Sunday, August 07, 2011

Save Our Libraries

©2011 Our Public Library TO, campaign logo

I know that many of you (particularly those of you in Toronto and other parts of Canada) have been following the recent, very troubling, threat of funding cuts to our city's public library system...along with numerous other community services, arts and enormously important public fora and services. Many of you are already participating in campaigns to save the Toronto Public Library (TPL) against the proposed cuts and closures, while many more are bemoaning the parallels between the discussions this summer in Toronto and what's been happening in other cities and countries around the world over the past few years. I've posted about the Our Public Library campaign on twitter and Google+ a few times already, but want to republish my thanks and gratitude to everyone who's been taking action and speaking out against the possible privatization (or more simply destruction) of the Toronto public libraries and other community services. 

For those of us with an interest (professional or personal) in children's literature, media and culture, a threat to public libraries--and to children's services specifically (as is the case here)--is a particularly crucial issue to rally around. Children are major users of public libraries (in some cases, making up over 40% of patrons); there are all sorts of important correlations between library access/use and learning (and achievement); not to mention all the links between rights/wellbeing and access to information, culture, literature, ICTs, knowledge, community programming, and everything else the library currently provides.

For those of you who haven't been following this story, here's a very brief rundown, which I hope will also serve as a (renewed) call to action and support. In July, consultants hired by Mayor Ford and City Council to come up with recommendations for spending reductions proposed sweeping cuts to the Toronto Public Library, which would include branch closures, reduced hours, and cuts to children’s services. Here's the summary from the Our Public Library "Threat" page:
Mayor Rob Ford, launched a review of all city services as a prelude to a massive Toronto budget-slashing plan. The TPL is a target of this Core Services Review, a process with the goal of privatizing or shutting down municipal services. 
Following the lead of several American cities, we are likely to see our City Council privatize some or all of the TPL’s operations, unless we act to change this outcome.
How could a private company make a profit running a free service that is funded by taxpayers? The mandate of the private operator would be to reduce the level of public funding that now supports our libraries. At the same time, they need to make a profit. There is an inevitable conflict here which signals bad news for all library users, from children to seniors.  First, local branches of the Toronto Public Library would almost certainly be closed. Library users would see higher user fees, fewer books and less access to the information and other vital services our public libraries offer for little or no cost as hours of operation are limited. The cuts to library staff that have been going on for years will be accelerated. 
Three quarters of Toronto residents oppose closing local library branches as a way of cutting costs and seven-in-ten oppose library privatization.
Or, if you'd prefer a video summary, here's the one that's been making the rounds:

The announcement and the Our  Public Libraries TO campaign led to a petition, which you can sign here, as well as a very strong pro-library presence at last week's marathon city council meeting (22+ hours, 169 concerned citizen speakers), which you can read more about here, and a now infamous battle between the Fords and the fabulous Margaret Atwood. During all this, City Councillor (and the mayor's brother) Doug Ford has said some pretty inflammatory things, which helped enormously in raising public interest and awareness (including the much cited, "“we’re going to be outsourcing everything that is not nailed down” and the famously erroneous "I’ve got more libraries in my area than I have Tim Hortons").

Final decisions about the cuts have been postponed until September 19th, so keeping the campaign alive will be tough but key. A number of councillors have already sided against cuts to the TPL, but a lot can happen in six weeks. So be sure to spread the word often and loudly. And remember that this is just one of many fronts upon which this battle is being fought these days.

Resources:

  • Our Public Library TO campaign website
  • Phil Bradley's Save our Library posters - from the recent UK campaign
  • Follow Margaret Atwood's Twitter
  • Follow (and add to) the #savetpl twitter topic
  • Use the library - visit your local branch, take out lots of books. If you don't have one already, sign up for a TPL library card asap
  • Let me (and everyone) know about things, events, actions you're taking to fight the proposed cuts (to the TPL, arts funding and/or any other essential community service), and I'll be sure to repost it across my networks!

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