“Nothing is Sacred – Even Libraries”

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During university, I volunteered at the local library, shelf-reading and tidying books.  When I told a friend, she asked why I didn’t just volunteer at a food bank; then I’d do more good.  At the time, I wasn’t aware of the saying “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day; teach him how to fish and he’ll eat for life.”  But that’s more or less what I told her.

I believed, and I still believe, that free education is one of the fundamental rights to which each person is entitled.  And education doesn’t end in the classroom – it stretches into the home and community, and libraries are at the heart of this education.

So, yeah, I believe libraries are sacred.  That’s why it scares me that they’re first in line for the Toronto budget cuts.

At last count in 2010, the Toronto Public Library was the busiest one on the continent, with over 30 million items circulated for a city of 2.5 million people.  (By contrast, the New York Public library serves over 3 million people in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island, and circulated 24 million items last year.)  Torontonians don’t just borrow materials.  We buy used books, do research for homework, get together with friends, surf the Internet, and find jobs.  We take part in the homework clubs, ESL programs, book and conversation and film clubs, author readings, cultural seminars, library balls – the list goes on and on.  There’s a damn good reason we call our library system one of the best in the world – it’s because it is.

And yet, the smaller local branches – where much of this interaction takes place – may be the first to go, so that city council can balance the budget.  Never mind all the people who use libraries, including the above teenager.  Anika featured in the video above is no taxpayer, she said at 2 a.m. during a 22-hour municipal meeting.  “But when I get to use the computers in the library and do my homework, I’ll be able to get a good job someday…and when the day comes to pay taxes, I’ll be glad that you supported people paying the extra taxes to keep the system going.”

Personally, I’m willing to pay higher taxes to maintain the services that I love about Toronto – snow driveway clearing, tree-planting, city-owned theatres, and yes, the 99 library branches scattered across the GTA.  If city council is bound and determined to eliminate their deficit, then that’s how I’d contribute.

But that’s me, and a couple thousand other people.  When push comes to shove though, how many will really be willing to shell out, say, a 10% property tax hike, or a 25 cent public transit fare increase, to keep some of these services running?  And how many families are financially able to afford this?

A columnist in the Toronto Star (the author of my blog title) maintained last Thursday that “a library within handy access by foot…isn’t a right…It would simply be nice.”  Which is reducing a library’s community contribution to mere geography, and a library is more than that.

I’d like to know what you think about this issue. Vote and let us know your thoughts.

Would you support closing library branches to help balance the city budget?

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- Jean AAR

40 thoughts on ““Nothing is Sacred – Even Libraries”

  1. Jean, the rest of Ontarion knows that the reason your libraries are going is b/c Torontorians will not pay property taxes. Ironically, you are the biggest city with the lowest property taxes and the rest of Ont foots a lot of your bill.

    When your Mayor says “I’m not raising taxes” yet where I live with Munic and County taxes it went up about 5% and my little village library went from part time hours to full time hours….

    Little sympathy.

  2. I just voted “yes”, when I meant to press “no”. Just up and starting on my coffee. Only 1 drop in my system. So sorry. I meant No…a thousand times No.
    Anyway, I love libraries. Since reading digitally….mostly, I don’t frequent my libraries like I used to. I really have to get back into them, because I have my lovely memories of libraries from the time I was very young and my mother started taking us. Love libraries. Always will

  3. My mom works at a library, and this is certainly an issue. They’ve cut operating hours but are working their employees more, and my mom wouldn’t be surprised if they wound up closing some of the smaller branches in our system soon. What really irks her is that because the library is now only open one night a week, that is the only night for groups to use the meeting spaces, which is really a shame– there are big, beautiful meeting rooms that sit empty 6 nights a week, when in reality the demand is there to probably fill them up each of those nights..

    Libraries provide so much more than books, and I don’t know if people really realize that. I am so happy that when I move to Alabama, the local library is right on my walk between home and work. Since I will be living on a much lower income than I am used to, the library will be all that much more important to me.

