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May. 26, 2019 | Sunday
Editorials and Opinions
Opinion: Confronting the challenge of library changes in an era of government cuts
Michael Fox believes all governments should look at the effectiveness and efficiency of the programs they fund. (Supplied)

SUBMITTED BY MICHAEL FOX.
OPINION

The budget cuts by the Ford provincial government in Ontario hit many things that I care about – library services, tree planting, flood mapping, legal aid, health care services, Indigenous affairs – the list goes on. Having said that, I also want governments to stop spending more than they bring in. Ontario has a debt burden that costs more than $1 billion a year just in interest payments.

One certainty is that there will be more budget cuts over the next four years. Ontario slammed the brakes on the speed of government spending in April, but it didn’t end up reducing spending in 2019-20 overall. To get to the point where the deficit is actually reduced will take either more money flowing in or further cuts in future years.

And I’m beginning to think that concern about deficits is not about whether you self-describe as liberal or conservative. Instead, it may be generational. Younger people don’t want to get stuck with the tab for reckless spending by boomers. If that’s the case, then voters will favour politicians who deliver on promises to control spending.

The 50 per cent provincial cut in funding to the Southern Ontario Library Services (SOLS) forced SOLS to suspend its interlibrary loans delivery service. This immediately limited the ability of the NOTL Public Library – and about 200 public libraries across Ontario – to borrow books from or lend books to other libraries.

The library cuts became one of the first lightning rods to light up locally in the thunder and wind of the post-budget storms. People are signing petitions to protest the cuts. Some rant on social media about the all-too-easy caricature of a “beer over books” Ford government.

Meanwhile, I’m encouraged that the NOTL library board is quickly responding by taking a hard look at how to try to continue to provide the ability to share books between library systems. Sure, the board would like the province to change its mind about the cuts. But being realistic, with the government slashing programs in many areas, don’t expect anyone to say they might have made a mistake in the haste to find waste.

The board and staff are trying to determine what can be done – at least within Niagara Region – to facilitate the transfer of books with the money available. The book transfers of the Libraries in Niagara Co-operative, nicknamed LiNC, is suspended until at least the end of May because it had piggybacked on the SOLS infrastructure. One estimate is that as many as 8 per cent of the 100,000 items borrowed in NOTL in 2018 were sourced from other Niagara libraries through LiNC.

In business, as a general rule, if the method of doing something isn’t reviewed every three to five years, it probably is not as efficient as it could be. I hope there are ways for us to enjoy the benefits of interlibrary book lending by changing how the books get shipped – perhaps using courier services rather than dedicated vans and drivers.

Going forward, all levels of government need to take a hard look at the effectiveness and efficiency of programs. A goal or intention might be noble, but the method of implementation could be outdated and more costly than necessary. The councils, boards, committees and other governing bodies need to ensure that they focus on what’s best for the users, not the vested interests.

For instance, the new town council that took office in December spent two months trying to find ways to keep the NOTL budget increase as low as possible so that the hit to taxpayers was less than initially projected. We should all thank them for that leadership and example.

Michael Fox is a journalist and writer who lives in Old Town. He originally wrote about library cuts at niagaraobserver.ca.

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