Jeff Green | Apr 24, 2019
Library services are primarily funded and managed by local municipalities and that buffers them from impacts resulting from provincial budget cuts.
But they are not immune.
As part of their 2019 budget, the Progressive Conservative government under Premier Doug Ford cut half of the funding for Southern Ontario Library Service (SOLS), an organisation that works with Ontario libraries to help ensure equitable access to library services across the Province.
One of the programs that SOLS has run ever since it was established in 1989 is the inter-library loan service. With this service, library users anywhere in the Province have access to publicly available books and other materials from all of the libraries in Ontario.
At least that was the case until last Friday. In response to the 50% cut in their budget, SOLS informed all the libraries that they serve that the program has been suspended.
The following notice was posted on the SOLS website by Chief Executive Officer Barbara Franchetto: “It is with great sadness that I have to inform public libraries in Southern Ontario that the SOLS interlibrary loan delivery service will permanently cease to operate, effective April 26th, 2019. I know this is very sad and disappointing news but given the enormity of the cut to our operating budget, there is no alternative. Even under our previous budget allocation, it was becoming difficult to sustain the service because of ever increasing operating costs.”
Patricia Enright, Chief Librarian/Chief Executive Officer of the Kingston Frontenac Public Library (KFPL), said that she was surprised when she heard about the funding cut in the provincial budget, and saddened when she received word last Thursday that the inter-library loan service was being discontinued.
“It’s a service that has been part of Ontario libraries since before I started working in libraries over 30 years ago. It’s particularly important for small libraries that do not have large collections of their own, and those libraries will be hit hardest, I think,” she said in a phone interview on Tuesday morning (April 23).
KFPL serves the City of Kingston and Frontenac County, and members throughout Frontenac County can order materials from all KFPL branches, including the large Kingston branches, which are then delivered to their local branches. This service is not affected by the cut. However, access to materials from other libraries across the Province has been suspended, as of last week.
This accounts for about 4,500 deliveries each year from libraries across the Province,” said Enright, “a small fraction of the number of materials that the library loans out each year. Our patrons use the service mostly for out of print books and academic materials. It is one of the tools that we have always used to help patrons find the information they are looking for, if we don’t have it in our library.”
Enright added that while the courier system operated by SOLS is being shut down, there is a chance that an alternate delivery system can be found to get the service back on stream. They will know if those efforts are successful sometime in May.
Another service that SOLS offers is a bulk purchasing service for Ontario libraries, both for physical materials and digital services, such as Ancestry – an online genealogy service.
If that service ceases, it could lead to added costs, or less service, in libraries across the Province.
The Kingston Frontenac Public Library also receives a provincial operating grant of approximately $300,000, which represents 4% of its operating budget.
“We have been assured that those grants will not be affected by any cuts, at least for the current year,” said Enright.
Closing down the inter-library loan program will have a greater impact on the Addington Highlands (AH) library than it has on the Kingston Frontenac Library.
The small library, which has branches in Flinton and Denbigh, serves a population of 2,300 permanent residents. Head Librarian Bonnie Leon said that the AH library patrons were making use of the service over 500 times a year, which is significant for such a small population, as compared 4,500 inter-library loans in Kingston and Frontenac, which has a population of 150,000.
“As a small library, we have a limited collection of items, so cutting us off from Inter-Library loans will be felt right away,” said Leon. “Since this is the first week after the announcement, nobody really knows about it yet, but many people will be disappointed when they find out.”
Leon said she is hoping that some arrangement will be made, but realises that costs will likely go up if a service such as Canada Post is the delivery method for materials. The Addington Highlands library receives about 10% of its funding, $11,000, from provincial grants, which are remaining in place for 2019.