  4. I always support library funding no matter what…my property taxes on my home are to say the least ridiculous….$3700.00 a year with over half going to the school system…the amount per year going to my local county library is about $300.00…the rest is for city services such as police and fire etc. I have no objection with the money for my library and I continue to pass levies to insure it stays. Its curious that my schools need more and more money while the level of education is slipping and there is a law in this country (US) to “educate all” its surprising how high the dropout rate is and also how many kids cannot think themselves out of a paper bag or read a ruler, don’t get me started on the kids with learning disabilities and the cuts in their education…its sad and the only haven to a “free” education (nothing is free) is the library…I am a strong advocate of homeschooling and the library is the rescue for many parents that choose this path…I am also blessed to have 5 libraries within a 10 miles radius of my home. So I say…support those libraries no matter what…its the savior for many!!!

    • lauren: …my property taxes on my home are to say the least ridiculous….$3700.00 a year with over half going to the school system…

      It’s funny how relative things can be – we pay property taxes nearly three times higher than those that you pay! And our house is an old (built in 1928), modest one, pretty far down the scale as far as what others in our area pay on their McMansions.

      Anyway, it makes me ill to read of instances where governments cut library funding (and school funding – but that’s a whole other rant) in order to try to balance budgets. What makes our society and country one of the greatest in the world IMO is the existence of libraries that allow everyone – regardless of class, income, past, etc. – to try to make a better life for themselves via education and free resources. To eliminate or severely cut library services takes away that opportunity for too many people.

      That said, I can see trying to help the problem by perhaps charging reasonable fees for “extra” services. Perhaps charging groups a small fee for using a conference room or meeting room. Perhaps charging library patrons a small fee (I’m talking $5-$10) to get a library card which is valid for X number of years and then when they renew it they pay the fee again. In the end, however, libraries benefit the ENTIRE community, and thus their expense should be shouldered by the entire community.

      • Lynn M:
        It’s funny how relative things can be – we pay property taxes nearly three times higher than those that you pay! And our house is an old (built in 1928), modest one, pretty far down the scale as far as what others in our area pay on their McMansions.

        I don’t argue that other areas of the US have different property tax scales my home is a modest 1600 sq ft…50 year old ranch…the home is valued at $137K…I find what I pay offensive…sigh… as you have said I agree that cutting funding for libraries is a appalling, and charging fees for “extras” may work for some but not for all. Libraries are for the community benefit. An oasis to learn…or just to sit and read!

        • lauren: I don’t argue that other areas of the US have different property tax scales my home is a modest 1600 sq ft…50 year old ranch…the home is valued at $137K…I find what I pay offensive…sigh…

          Yes – I agree with you that no matter where we live in the country, it always seems that we pay far too high property taxes!! And it is very offensive when these taxes go up and up every year yet our governments can’t seem to pay all of the bills and are cutting services right and left. I live in Illinois, home of the School of the Corrupt Politician, so all of this offends more than ever. :)

  5. Well, I am definitely biased, since I am a librarian, but the simple fact is libraries cost money. Some of the other things you mentioned, like clearing driveways of snow (not something I know a lot about here in the Deep South), cost money. The only way to keep these things is to pay money.

  6. We have just been through exactly this in Oxford (UK) and recently the council backed down – there will be cuts but no library will close. Being Oxford we had prominent supporters of libaries, Philip Pullman etc and got a lot of attention in the national media, i think a lot of other places in the UK have not been so lucky.

  7. i use my local libraries all the time, so I’d be willing to vote on a special measure for instance to pay an extra tax to keep them open. Whatever it takes as far as I’m concerned. No libraries is crazy talk. Benjamin Franklin helped open a library in Philadelphia back in the day. I think they’re a right, not a priveledge.

