxpayer dollars by forming partnerships and working co-operatively with other groups. We host and participate in community events.

Finally, I wonder at the rationale for potential cuts of more than $26 000 to the library's operating budget. Is it as simplistic as the fact that the Dryden library is open five hours less than the Fort Frances library?

The Fort Frances Library Technology Centre accounts for less than two percent of the annual budget of the Town of Fort Frances. I notice that other service cuts (a traffic light, an outdoor rink, and reduction in gym hours) are in the hundreds of dollars.

This seems a little disproportionate to me. Why is one facility being forced to bear so much of the town's budget deficit?

Council has cut our library's hours before from 70 to 59. This cut was devastating to our programming, our level of service, and our patrons, and drastically reduced the usage of our library. A further cut of five hours will negatively impact, in a large way, our ability to serve our community.

We have one of the finest libraries and technology centres in Northwestern Ontario. It would be a great shame if it were not able to be utilized to its full potential.

We are living more and more in an age of misinformation, fake news, and “alternative facts.” Libraries are repositories of information, promoters of critical thinking, and a means to discover truth. We need more library, not less.

Council, I urge you to reconsider this large, unwise, and most unkind cut.

(Signed),

Andrew Hallikas

Chair, Fort Frances

Public Library Board,

Fort Frances, Ont.

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