The future of our libraries

The mere mention of closures, of things such as fire halls, schools, and libraries, sends chills down the spines of residents of rural and remote areas of the province.

The local government services delivery review; operations review and eventually governance review have residents – particularly in Highlands East and Algonquin Highlands – on edge.

While services are not likely to change much in the villages of Dysart, Minden Hills and Wilberforce, it’s areas north of Carnarvon, Cardiff, Gooderham and Highland Grove that are concerned.

Take for example the draft operational review presented to County councillors just before Christmas. The writers of the report – KPMG Canada from Sudbury – said our libraries don’t meet provincial standards.

Drilling into the report, and in chatting with library CEO Bessie Sullivan, the newer Dysart et al and Minden Hills libraries are meeting standards. Wilberforce is close. It’s Cardiff, Gooderham, Highland Grove and Stanhope that are bringing down the bell curve.

It’s not surprising since the province uses metrics such as floor space, hours, computers, staffing and programming.

The three libraries in Highlands East and the one in Algonquin Highlands are small; only operate on a part-time basis and don’t have a lot of technology on hand. So, naturally, they are not going to have all of the bells and whistles that their larger counterparts do.

Dorset was another of those small branches but last year it was made into a depot, where people can pick up books and other materials they have ordered elsewhere, and drop them back off when they’re done.

County councillors need to continue to plan the future of our library service. Will there be three main branches, in Haliburton, Minden and Wilberforce – and the rest be made into book depots? Undoubtedly, it would save money and that money could be poured back into the main libraries to provide even better services there.

But, if you have ever dropped into the libraries at Dorset and Stanhope, or Cardiff, Gooderham and Highland Grove, they’re much more than just libraries. In addition to grabbing a good book, they are a community gathering spot – somewhere for people to have a chat. They are also a place to gather information. All of this is especially poignant in the midst of a long, cold winter, particularly for seniors who live at home, and others who are isolated.

The argument could be made that there are cafes and restaurants to do that, or community centres. There are. However, many of our seniors on fixed incomes can’t afford to regularly go to commercial eating establishments. Thankfully, there is free programming at some centres and we do encourage people to go to those.

So, County councillors, in consultation with their constituents have some choices. They could spend more money on the overall library budget and bring the smaller branches closer to provincial guidelines. They could focus on the three main branches, as previously mentioned, and make the four smaller libraries into depots. They could also choose to close some smaller branches.

Looking elsewhere does not always provide solutions either. For example, our neighbours in the City of Kawartha Lakes have the same challenges, now sitting on 14 branches.

For now, the public has to think about what it wants. Can they live with the status quo or do they want change and what are the costs?

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