Friday, 4 November 2011

Library threats and opportunities

Over one million citizens of Toronto, patrons of its renowned public library system, are aware of budget cuts proposed by the administration of Mayor Ford which suggests closures of several branches, something the library system budget committee has now rejected.

I'm sure most Toronto readers of this blog are well aware of the situation. If not, a good place to get plugged in is Librarians are not Gravy at

Ottawa has experience of the Ford approach. Thankfully times have changed in Ottawa and a modest funding increase is proposed for the 2012 library budget.

Times are changing for libraries. Books, CDs, DVDs are losing market share to eReaders, downloadable music and video. Just this week the Google eBookstore opened its service in Canada, including many free books, and Kindle Lending Library service opened in the US. Library systems have a lot of adapting to do.

As libraries become less outlets for a physical collection some see them increasingly taking on the character of cultural community centres. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to use some of the space freed-up for free meeting space for community groups, including family history groups. That would blur the line between libraries and community centres.

Ontario legislation sets up libraries at arms length from municipal government with independent Library Boards. This provides a measure of protection for the libraries from political interference although in practice as the municipal tax base is the major funding source municipal councilors still have a strong influence. Nevertheless, the distinction is not useful in all respects.

It would make sense to explore how the divide between libraries and community centres can be bridged. In my area of Ottawa, a library desert, the local community centre has become home to an automated kiosk with an admittedly limited selection of books and videos, an on-site librarian twice a week, and most conveniently a drop box for returning items.

It's the type of cooperation that should be encouraged.

How is your library system adapting to technological change?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this well written and comprehensive article.
The Ottawa Public Library does benefit from people like me who support them with a bad habit of procratination resulting in library fines. Though we can support the library with our "Friends of the Library" membership as well, perhaps if they were to take up some of your suggestions re:community use,there would be more money allotted.