It’s not just a library. It’s also a community centre, a provider of settlement services for newcomers, and a way to help kids stay off the street.
These were the major concerns voiced by residents at the Woodside Square library on Nov. 22 at the public budget cuts consultation meeting. Many of them strongly opposed the proposed cuts in hours and library collections to meet the city’s budget target of $17 million, or 10 per cent of the operating budget.
Woodside Library visitors at Finch and McCowan could lose Monday and Thursday morning hours, a reduction of six hours per week.
Katherine Palmer, the Toronto Public Library’s director of planning and policy, hosted the meeting. Scarborough-Rouge River’s city councillor, Chin Lee, was present, as well as Toronto’s budget chief, Mike Del Grande.
Locals at the meeting were upset, stating Woodside Library is one of the busiest branches in Toronto, and should be looked at as a special case.
Addressing Lee, area resident Ashraf Maseehsaid said, during mayor Rob Ford’s campaign last year, he promised no services were going to be cut.
“When he ran for a mayor, he was a councillor before so he knew about the city budget and the city’s financial situation,” Maseeh said. “So how did he promise this when he knew about that? He was either fooling us or he didn’t know what he was doing before that.”
Lee said he could not speak for Ford.
This place is going to be like a zoo [if the hours are cut]
— Barb Gomme
Barb Gomme has been living in the area for 25 years and has been visiting the library since it opened in 1977. She said she visits the library at all times and finds it packed – even in the mornings.
“This place is going to be like a zoo [if the hours are cut],” Gomme said. “The staff that is working here is going to be pushed to the limit.”
Gomme said there are also many families in the area who can’t afford computers. The library provides students with computers that they frequently use for schoolwork.
It’s hard to get a computer; she often has to book her time well in advance, Gomme said.
Fifty-six out of the 99 branches in Toronto are expected to have reduced morning and evening hours.
Scarborough libraries may lose 77.5 hours of service per week.
Meeting the 2012 budget shortfall also possibly means 106,000 fewer new items bought for library collections, a reduction of 12 per cent.
There were a few at the meeting who thought losing some hours is better than closing branches.
“We don’t have the money for it and we have to find more efficiencies,” Miroslav Glavic, who works in the area said.
Glavic gave an example of having Tim Hortons in some of the branches to pay rent to the libraries instead of raising taxes.
“There are many people in my neighbourhood, who can’t afford to feed their kids. And these hard taxes are going to kill them, and they’re going to move out of the city,” Glavic said.
Glavic suggested having one librarian at the checkouts instead of three as another way to save money.
Seventy-five per cent of the library’s 2011 expenditures are for salaries. Palmer said cutting salary expenses by reducing library hours is “definitely related.”
Forty-two of Toronto’s public libraries are already opened at a minimum of 40 hours per week.
Lee said meeting the budget shortfall is important because otherwise, property taxes are going to be increased.
“My understanding is that Mayor Ford promised an increase of no larger than 2.5 per cent, so I think we’re going to try to keep it at that,” Lee said.
“These are the kinds of things we have to look at. The TTC, the police, everyone needs to look at how we can save money because we are in a problematic budget situation,” Lee explained.
Maureen O’Reilly, president of the Toronto Public Library Workers Union Local 4948, said Toronto’s libraries are the busiest in the world. Last year, 18 million people came through the doors, she said.
The union has started an online petition urging the city council and the Toronto Public Library Board to vote against the cuts.
The library board will consider its budget options at its next meeting on Dec. 12 at 6 p.m. at the Toronto Reference Library.