Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Checking Out the Library Cuts

It’s really easy to lose sight of context when dealing with large budget numbers; It feels overwhelming and lends itself to information paralysis.

Luckily there are libraries and librarians and information resources to help us with that affliction. Unluckily, there may soon be fewer of those resources in Toronto if the mayor is able to usher through the proposed library cuts

Initially the Ford Team wanted to close libraries (insofar as Doug speaks for them), but in the face of an embarrassing public backlash that idea was subsequently dropped. Instead, the city faces significant service reductions, less staff and fewer acquisitions. To understand what these cuts mean and how we got here, here is some context:

Toronto libraries are popular among residents:

  • In the KPMG consultation, 86% of residents felt that maintaining the quality of library services was more important than lowering the cost. 
  • 97% of residents identified the library as being necessary for the city to be livable and prosperous.
  • 70% of residents were against reducing services and hours in a September Forum poll. 

Libraries have been pretty efficient:

  • Since 2001 library use has increased 28%
  • In spite of this increased use, staffing is down 10% since 1998. 
Doing more with less.

  • According to several studies, libraries in general show a good return on investment too. The median study concludes that libraries return $4-5 for every $1 invested. 

The library cuts:

As the map below shows, the library service cuts will impact every region of the city:

  • 100 staff were eliminated at last night’s library board meeting. Ford had promised in his platform to achieve savings through attrition and pledged not to fire anyone.     
  • The 19,444 proposed hours to be cut is the equivalent of closing down nine of the smallest libraries full time.

  • The cuts would include reducing circulation acquistions by 106,000 books (11%). If that baseline is maintained with minor increases over four years, it would be the equivalent of one less book in circulation for every Rob Ford voter.  
  • The two above library cuts could be paid for by the cost of two small coffees at Tim Horton’s from each resident.

The rhetoric:

  • Asked if he would close a library in his own ward, Doug Ford said, “Absolutely I would. In a heartbeat.” Hours will not be cut in Doug Ford’s ward.
  • Ford ally Paul Ainslie was in favour of library closings so long as they weren’t in his ward. Instead, he suggested downtown locations might be more appropriate candidates. His ward’s newly renovated Cedarbrae Library faces a 9.5 hour service reduction.
  • The newly appointed Library Board chair, Ainslie voted last night against consulting the public on the cuts. The vote passed and the public will be consulted.   

Team Ford faces many obstacles to pass this particular package of cuts. Libraries are very popular with voters, cutting them contradicts campaign promises and individual councillors know they'll receive an earful on the issue. All of this makes it difficult to be an ally of the mayor on this issue and open to a lot of negotiation.  

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