Corporate reviews are always presented as a way to adapt to changing circumstances, realize efficiencies and save money.
Having worked in provincial and municipal library systems for 38 years, I have participated in a number of these exercises and witnessed the results. So I approach their claims with a healthy degree of skepticism.
Almost the first issue I faced when starting at the Midland Public Library was a proposal to study and ‘reform’ the County’s Co-operative Library System.
It was, I gathered, not the first time it had been debated but it appears it now may be the last. County Council has voted to ‘dissolve’ the system that has served the county effectively, efficiently and economically for over three quarters of a century.
When resources are bought cooperatively they belong to all the members.
The county library purchases collections – different languages, different formats – and rotates them around all the member libraries and thus provides them with larger collections and greater variety than any of the individual institutions could afford.
To continue to offer collections like this, individual libraries will have to find funds at the municipal level.
County public affairs director Allan Greenwood and Essa Township Mayor Sandie MacDonald, quoted in Midland Today on April 27, say those collections will “still be available” because they will be distributed among the libraries.
They don’t say the result of this could be fragmented collections spread across the county that will become dated and that will only be added to if the local institution can find the money.
The county realized economies of scale when it purchased the circulation system that all the libraries use and does it again when it manages to maintain, update and modify this system with a small IT department rather than requiring the libraries to find the expertise locally.
Small libraries can’t afford to have a tech person on call and, unless modifications are made systemwide, errors will creep in.
Databases like Ancestry.Com, Mango Languages and Canadian Reference Centre are also currently purchased by the County Co-op at prices no individual library can afford.
Acquisition of valuable resources and modern systems made available countywide in an efficient and economical way will be at risk and only available once local resources are found.
Libraries have been in the forefront of programs to welcome immigrants through initiatives developed at the county level. Open long hours, devoted to public service and committed to inclusion, libraries are a first stop for many trying to make their way in a new place.
But small libraries open long hours and busy with the demands of public service don’t have the staff or expertise to develop these programs individually.
The county and its cooperative library system can do it effectively, efficiently and economically. Instead, it’s going to be downloaded.
Midland Today reports several county councillors were furious with librarians questioning the validity of a document posted on the county’s website and blaming the librarians for breaking confidentiality. It’s difficult to see how librarians can be at fault when it appeared on the county’s own website.
They say they consulted and included all the points their consultations received but there’s no mention that librarians were asked to review the final report.
I recall a KPMG study a while ago that included a suggestion to reduce the size of County Council.
The County of Simcoe has 16 municipalities, each with a council of between five and nine members.
County Council has 32 members made up of the mayors and deputy mayors from across Simcoe.
All of these people are being paid to represent 307,000 people as of the 2016 census.
The City of Toronto’s council represents 2.5 million people with 25 council members.
You can blame or credit Doug and you can debate an individual’s effectiveness as he or she tries to work with an average of 100,000 residents but you can’t say the city has collapsed since its council was cut in half.
But Simcoe County councillors, voting on their own positions, rejected that idea pretty quickly.
No, let’s cut library services – they’re cheap, they provide value for money, they generate traffic in their community and visitors to libraries generally spend between three and five dollars for every dollar spent on the service.
They normally rank number one or two on polls of most popular services provided by municipalities and they create a sense of community.
Which of those things can we say County Council does?
My experience with studies has consistently been what we see here.
People who value their libraries may not realize how much the County Cooperative contributes to their individual institutions but they should speak to their County Council representatives and ask them to take another look at these so-called savings.
Bill Molesworth is a retired CEO and chief librarian of both the Midland and Fredericton public libraries