I’ve always loved books.

I feel like I almost grew up in the library of my home town of Wiarton. My mom was one of the librarians there, and I spent long afternoons buried behind the shelves, amazed that (as it seemed to me at the time) all of human knowledge was available to me there. My time there helped foster an enduring appreciation for books and reading, and a thirst for knowledge and further learning and discovery.

But libraries are so much more than books. Libraries are a gateway to early literacy, social programs, and continue to be one of the key community hubs for a city. Libraries are also important community centres, with classes for numerous social skills, job search portals, community lectures, research centres, and much more. In London, we’re fortunate to have a central library that includes a community lecture and performance hall, as well as easy access to city and county records and archives.

As we discuss the city budget, and where to place our resources as the city struggles with stubbornly high unemployment levels, it may seem like an old-fashioned, bricks, mortar and paper institution like the library would be an easy place to find cuts. For sure, with the advent of the internet, many organizations and businesses have struggled to keep up. Businesses including major music and video rental stores have closed, unable to compete as their services became increasingly available online.

Despite this, London’s library system is only seeing both its physical and digital attendance growing. The numbers the library lists on its website show how indispensable a service it provides to our community. The library took the bold step of actually posting a news release to their website to outline how busy they have been, and how a third straight 0% would impact them. The release states that in 2011:

  • 3.2 million people visited a library location
  • 1.31 million people asked our staff for help finding information, materials and other resources
  • 4.25 million items were borrowed
  • 192,000 people attended a program, including those for newcomers, teens, job-seekers, new parents, seniors and those looking to connect with all this city has to offer
  • 972,000 holds were placed on items
  • 567,000 uses of our public computers were logged, many by those without access to the Internet or a computer in their home
  • 4.5 million people visited our website

As well, this opinion piece by LFP’s Ian Gillespie shares more good news:

According to a recent report from the Ontario Municipal Benchmarking Initiative (OMBI), London has the highest annual library use per capita in Ontario at 40.6 annual uses per person (the median use is 28.1).

And with an annual budget of about $19.5 million, London’s libraries boast the lowest operating cost per use in Ontario, at $1.27 per use, according to  OMBI.

More than half of all Londoners possess a library card, and in 2011 they used library services nearly 15 million times.

And those users were happy, too: A 2012 survey showed overall public satisfaction with library service was at a whopping 97.9%.

It seems stunning that despite this information, council is pressing for the library to find more ways to cut funding, without somehow harming service. This year, it just isn’t possible. There are many hard decisions in the 2013 London budget on this third year of the “Path to 0%”, as each year compounds the cuts of the last. This year, to achieve 0% the library warns that it will have to reduce service by reducing service hours in most locations, removing Sunday service entirely, and offering fewer items to borrow.

As I said, our community relies on the library services far beyond borrowing books. Many Londoners rely on the library services for their internet access, for job searching, for resume and job search advice, and for life skill training. If the library is required to meet a target of 0% by council, it will be one more way that 0% will cut services to Londoners most in need.

The London Public Library is only one of many community organizations speaking out, and I imagine the din will only rise as we get closer to the budget process. The London Community Foundation posted this letter on their website, also outlining the impact a third straight budget of 0% will have. They state:

London Community Foundation has traditionally preferred to influence public policy with a light, often unseen hand. This year we have joined Pillar Nonprofit Network and United Way London & Middlesex to collectively voice our concerns on the proposed City of London budget because we strongly agree that those who are most vulnerable will be disproportionately impacted by proposed changes and cuts.

Please, speak out to support our vital library system. My next post will be a letter to council, including information on how to contact your councillor as well as the entire City Council. Please reflect on what the library means to you, and how it helps those members of our society most in need. Contact your member of Council, and participate in the budget process to make sure your voice is heard!