  8. We are having the same problems in my area. I am applying this fall to grad school for Library Sciences and everyone is wondering why. They want to know why I am going to pauper myself to get into a dying job sector; most of them dont even know what librarians do, least of all how many people use them or how useful a library can be. It’s just another thing the greater public takes for granted; once they are gone, people will feel the gap they leave. At least those attempting to become educated will. Maybe others wont. I’m actually going to try for academic libraries because of my interests, and I think that they might survive longer. But it makes me sad that I have to think of it that way. Libraries should be just like a Secretary of State’s office, always there for the public to use. Lord knows the library is far more useful and cooperative…………..

  9. I’m a library lover too, but I doubt whether lack of one can keep a person from becoming educated or knowledgeable. They help; they make it easier; but a lack of them doesn’t prevent. I also opine that kids in school get every opportunity to become educated despite the evidence to the contrary; they just don’t seem to want to.

    • dick: I’m a library lover too, but I doubt whether lack of one can keep a person from becoming educated or knowledgeable. They help; they make it easier; but a lack of them doesn’t prevent. I also opine that kids in school get every opportunity to become educated despite the evidence to the contrary; they just don’t seem to want to.

      It’s not the “don’t want too’s”, it’s the “don’t have too’s” that’s the problem in school’s. The system is built on a spiral and if you miss at the bottom, you never catch up… contrary to the claims you can. Basics like spelling and math facts are no longer taught.. they are “absorbed” and calculators are allowed in gr 3, and computers in kindergarten. Children are shoved through and there are no consequences.

      Therefore… unless you have a parent that teaches at home. That has an expectation of basic education… they don’t learn. My FSW (Comm. Living – disability) and the school’s have all told me that 25% of the parents care (normal and spec ed)… 75% want it done for them. It shows.

      Toss in teaching children at a very young age they can negotiate and they don’t have to follow the rules…

      You currently have a mess.

  10. I’m a book addict/librarian so I’m also a huge supporter of public libraries. In my community I see an ever widening gap between the “haves” and “have nots.” The library helps those who don’t have a computer or access to the internet. Have you applied for a job lately? It has to be done on-line. Need to file for unemployment? Gotta do it on-line.

    Can’t afford to go to the movies? You can rent FREE current release movies at the library. There’s also an (almost) endless supply of children’s books to keep the kids entertained.

    There’s just no end to the awesomeness that is the public library.

  11. I don’t belive in closing libraries to deal with budget issues – I don’t know about Toronto but I do know that most city governments are overrun with idiotic bills for things many taxpayers know nothing about. Basically I guess what I’m saying is that our elected officials aren’t trustworthy in any way shape or form anymore because society in general has problems with honesty and with budgeting. I know in my area that our local city mayor managed to sneak a raise for herself (25%) through the city council she controlled- lucikly our local paper got wind of it after it went through – right before she was up for re-election. The mayor’s position got the raise but that particular mayor lost the election – it’ll be interesting to see if the new council does a re-adjustment of the mayors salary – which is what most citizens are calling for. That amount in and of itself would keep a small library branch open for at least 6 months on a yearly basis.

  12. I’m happy to report that in Norman, Oklahoma, we voted our library some money last year and they were able to increase the opening hours, and they bought a bunch of computers that can be used by the public.

  13. Having worked at libraries for the last 8 years, I love and appreciate libraries. That is actually the second stop we make when we move to a new area (first is driver’s license…).

    However, most of the services that patrons demand (DVDs, Internet, bestsellers, meeting rooms, etc) cost money. Our local tax base dropped precipitately the past 3 years. Library funding was cut by 35%. Out went the DVDs, some book purchases (we got 9 copies instead of 18 system-wide), Friday hours, bookdrops open during hours the library was closed, and staff hours were cut 40%. We got a levy passed, but it is still very precarious.

    I am in full support of charging for library cards. It might filter out the deadbeats. We had patrons who owed more than $3000 in fines. They would come in and check out the maximum allowable DVDs, CDs, and audiobooks, then never return them. We broke up a theft ring passing DVDs out the back window.

    Makes it hard for libraries to stay afloat when people do those things.

