Library cuts hardbound

The board of the Toronto Public Library (TPL) is pushing back against Mayor Rob Ford’s call for a 10 per cent budget cut. After months of meetings, the TPL board has agreed to a $164.5 million budget for 2012, which is a 5.9 per cent decrease from the previous budget. But like Toronto City Council, the TPL board is split on how to achieve the other 4.1 per cent in cuts, and not for lack of trying.

Chief librarian Jane Pyper has suggested cuts to literacy programs for both children and adults, and the bookmobile program, among other areas. The TPL has already cut 100 positions that will save almost $10 million.

TPL board chair Paul Anslie (Councillor for Ward 43, Scarborough East) is in support of reducing operating hours at 56 branches as a way to cut costs, but other board members are adamant that “efficiencies” can be found.

Ford’s call for a 10 per cent cut applies to all city agencies, boards and departments, but the TPL is not alone in not meeting that mark. So far, 13 departments, including Toronto Police Service and the Toronto Fire Department, have not been able to cut their budget by 10 per cent. In fact, the police will see a four per cent increase in their 2012 budget.

This raises the question of whether the call for a 10 per cent cut across all departments is prudent or even doable. No doubt, some departments would be able to find efficiencies that would surpass 10 per cent in savings while others, like TPL, which is constantly being forced to make cuts, is now being pushed to its limit.

The Toronto library system is ranked first in the world, but these continued cuts would ensure that, like our public transit system which was once so admired, our libraries would go into decline.

The Ford-led Council is not the first, by the way, to target the library for cuts. David Miller, a so-called political ‘lefty’, found budget savings during his tenure as mayor, in part by cutting Sunday library hours at 16 branches.

Miller blamed the 2007 budget shortfall that led to cuts on Council’s delay in enacting new land transfer and vehicle registration taxes. Ironically, Ford’s decision to cut the vehicle registration tax has, in part, led to this current push for budget cuts.

No matter how those involved try to spin it, cuts to the budget will mean there will be less of what library patrons had previously. You would think the folks on City Council haven’t heard that there has been a decline in recreational reading among young people.

It sends a poor message that city executives are willing to sacrifice one of our most precious assets, yet again.

If parents want to do their kids a favour, they should join the fight to save the library service because, now that the TPL board has concluded its deliberations, the decision to okay the budget or make further cuts rests with Toronto City Council.

The fear is that with a push by hardline councillors, Council may make cuts that are less responsive to library patrons than the TPL Board would make.

Anyone who uses the library understands that this attempt to cut the budget strikes at the heart of our city life. It would be hard to find a library branch in this city that is not well used by a range of people, from new immigrants availing themselves of needed information they might not otherwise get, to the homeless who take shelter there during the days that are either too hot or too cold, to parents bringing their children to read and learn, to university students making use of all the resource material. Libraries are not just repositories for books; they are truly community centres.

So, in the attempt to establish spending restraints, we face the prospect of gutting the soul and the worth of this city. Losing more of this vital aspect of the city would be yet another indication of the decline of Toronto’s social essence.

Is saving money at all costs worth this?

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