DRYDEN, Ont. - Libraries are at the heart of any community and librarians in Northern Ontairo want to keep it that way in the wake of budget cuts that could severely impact the services they provide.
“We know in small communities, libraries are hubs,” said Dayna DeBenedet, CEO and chief librarian at the Dryden Public Library.
“They are the only spaces left where you can go and enjoy your experience without having to be a consumer. You can go, be in that space; it is a space for everyone. We feel like any cut that would diminish that kind of experience is detrimental to the library landscape in Ontario at large.”
In the 2019 budget, the Ford government cut funding to Ontario Library Services – North by 50 per cent and libraries in Northern Ontario have launched a new advocacy campaign through the website SaveOLSN.
“We developed the website to highlight the kinds of services that they offer to our libraries that will be at risk due to these cuts,” DeBenedet said.
The cuts to OLSN could result in staff layoffs as soon as next week and could have significant impacts to the joint automation server initiative, which is a group of purchasing programs used by the 133 libraries in Northern and rural Ontario for catalogue searches and book checkouts.
DeBenedet said the technical support staff for that program will be reduced from three to one and now support will only be available from Monday to Friday.
“Of course a lot of our libraries are open evenings and weekends,” she said. “If anything happens with that system outside of their regular officer hours, 133 library systems across Ontario won’t be able to do the essential work they need to do to run their libraries.”
The SaveOLSN website offers stories from various libraries throughout Northern Ontario about how OLSN has improved library services throughout the region, including everything from tech and website support, strategic planning, to community building.
“With support from OLS-North and SOLS our library is able to take part in the First Nations Communities Read program, and connect our community with First Nations books and authors from across Canada,” said a post from Wikwemikong First Nation. “OLS-North also helps us celebrate Ontario’s First Nations Libraries with their commitment to supporting First Nations Public Library Week every October.”
“I think a lot of the work OLSN does is done behind the scenes,” DeBenedet said. “They are working with library staff members to do the work that make your library run, so we feel it is important to share these stories.”
“If you have visited a small or rural library, OLSN has improved your library visit. You may not have seen in directly, you may not have ever interacted with a staff member, but you have made your experience better.”
Librarians are also encouraging members of the public to contact their MPPs or Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport, Michael Tibollo,to express any concerns about cuts to library services.
DeBenedet said a group of librarians from the Kenora-Rainy River area will also be meeting with MPP Greg Rickford to discuss the impact of budget cuts to OLSN.