  14. I disagree strongly with the idea that the reason children aren’t learning in our system is because of “don’t want to” or “don’t have to”. In my district – which is considered one of the best in the State in a state with an excellent standard – most parents have to pay loads for private tutoring and other supplements. These kids may not want to learn but they definitely have to – and for the most part they do.

    I would love to see how our standardized testing looked if they disqualified every kid who got outside help. Probably we’d drop pretty drastically. Which would prove what numerous books have said all along – the problem lies with the teachers and teaching methods, not the kids. Once upon a time a one room school house could produce people with a sixth grade reading level in six years. It now takes twelve years and millions of dollars to achieve the same results.

    And I will add that having a public library is vital to our current education. Our study rooms have kids/tutors in them all night long every night but Friday. Most days kids are using research stations to get at information. There isn’t time in your average school day to do research – it has to be done at the library.

    I feel that small branches are important. People need a local place to get books and other research materials. Am I able to drive to the city and do this? Sure but I am much happier doing it in my own local little branch.

    I have to add that my kids have hundreds of books in the house and I offer constantly to buy whatever they books they want. My youngest takes me up on that a lot unfortunately :-) But we still use the libraries a lot because we read a lot. And like anything practicing reading improves your reading. It always amazes me that people feel you need to practice soccer to get good at it but never correlate that to math or reading.

    I say cut any budget but the library budget. Leave that for last.
    maggie b.

  15. I’m currently volunteering at my local branch of the public library, but for 25 years, I was a professional librarian who saw first-hand what happens when budgets are cut and funding for libraries evaporates.

    The public library system in my community, like many others will not be funded at the level it was in years past. The former mayor was recalled because he raised property taxes, and got people on all sides of the political spectrum upset. Under the new mayor, a proposal was floated to close several “underperforming” branches–all of them small, and most of them in close proximity to other branches. There was a large outcry, so the branch-closing order was rescinded. However, there is still the problem of funding levels, so staff will be cut (all part-timers, and a number of full-time people), as will hours of library service.

    Apparently, basic economics is not a required subject in high school anymore, because for some reason, people seem to think that service from government entities (federal, state, or local) can be paid for by using the same revenue rates that worked ten or fifteen years ago! It’s not difficult to comprehend–if you want services from your government entity, it’s going to cost money! Whether it’s fees, taxes, or some other revenue form, that’s the bottom line!

  16. Maggie, I asked my youngest son’s teacher why children couldn’t read. I have taught 2 children, one on either end of the autism spectrum, to read at their age level’s of nearly 12 and nearly 10. The answer is twofold 1- they don’t have to. http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/5367278-secrets-of-discipline failure is not an option and they are shoved through the system. 2 – their parents don’t read. Not that they can’t… they don’t. So “they don’t have to”, and “they don’t want to”.

    My house and your house is full of books. My house and your house they see us reading all the time. Most houses do not. So, according to her trying to explain to a child why they should learn to read when nobody in their family even opens a book…. impossible.

    Also, you gave the answer… your school system is probably a “have”… I went to highschool in one of those areas. Where as one teacher admitted to us they come for a holiday since they only have to teach school, not deal with behaviour etc. Where parents – like you and I – work at it day in and day out. Even for 15 to 30min a day that makes an incredible difference. We live in a “have not” area.

    My eldest gets “you are so smart in Math”. Why?? B/c his engineer Mother redid the Gr 3 math curriculum with him from Mar to Sept during/after Gr 3 using Saxon Math and taught him how to do it correctly. The mistakes, the arguments were impressive. All b/c it had never been correct. His Mother until this past year made certain to go over things he had difficulty with and he knows if he is having difficulty to tell me – he now hates to have trouble in math – and I will teach it to him.

    Ours learn b/c they have to… discipline and expectation.

