Town council is taking a stand for Northern libraries following the province's 50 percent cut to Ontario Library Service North which resulted in the elimination of half of its unionized staff.
Council voted Monday evening to support a resolution put forward by McKellar, Mulmur, and Essa townships that denounces the Ford government's cuts to libraries and call on them to reverse their actions.
Additionally, council is drafting a resolution specific to the challenges the cuts to Ontario Library Service poses to the Town of Fort Frances. This will be brought up at the next council meeting on May 27.
“Ontario Library Service-North (OLS-N) helps northern libraries be the best they can be,” Fort Frances Public Library CEO Caroline Goulding stressed.
“Losing half of their staff, and therefore half their capacity, will mean there will be less help available when we need it.”
Coun. Andrew Hallikas called the cuts to OLS-N a “draconian measure" at council on Monday and said the issue was discussed with "great concern” at the last Fort Frances Public Library board meeting.
“OLS-N, because of the services they provide to our library, allow our library to leverage the funding that they receive from the Town of Fort Frances to offer extra services to our patrons,” he noted.
“With a severe staff cut imposed on OLS-N, its services to local libraries will be greatly reduced and this means that our library will have to cut some programs and services unless the municipality increases its funding.”
Hallikas emphasized that this is going to amount to a further downloading of costs onto the municipality.
“This is unacceptable, especially in light of the fact that municipalities, OLS-N and local public libraries have already set their budgets for this year and further, have been making prudent cuts for years,” he quipped.
One of the impacts on the town's local library is a significant reduction in professional development capacity.
The positions lost at the OLS-N provided direct support to northern libraries for staff and board training initiatives, services to First Nations libraries, technology consulting, policy and strategic planning consulting, and website development.
The eliminated positions also provided direct support for the administration of joint purchasing agreements and support for the Joint Automation Server Initiative (JASI) program, which provides essential library software to 133 rural and northern library systems across Ontario.
Goulding is more specifically concerned about the reduction in technology staff.
The OLS-N provides the local library with software for its catalogue, checking books in and out, placing holds, and allowing people to renew books, which is being impacted.
Due to the cuts, this software will only be available Monday-Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. going forward.
“This means that if there is an issue with software in the evening or on a weekend, we could lose access to the software,” Goulding remarked.
“If we lost access, we would be able to check books out using an offline version, but we won't be able to access the catalog or people's records.”
Goulding said this means that if someone forgot to bring their books back and tried to call to renew them over the phone - the library would not be able to.
This also means that if someone wanted to call the library to look up a book that they wanted, they'd no longer be able.
“The ability for staff to offer basic library services would be seriously hampered,” Goulding stressed.
“I am very concerned about the new very restricted support schedule.”
When the province introduced the 50 percent cuts to the OLS they were forced to cut services and programs that they determined to have the least effect on patrons.
Goulding said the OLS was already running very lean, so cuts to anything have had a significant impact on those who access libraries in Ontario.
“I know that OLS-N had to make some very difficult decisions and have done their best to try and protect as many services as possible, however it is undeniable that their services have been severely diminished,” Goulding noted.
A statement on behalf of Northern Ontario Public Libraries said that even programs and services that are maintained will operate at a reduced capacity due to extensive personnel cuts.
“We believe these cuts have disproportionately and unfairly impacted libraries in Northern Ontario and jeopardize our ability to provide equitable library service in the north,” the press release said.
“We are also dismayed that the government chose to make these cuts without undertaking any consultation with northern libraries about what the impacts could be on our organizations and our patrons.”
The Northern Ontario Public Libraries have called on the provincial government to halt these cuts, restore valuable jobs in Northern Ontario and undertake consultation to understand the impact of these cuts to northern libraries.
Coun. Hallikas suggested that the public contact local MPP Greg Rickford to denounce the cuts to OLS-N and request that he petitions the province to revisit and reverse these “unnecessary cuts.”