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'An attack against libraries.' Officials react to loss of inter-library loan program

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Reactions from local library officials range from disappointment to anger over a massive government funding cut to the Southern Ontario Library Service that will result in an end to the inter-library loan program.

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“Libraries are a cornerstone of democracy and a cornerstone of a free society. And this constitutes, as far as I’m concerned, an outright attack against libraries and those freedoms we’ve come to enjoy,” Coun. Richard Thomas, chair of the Owen Sound & North Grey Union Public Library board, said Wednesday.

“The right to learn and the right to freedom of information is so important to everybody.”

The service allowed the library to bring in nearly 2,700 books in 2018 from other libraries for its patrons, who reside in Owen Sound, Georgian Bluffs, Chatsworth and Meaford. It loaned to other libraries about 2,800 books.

Thomas said the library doesn’t have the budget to buy all the books its patrons request or space to house them all, so the inter-library loan program is a service the community relies on.

“What this cut does is it denies people access to information. Not everyone can afford to go to the bookstore and buy the book they want whenever they want it. Not everybody can drive to a library in another community to get a book that we don’t happen to have,” he said, adding the decision will disproportionately hurt smaller Ontario communities.

He has written a letter, on behalf of the board, to urge the ministry of tourism, culture and sport to reconsider the funding cut, which Thomas called shameful.

The inter-library loan program, which allows patrons to obtain books from other libraries, will cease Friday. The decision came after the Ontario government slashed SOLS’ budget by 50 per cent.

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SOLS chief executive officer Barbara Franchetto said in a statement that the organization was left with no choice but to cancel the loan service “given the enormity of the cut” to its $3.3 million budget.

The decision means 24 SOLS drivers will lose their jobs and pending requests for books will be cancelled.

Mike Poetker, chair of the Meaford Public Library board, said eliminating the service will be “catastrophic” to people on limited incomes.

“Folks that can’t afford a lot of things are marginalized even further by the loss of their inter-library service, where books that we do not stock can be brought in and borrowed,” he said.

“It’s an indication of a larger problem where cuts are affecting the more marginalized people.”

The Meaford library received 1,974 books from other libraries in 2018. It also received 3,344 requests for materials from its collection and shipped 2,472 of those titles.

Saugeen Shores Mayor Luke Charbonneau, chair of the Bruce County Public Library board, said he is also disappointed about the loss of the program.

“It’s a shame for everybody who is a user of the library to see a reduced level of service and I know many folks in Bruce County are upset about it and are sorry to see the service go,” he said.

The Bruce County library, which has 17 locations and 28,000 members, brought in 5,925 titles last year, an average of 493 per month, through the loan program.

So far this year, the average has been higher, said assistant director Brooke McLean.

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She said the cut will be felt especially at rural and smaller libraries because they don’t have large collections like in urban centres and rely on loans to meet their patrons’ needs.

“It’s very seldom that we’re not able to get something through inter-library loan,” she said. “Without an inter-library loan service, without being able to get those materials delivered, that’s a significant impact on the day-to-day services that our public libraries provide.”

Cassie Wood, supervisor of the Lucknow and Ripley libraries, said some patrons have not reacted well to news of the service ending.

“It’s not been a welcomed decision by our patrons, unfortunately,” Wood said. “So we’re just trying to find ways to fill those needs that they still have as best we can.”

McLean said the Bruce County Library will be evaluating how it gets materials into patrons’ hands and may look at building collections in order to “fill some of the gaps” left by the loss of the inter-loan program.

Thomas said the union library board will also discuss at its next meeting what to do about the service loss.

MPP Michael Tibollo, minister of tourism, culture and sport, said in a statement that the government is “maintaining the base funding for our libraries across the province” and the SOLS has no involvement in the daily operations of libraries.

“This government will continue to maintain strong partnerships with municipal and Indigenous libraries and assist them in providing quality public services for everyone, while ensuring value for money and respect for taxpayer dollars,” he said.

SOLS, which provides other services to libraries like staff training and electronic library materials, says its drivers travelled nearly one million kilometres and delivered more than 710,000 packages to 153 libraries in southern Ontario as part of the inter-library loan program.

With files from Steve Cornwell, Postmedia.

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