    Libraries are important in “have not” areas. Ours has the second largest use rate in the county and we’re a 500 person village, in a 5000 person Munic with 2 library branches (we had 3 and the rest of the Munic’s in our Cty have 1 – the library is Cty). The one they closed had 6hrs a week at it. This one gained those 6 and added more. We need more space for it… it’s tiny… good thing for ILL Ont and Cty wide. Which is why we pay tax increases. http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2011/08/05/kelly-mcparland-toronto-gets-a-choice-between-gravy-or-taxes/ But many, many won’t.

  17. I m sorry but any library to me is a magical place. I feel calm and relax able to go find buy or listen to books. Every book has its own motif ,themes , places to be seen . The importance of Library is more valuable than most of the free services I get from my public education.

  18. farmwifetwo: In Toronto, Windsor, Sudbury, Thunder Bay, Kingston and Ottawa, sales tax goes to the province and most of the property tax goes directly to the municipality; whatever doesn’t goes to provincially-funded municipal services, and in Toronto’s case that’s mainly to accommodate the large numbers of immigrants (and related services) and low-income population (and related services). Which portion of your property tax is coming to us?

    Melanie: I completely agree. What makes me angry is that people voted in a mayor who promised a $60 vehicle tax rebate – SIXTY MEASLY DOLLARS – and promised to trim the city budget of all excess spendings, and who now want their vote back because a) they don’t want to pay more taxes, and b) said mayor doesn’t want to raise taxes and so will just slash services instead. Can’t have cake and eat it, people.

    Marion: We don’t have Philip Pullman, but we do have Margaret Atwood gunning for our libraries. (And the Chapters bookstore, which is offering all library card holders – any library card holder – 30% off all Margaret Atwood books.)

    dick: There are many students for whom lack of an accessible library will be a significant barrier to education. And there are very, very few schools whose own resources can match a local library’s. When a research project comes up, does the average teacher say “Skip the library and do it all at home/school”? Nope.

    Maria D – As I said in response to Melanie, our current mayor was recently voted in because of the promise to rid the city of idiotic bills (what he called, during his campaign, “the gravy”). He didn’t find any. So now the list of proposed cut services includes publicly-funded senior homes, childcare services, water fluoridation, snow removal, police services – how do a few local libraries stand a chance?

    Heather – I used to be vehemently against charging for library cards, but I’ve come round to the other end. If one thinks about it, an annual rate of $10 or $20 dollars is nothing compared to unlimited access. I believe the Toronto Public Library has already made cuts by outsourcing the acquisition department, which has resulted in some rather strange additions to the shelves…

  19. I continue to maintain that getting educated is an exercise of will on the part of the learner. Without the learner’s choosing to learn, libraries, good teachers, and endless financial resources are without purpose. Old saws often contain truth and the one that a horse can be led to water but can’t be forced to drink is applicable here.

    • dick: I continue to maintain that getting educated is an exercise of will on the part of the learner.Without the learner’s choosing to learn, libraries, good teachers, and endless financial resources are without purpose.Old saws often contain truth and the one that a horse can be led to water but can’t be forced to drink is applicable here.

      And I agree with you Dick…yes learning is a choice…but its also something that is nurtured and cultivated…Parents can start this at home and teachers (for the most part) can also instill a love of learning. But that’s not the point of this article its about the demise of libraries due to financial constraints.

      People can choose to learn at anytime and for someone like myself I cannot afford courses that require $$…But I can afford to walk into my library and pick up a book that interests me and learn…its not free but its far more affordable than a book purchased or a course of study at a college or other educational institution.

    • dick: I continue to maintain that getting educated is an exercise of will on the part of the learner.Without the learner’s choosing to learn, libraries, good teachers, and endless financial resources are without purpose.Old saws often contain truth and the one that a horse can be led to water but can’t be forced to drink is applicable here.

      I totally agree with you. For as much as our school systems get stuck with the blame on why our kids are doing so poorly these days, it seems that a lot of parents are passing the buck. They refuse to be involved yet are upset when their kids fail. My sister-in-law teaches in the Buffalo Public School system. She says on any given day, she’s lucky to have 50% of her students show up. Most kids in her school miss an average of 7 weeks of school per year. That’s just the average. And then the parents wonder why their kids fail and want all of the teachers fired. It’s not right.

