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Aug. 17, 2019 | Saturday
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Province tells libraries to send books via Canada Post
Cathy Simpson, chief librarian and CEO of NOTL Public Library. (Brittany Carter/Niagara Now)

The Ontario government wants libraries across the province to use the mail instead of an “inefficient” system of vans to transfer books among libraries.

Utilizing the mail or couriers would be “less than 25 per cent of the existing cost” of the van system, Culture Minister Michael Tibollo claimed in a letter to library managers. 

The province has cut about $2.2 million from the budgets of two provincewide resource-sharing services.

That led to the shutdown on April 26 of the Southern Ontario Library Service, known as SOLS, and its northern counterpart.

On Tuesday, NOTL library CEO Cathy Simpson received the undated letter from Tibollo, who noted he was “disappointed” by the decision to shut down the two services.

“The current interlibrary service program is very inefficient,” Tibollo said. “It is administered by 12 vans physically criss-crossing the province at a cost of $1.3 million per year. The goal of the service can be preserved by using mail, at less than 25 per cent of the existing cost.”

“In an age where consumers routinely receive products by post and courier, this would be a common-sense step to modernizing service delivery while reducing program cost,” Tibollo wrote.

It is unclear how using the mail would be “less than 25 per cent” what SOLS costs. Last year, the service delivered “over 710,000 packages to 153 main library branches across southern Ontario,” according to sols.org.

If the $1.3 million expenditure Tibollo cites only includes book transportation expenses (and no related costs), that totals $1.83 per book. Canada Post’s discounted library materials rate for a book weighing 1.28 kilograms (about 2.5 pounds) is $1.38 to send and return the book.

However, Tibollo said he is leaving it up to libraries to decide what to do.

“Adopting a mail-and-courier approach to interlibrary loans is a decision for the library service boards to make and we hope they will make it.”

The interlibrary system is more than just a service that moved books and materials around the province, Simpson said.

“They got us bulk purchasing deals. They do incredible professional training consulting. I rely on them for policy templates and governance training for the board. It’s an agency that in the long run saves the government money.”

It is unclear how the 50 per cent budget cut will affect those services.

Meanwhile, the NOTL Public Library is working with other libraries around the region to try to salvage Niagara’s own popular book sharing program.

The long-term future of the Libraries in Niagara Co-operative, nicknamed LiNC, remains unknown and the service is suspended until at least the end of May.

Simpson said the six libraries that form the co-op want the service to continue. The NOTL library board last week directed Simpson to look for ways to keep it going, she said in an interview.

“The board wants us to try to find a solution. In terms of numbers, LiNC had overtaken the provincewide interlibrary loan program,” she said.

In the first three months of 2019, library users borrowed an average of 762 items each month via the LiNC system and 45 items each month from libraries outside Niagara Region, NOTL library statistics show. However, it relied on the SOLS vans to distribute materials.

The software infrastructure for LiNC, which includes libraries in NOTL, Lincoln, Pelham, Fort Erie, Thorold and at Niagara College, remains operational. But there is now no simple way to move materials from one library to another.

When SOLS shut down last week, patrons were left high and dry, and the Niagara libraries were left with no simple way to return materials to their home branches.

In some cases, staff visiting other libraries can return or pick up books, but that isn’t a permanent or efficient solution, Simpson said.

The co-operative is looking for ways to fix the problem of “orphaned” materials sitting on shelves, waiting to be returned to the library from which they originated.

“We understand that it’s tough times for the province, so we want to work with them to try and solve this,” Simpson said.

The libraries have posted links about a number of ways that patrons can get involved. Go to notlpubliclibrary.org/LINC for information on an online petition, events and an online survey.

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