2007 07 26
Bye Bye Books

The Toronto Star reports this morning that the Toronto Public Library Board has voted to close sixteen library branches on Sundays and cancel thousands of book orders as part of a budget slashing exercise ordered of all city agencies, boards and committees in the wake of a $575 million budget shortfall announced just last week.

What leaves are being torn from the Toronto Public Library? To start with, the Toronto Reference Library, the Lillian H. Smith Library (affecting both the Osborne Collection of Early Children's Books and the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculative and Fantasy literature), and fourteen other branches (including North York Central, Albert Campbell, Bloor/Gladstone, Brentwood, Don Mills, Downsview, Eatonville, Fairview, Goldhawk Park, New Toronto, Northern District, Pape/Danforth, Parkdale, and Parliament) will be closed on Sundays beginning in September. Furthermore, a seventeenth branch (Jane/Dundas, currently undergoing renovations) will be mothballed until further notice. On top of this, the TPL has reportedly cancelled the purchase of 14,000 items, mostly books and periodicals. These are cuts that library users will see.

But these are only the visible cuts. Most of the projected $1.2 million budget reduction will be paid for by library workers, particularly part-time library employees who will have their hours cut and full-time staff who will bear heavier burdens because the TPL will institute a hiring freeze. Staff training and travel costs and technology expenses have also been slashed on short notice, meaning that library workers will have to do much more with considerably less.

How will these cuts affect the Toronto Public Library system? Currently, the TPL is the largest public library system in Canada with 99 branches and over eleven million items in its collection. It is reportedly the second busiest library system in the world (after Hong Kong). Perhaps it can afford to absorb a few cuts. But a closer look shows that Toronto's library system has already been labouring under increasing strain. A great many of its branches have already had their hours reduced, including my local branch on Annette Street, which (like about half of Toronto's local library branches) is already closed on Sundays and opens as late as 12:30 on some weekday afternoons. Other branches make do with deteriorating fixtures, aging carpets, broken photocopiers, and dated computing equipment. As further cuts are applied to part-time employees, even more programs (including the Storyteller in Residence program, already targeted by the current cuts) will vanish. So TPL patrons may expect to say goodbye to computer training classes, research skills workshops, childrens' programs, and language skills assistance, and other programs relied upon by many Torontonians, particularly its vulnerable populations: the young and elderly, students, immigrants, parents, the unemployed, as well as people who patronize libraries simply because they have nowhere else to go. Bye bye books.

I don't doubt that the City is in fiscal crisis. I haven't doubted it for some time. But the City's $575 million budget shortfall didn't begin with last week's announced cuts, nor with the news a day earlier that (...read more...)
[email this story] Posted by Amy Lavender Harris on 07/26
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