      If you have a family who believes in a good education, their children will succeed no matter what school they go to. If you have a child born into a family where education is not promoted, enforced and valued, you could send that child to the best school in the country and still have problems. It takes parental involvement and responsibility in equal amounts to a good school system. Instead of pointing fingers, people need to own their children’s education.

  20. At the moment I do not use library services but there were times in my life when I relied on the nearest library.
    At high school, at teachers college, the early years of work and lower salary and when I retired and was waiting for my superanuation to come through.
    I’m prepared to pay enough rates now so that others can have the same benefits that I did.
    I would never have developed my love of reading if my small primary school in the country (33 pupils) hadn’t been able to borrow books long term from the library in the nearest town.

  21. As a former Library Director I can tell you that in the eyes of the powers that be libraries are looked at as “low hanging fruit.” I used to tell then that we don’t have big red trucks and sirens but that we save lives in a different way by giving them information and by supporting their need for recreational reading and by helping them apply for jobs. Sometimes it worked but they did listen.
    Libraries are very important to a community and studies have shown that businesses look more favorably when they have a good library as well as other factors.
    So support your library!

  22. I have a library degree and finally got tired of losing jobs due to budget cuts and switched to a field where a lot of my librarian skills come in handy (I’m now a paralegal). I never worked in a public or school library — my specialty was finance, so I worked in corporate libraries. And yes, those budgets get slashed, too. I now volunteer at my local public library, and the staff is thrilled to have a trained librarian among their volunteers. This small public library is busier than any other branch in the county system — and this often includes the Central Library as well.

    Libraries are more important than a lot of the garbage that government funds these days; but governments have a lot of powerful people who want money for their pet projects. And, unfortunately, most of those pet projects don’t include libraries.

  23. My county is currently facing this problem and we’re fighting to prevent closings. So far, the solution is to close all libraries one day a week. Even that is a loss for the public.

    The nearest library for me is fifteen miles away. Fortunately, a bookmobile visits my town every two weeks. I’m always there picking up a stack of books. I fear that the next money saving tactic will be to shut down the bookmobile.

  24. Julie P – Can I ask what you do when you volunteer at your local library? Our volunteer programs usually entail homework clubs and tutoring, but nothing related to library operations itself – that’s restricted to paid staff.

    Kathryn – We have a bookmobile too, and I’m actually amazed it’s still alive and kicking in this city.

    • Jean Wan: Julie

      We have a lot of volunteers who shelve books, but most of them do fiction and biography. I’m one of the few who is trusted to keep the CD collection straight, and definitely one of the few who is trusted to shelve non-fiction. They teach all volunteers how to work with Dewey, but not everyone remembers that .012 comes after .0113. I am also periodically assigned to search for lost or misplaced books. Each branch gets a list of books that the system is looking for, and the person with the list has to go through each section to look for the books on the list. This means looking at the individual copies’ bar codes. You can have 3 copies of a book, but not the exact one they’re looking for. That task is generally assigned to staff, but I do it when they need me to. You don’t want to find anything because it means that someone messed up and put a book on the shelf that wasn’t supposed to be there. I actually like doing it. I put my headphones on and concentrate on the task at hand.

  25. So thrilling to read so many posts in favour of libraries!
    I am a senior manager for a library authority in the UK and note with interest an earlier post from a reader from Oxford. All library authorities in the UK are going through the same angst as you seem to be in the US and Canada and so many libraries are under threat, not simply of closing but of being subsumed into wider council services under the banner of community engagement.
    There is a feeling amongst politicians that libraries are just glorified book swaps that can be delivered anywhere by anybody with no clear understanding of the huge benefit that libraries bring to people’s lives in terms of information,educational benefits and imagination stimulation.
    Yes, we are and should be at the heart of the community, but to be truly beneficial, we need the expertise of committed professionals; volunteers alone just won’t be able to give the same service, however willing.

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