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Library faces reduction in services

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Those who utilize the Fort Frances Public Library, as well as the libraries in Emo and Rainy River, will now have less services available to them.

The Ontario Library Service (OLS) is responsible for many of the services the local library provides and the province announced a 50 percent cut to its funding earlier this month.

Fort Frances library CEO Caroline Goulding said the cuts are “devastating” and will shift the financial burden from the province onto municipalities.

“The OLSs were organizations that were already running very lean, so they have to cut major services and programs and they have to cut big ones to hit 50 percent,” she noted.

"The Ontario Library Services are still deciding what services that they're going to have to cut and what the impact is going to be moving forward.

“With a 50 percent cut, you can't nickel and dime and figure out a little efficiency here, a little efficiency there; they're going to have to cut major services and it is going to impact us in a massive way,” she added.

When the programs and services are eliminated, the library's overall costs will skyrocket, as well Goulding noted.

“By defunding the Ontario Library Service, it's downloading costs onto the municipality if we are to maintain services,” she stressed.

“It's going to impact the way that the community is able to use the library and access services in a time where things are already fiscally up in the air for part of the municipality with regards to the mill.”

Goulding said the cuts to the OLS will disproportionately affect remote communities like Fort Frances.

Programs such as the Interlibrary Loan Service where books are shipped and shared between libraries is currently suspended until May 31 and will be permanently unavailable for many northern libraries, she noted.

The Fort Frances Library requested or received around 1,400 items in 2018 and to continue to offer this service they would need to approach the municipality for more funding or cut other library services.

“The big problem northern libraries are facing is that with lean library budgets and lean municipal budgets it is difficult for us to absorb even small cost increases,” Goulding explained.

“Tax bases in the north are shrinking as our population's decrease, we can't react to budget changes the same way growing Southern municipalities are able to,” she added.

Ontario Library Service South (OLS-S) does all the administration for the Interlibrary Loan Program and Ontario Library Service North (OLS-N) provides a rebate to northern libraries for costs associated with shipping the books.

Local MPP Greg Rickford said yesterday this program was a “highly inefficient and ineffective” way to move books in Southern Ontario and the province will be looking at their options for communities like Fort Frances.

“In Northwestern Ontario we are looking at our options to maintain the library loan system,” he remarked.

Another service provided through both Ontario Library Services is the Joint Automated Server Initiative (JASI) which is the software that is used to put books on hold, and check them in and out.

Goulding warned that this program could disappear.

“Right now we pay $1,600 and an annual fee for that service,” she explained.

“If we were to lose access to that, our costs will skyrocket and we'll have to make a massive capital investment to set us up with a new system because software isn't free.”

JASI handles about 135 libraries and all of them paid for the service which made it affordable.

“We have that much more bargaining power when it's a group of libraries and that is part of what the OLS's do for us," said Goulding. "They leverage so that it's not little measly Fort Frances going or the Emo Public Library going on their own self.”

When a one-time service fee is split over 135 organizations it's very affordable, but to pass all of the costs onto one entity is impossible to afford.

Also through the OLS, the Fort Frances Library's patrons had access to 150 thousand eBook and Audiobook titles.

Goulding said that is another area that could be at risk.

“The OLS spread out the platform fees for access amongst all of us and it is prorated based on population, so again we pay $1,600 to have access to that every year," she said. "That cost will skyrocket while we lose thousands of titles, so it is definitely going to impact patron enjoyment.”

Another area of concern is eResources.

She said they are managed through consortia purchasing through the OLS and they negotiate a discount so they can access eResources more easily in areas where baseline funding for libraries is a challenge.

Without this service, Goulding said the costs with vendors will increase drastically and their ability to buy in bulk will be lost because they will have significantly less purchasing power.

The quality of service may also be reduced due to the cuts.

In the past, library staff were able to call OLS-N for immediate support.

“If you had a question about anything library specific we would just pick up the phone and call Ontario Library Service North and they'd have an answer for us which leads to quicker service improvements,” Goulding explained.

“It leads to us being a better library and we could lose that. We could lose access to expertise,” she added.

The OLS also does a lot of governance training with new library boards which are run by volunteers.

Goulding is worried about how new boards will get trained.

“If you're losing out on that training resource that tells boards how do you do their job effectively, who's going to pick that up? Who can pick that up, if not a provincially funded agency,” she charged.

“If that disappears are you going to get in this situation where your relying on boards who haven't received proper governance training, and are training a new CEO, who's in charge of training the next board and it's just a cycle that can perpetuate.”

Meanwhile, the internet system at the library that is funded through the OLS is another service that could be cut according to Goulding.

She said the OLS will try to cut what's least essential but noted that almost everything they do is essential.

“Where do we go to make up that funding deficit?” Goulding asked.

At the end of the day, she said the library is about providing people with access to resources that they otherwise couldn't access which might now be limited.

“The digital divide is big and it is growing and it effects rural and northern populations more than anyone else," she stressed. ”How many people do you know that can't get a secure internet connection at home?

“Library's provide that access, we provide skill building,” Goulding added.

The library is also a valuable resource to many of the seniors in the community.

When seniors are told they need to look up their lab results online, the library is there to help with that.

If an elderly person got a new iPad for their birthday, they could go to the library to set it up.

Youth who don't play sports or aren't engaged in other community activities flock to the library after school, making their services essential from old to young.

“As library's we are trying to figure out some advocacy strategies because we know that . . . just because we got cut this year doesn't mean they won't get cut next year,” Goulding stressed.

“We are now planning advocacy strategies to educate people on what the Ontario Library Services not only do for the libraries but also for them.”

“You might never have spoken to an Ontario Service North representative but they have made your library experience better," she added. "They've made us better and losing them is big. It's really big.”

Moving forward, Goulding is analyzing the library's costing models to see what they pay now, what they might pay in the future, and how to minimize the effects felt by the library's patrons.

Although, she admits there will be a reduction in the library's level of service.

“There will be service cuts 100 percent," Goulding said. "There is no way that we can go to the municipality and ask for $25,000-$30,000 more dollars, as much as we wish we were in a position to do that.”

She also said there's nothing they can do about the services they can't replicate or replace like Interlibrary Loans.

Goulding is asking that the community tries to be understanding when the library loses services as it's completely out of the local library's control.

She would encourage members of the public who value their local library to write a letter to the ministry of tourism, culture and sport and their local MPP expressing their displeasure over the 50 percent cut to the OLS.

“Let your voice be heard, love your library, and understand when services are cut or when there is service disruptions,” Goulding remarked.

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