Toronto Public Library workers have voted in favour of strike action that could occur as early as November.
Eighty-six per cent of respondents in Toronto Public Library Workers Union (TPLWU) Local 4948 voted on Oct. 8 to support a strike.
“We want to maintain good jobs in the library,” said Maureen O’Reilly, TPLWU spokesperson and chair of the bargaining committee. “There are a large number of our workers who are part timers and that means they have no benefits.”
Currently 50 per cent of the workforce is part-time.
Library workers are not the only ones concerned about the lack of full-time job opportunities.
LCBO workers nearly walked off the job this summer due to similar issues.
Library workers are also dealing with a reduction in staff while experiencing an increase in clients.
“Since the early 1990s ,we’ve lost 200 full-time equivalencies,” O’Reilly said. “If you go on to their website, you can see first-hand they are the most well-used public library, actually, in the world. It sometimes goes back and forth between Hong Kong and Toronto.”
Many of the job cuts may have been made in anticipation of a dip in public library usage, but that has not happened.
“They did say 10, 20 years ago that public libraries would be dead with the advancement of the Internet.
“Quite contrary to that, if you check their usage statistics, we are busier than ever,” O’Reilly said.
Toronto Public Libraries check out more than 30 million items a year.
Still, technology and the Internet have changed the way people access library resources.
“I use the TPL website. What I usually do, I order books and then put them on hold from home,” said Bianca Delgado, a student at the University of Toronto.
It has come to a point where people don’t need to interact with librarians.
“They’re introducing self-checkout machines,” O’Reilly said. “We’re supportive of new technologies, we are library workers after all, but it can’t be at the expense of a well-trained, professional workforce.”
Some library patrons do not see the need to replace experienced librarians.
“I go to the one near Highland Creek. They’re nicer there. They do help me when I go. When I ask them questions they physically go and get the books that I need,” Delgado said.
After receiving $3 million from Ottawa to renovate the Toronto Reference Library, Toronto Public Libraries are now asking the city for an additional $20 million to extend library service hours until midnight.
Library workers oppose this idea for two reasons.
“You’re not going to see a full library service provided. You’re basically going to see a warehouse style of library service. So, few staff, little access to material, basically just an open room,” O’Reilly said.
Delgado does not personally see a need for the extended hours.