Facing demands from Mayor Rob Ford to cut 10 per cent from its budget, Toronto Library board members met late into the night with dozens of residents rallying against cuts to branch hours.
Thirty residents signed up to speak on the issue, with just one expressing support for compressed hours at some of the city’s 98 branches as a way of saving the $7.3-million needed to meet the mayor’s request.
Last month, the board passed a set of cuts totalling 5.7 per cent of the agency’s overall budget. With another 4.3 per cent left to slice, the board agonized over suggestions ranging from increasing overdue fines to expanding advertising to shaving branch hours.
The whole 10-per-cent undertaking drew criticism from some directors. Earlier in the day, the executive committee had permitted waste and water services to submit total departmental cuts of under 6 per cent. And earlier in the year, the police board consented to a 0.6-per-cent increase.
“I think if we had less guns and more books, we’d all be better off,” mused board member Kenneth Stewart.
Public interest in the potential library cuts remains high several months after literary icon Margaret Atwood focused attention on the issue by encouraging her 225,000 Twitter followers to sign a petition against any closings.
The boardroom crowd spilled over to an auditorium where nearly 100 people watched the proceedings on a projector screen and cheered between deputations.
“I wish we could all hear the sentiment in that overflow room,” said one speaker, Ian Westerholm.
Board members clearly expressed a lack of support for branch closings or hour cuts.
“To me that’s the most important point we’re making here,” said Ross Perry.
Another member, Michael Foderick, did introduce a motion to shed up to 60 jobs and use $2-million in development charges to close the gap.
While decisions on how to meet the 4.3-per-cent reduction dragged late into the night, Chief Librarian Jane Pyper revealed that an internal audit by the firm DPRA recommended the agency invest in radio-frequency identification technology and automated sorting, as well as reducing hours and closing branches.
Ms. Pyper acknowledged the latter two were likely “unpalatable” to the board.
She warned that preserving branch hours could come at the expense of adult literacy, homework club, bookmobile and publication programs.
“If the board’s top priority is to preserve branch open hours, we have to look at programs we have tried to protect, which generally speak to children and those who are less able to access our services.”
She also tried to focus the board’s attention on how insufficient some of their budget-cutting suggestions were, noting that one idea to charge holds on books that are not picked up yields the Mississauga Library system only about $40,000.
The board’s recommendations will feed into a Nov. 28 budget committee report. Final library cuts will go to Toronto city council in mid-January.