Library board offers patrons staff-free extended hours

While she’s had a library card since she was a child, Marina Phillips-Anderson has never used  the Todmorden library on the Pape Avenue. However, with a proposal to keep the library open additional hours coming this fall, that could change.

A pilot project for the Todmorden and Swansea Memorial libraries to extend their open hours will keep the libraries open as late as the community centre itself. The two branches have the lowest number of hours open to patrons, and although the proposal calls for extra hours of operation, librarians will not be present during those extended hours.

“I think it is a great idea,” Phillips-Anderson said. “Libraries are safe havens for people.”

She added that she believes libraries provide an escape for people, and the extended hours will accommodate patrons’ work hours and leisure time.

The change means that after hours, the two libraries will offer a self-checkout machine and video surveillance to monitor and protect patrons. The Toronto Public Library Board says the extended hours are a cost-effective way of serving the public’s needs.

Maureen O’Reilly, president of Toronto Public Library Workers’ Union, believes that the staff-free proposal poses a number of problems, including vandalism and safety of patrons.

“What if somebody had a heart attack?” she said. “There wouldn’t be anyone to attend to them. It would just have to be caught on camera.”

O’Reilly said her union would prefer the libraries to hire new librarians willing to work those extended hours, not employ surveillance cameras instead.

“The library staff are an important part of the service because they are there to assist patrons. They are there to be the eyes and ears of the library for health and safety concerns,” she said.

Ana-Maria Critchley, a Toronto Public Library spokesperson, has confidence in the surveillance system.

“The Todmorden library is a small room … located in (a) community (centre). … If anyone needs assistance, they will be able to access somebody at a nearby branch,” Critchley said.

Library user Phillips-Anderson believes that safety of patrons shouldn’t be a big issue.

“I do hope that people respect the rules,” she said, “and will help check other people if anything does happen.”