NEWS
04/21/2019 18:09 EDT | Updated 04/21/2019 19:58 EDT

Ontarians Fight Back Against Province's Cuts To Library Services

#SaveOurLibraries

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File photo of a woman browsing books at a library.

Many Ontarians are outraged by the province's decision to cut two library services.

Doug Ford's Progressive Conservative government axed funding for the Southern Ontario Library Service (SOLS) and the Ontario Library Service-North (OLSN), cutting their budgets in half for the 2019-2020 fiscal year.

A change.org petition started after the cuts were announced Thursday, calling on the government to reverse its decision. Days since its launch, it has garnered more than 8,000 signatures.

"I believe that the people deserve to be able to access the same materials whether you live in Toronto or a small town like Dwight and many other centres that depend on these services for their community," one petitioner wrote.

"Libraries are excellent place for young and old alike to enjoy reading, leaning and social contact. Financial Cuts to libraries is wrong," said another.

Social media protest

Libraries offer more than just books. They're communal spaces where people from all walks of life can hang out without any stigma — and offer refuge on a freezing cold day. People don't face financial barriers in a library and can access internet, free classes and other resources.

Ontarians have also taken to social media using the hashtag #SaveOurLibraries to protest the cuts.

Vickery Bowles, who runs the Toronto Public Library, told Maclean's last year: "We are part of its poverty-reduction strategy — putting more resources in branches in particularly at-risk neighbourhoods—and part of its newcomer strategy. Libraries are among the first places immigrants and refugees come to, and some of our branches have federally supported settlement workers."

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A girl pulls out a book at a Toronto library.

The cuts are already having an impact — SOLS has discontinued interlibrary loan delivery service, effective April 26. The loan service allowed libraries across the province to share books, and gave rural communities access to some titles they don't have otherwise.

SOLS delivered almost 710,000 packages to libraries between 2017 and 2018, according to a statement on the service's website.

The funding cut means 24 drivers who delivered the interlibrary loans will lose their jobs, it added.

That service will need to cut $1.5 million from its approximately $3 million annual budget this year, according to SOLS CEO Barbara Franchetto. She could not immediately say how service will be impacted or if it will result in layoffs for the agency's 42 staff members.

The services, which also provide support and training for library staff, had already been operating under a budget freeze for nearly 20 years.

"We've pretty well been operating with no increases for quite a long time," Franchetto told the Toronto Star.

"Over time, we've always tried to become more and more lean, and more and more effective, and we have not replaced staff at the rate we would like. Over time, we've made the best with what we have."

Mellissa D'Onofrio-Jones, the CEO of OLSN, said she was surprised by the government's decision to slash half its funding.

"(We are) looking at the reduction and evaluating services keeping First Nations and public libraries in the north, and their unique needs, in our minds as we're making decisions," she said.

'Arm's length agencies': minister

Tourism, Culture and Sport Minister Michael Tibollo defended the cuts Thursday, 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," he said.

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Tourism, Culture and Sport Minister Michael Tibollo defended the cuts.

He said in a statement that the government is not cutting local libraries, describing both the province's library services as "arm's length agencies that have no involvement in the day-to-day operations of Ontario's public libraries."

The premier's past comments about libraries suggested they shouldn't be spared from cuts because they're numerous.

In 2011, Ford, who was then a Toronto city councillor, mused that he would close a library in his ward "in a heartbeat" to help close a municipal multi-million-dollar budget gap.

"Why do we need another little library in the middle of nowhere that no one uses? My constituents, it wouldn't bother them because you have another library two miles one way and two miles the other way."

With files from the Canadian Press

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