Libraries across the province are reeling after an announcement made by the provincial government that they were cutting the funding to the Southern Ontario Library Service (SOLS) and Ontario Library Service – North (OLS-North) by 50 per cent.
Both SOLS and OLS-North provide essential services to libraries. One of SOLS’ most valuable services, the delivery of inter-library loans, was cut suddenly when the province slashed their budget in half, effective immediately, a couple of weeks ago.
“It is with great sadness that I have to inform public libraries in Southern Ontario that the SOLS inter-library loan delivery service will permanently cease to operate effective April 26, 2019,” wrote SOLS CEO, Barbara Franchetto, in a statement on their website. “I know this is sad and disappointing news, but, given the enormity of the cut to our operating budget, there is no alternative.”
Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport, Michael Tibollo, released a statement on Thursday, April 18, saying that this funding cut should not have an impact on local libraries, as the government is maintaining base funding for libraries across the province. This base funding has remained stagnant for over 20 years, despite rising costs. “Ontario Library Service – North and Southern Ontario Library Service are arm’s length agencies that have no involvement in the day-to-day operations of Ontario’s public libraries,” he wrote.
North Grenville Public Library (NGPL) CEO, Rachel Brown, says this statement lacks the understanding of just how significant SOLS’ contributions are to small libraries like NGPL. Not only do they provide the inter-library loan service, they also facilitate group purchasing and provide important information and training for librarians and other library employees. “This really impacts library operations,” she says.
Merrickville Public Library (MPL) Librarian, Mary-Kate Laphen, agrees that this funding cut, and the sudden cancellation of inter-library loans, is a huge loss for libraries, especially those in rural areas. In 2018 alone, the MPL lent out and borrowed roughly 2,000 books in total. The NGPL received and shipped around 4,300. Both libraries support several book clubs who rely on the service to secure multiple copies of the titles they are reading. “It is going to have a huge impact on small libraries, which have fewer resources,” Mary-Kate says.
The cancellation of the inter-library loans delivery service has also cost 24 people their jobs, one of whom, Rachel says, is a resident of North Grenville. It is unclear how many more services will have to be cut, as SOLS figures out how they are going to survive with half the budget. “We are waiting to see what SOLS is going to do,” Mary-Kate says. “I don’t know how it’s going to pan out, but it’s not going to be good.”
Rachel says that, while the loss of the inter-library loan delivery service is very unfortunate, there is still hope. The database that SOLS runs is currently suspended, as SOLS clears out all the current requests for books and figures out what to do next. However, there is some indication that the database will be able to be used in the future, if individual libraries find a way to transport the books between libraries using their own budgets. “Canada Post is not a terrible option,” she says. “They do give a discounted rate for mailing books.”
While libraries may not be seen as an essential service to those at Queens Park, Rachel says they are an integral part of a healthy community. “Not having books available is a loss to quality of life,” she says. “We need the dust to settle before we can see what happens with inter-library loans [longterm].”
As of now, patrons will not be able to order books from other libraries. Books that have already been delivered, or are in transit, will still be available. If you currently have a loaned book, the NGPL is asking that you return it at your earliest convenience. After April 26, the library will have to absorb the cost of returning the books to their respective libraries. Any questions can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.