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Public library seeks approval for board changes

The Thunder Bay Public Library has proposed removing dedicated seats on its board for representatives of local school boards, saying the change belatedly recognizes historic changes to the relationship between schools and public libraries.
Richard Togman, CEO of the Thunder Bay Public Library, says the proposed changes to the library board's composition were supported unanimously by the board. (Ian Kaufman, TBnewswatch)

THUNDER BAY — The Thunder Bay Public Library is seeking city council approval to remove dedicated spots on its governing board for local school board representatives.

Library officials said the change simply recognizes historic changes to the relationship between schools and the library system, and was supported by school board representatives themselves.

School representation on the library board has “deep historical roots,” said public library CEO Richard Togman, but is less relevant today.

“Back about 100 years ago, when the [local] library system [got started], the schools were very heavily involved in library life,” he said in an interview. “We had a lot of school visits, most schools didn’t have their own little libraries.”

“We continue to work actively with the school boards and host school visits and reading clubs, and literacy is our primary mission. But the way libraries have evolved means a smaller percentage of our programming and services is specifically catering to the schools.”

The change was approved by the previous library board while updating the library's bylaws last year, Togman said.

It won’t be official until city council also gives its approval, however, since the library board’s membership is set out in a city bylaw.

That bylaw, unchanged since 1985, sets the board’s membership at ten, including one city councillor, six citizen representatives, two members recommended by the public school board, and one member recommended by the Catholic board.

The library is seeking a change to nine members, with eight citizen representatives and one city councillor, according to a letter to council from library board chair Carol Grieve.

“The school board representatives are not necessarily residents who possess skills we require,” she wrote. “Not being able to have input into prospective board members does not help the TBPL board in attracting interested residents with skills and knowledge that we are looking for; or meeting our goals regarding equity, diversity and inclusion on the TBPL Board.”

The library will continue working actively with local schools, she added.

“There will be no changes in the service level to schools and teachers, the annual report TBPL sends to the school boards will still be sent and, if school boards desire TBPL staff to present annually to the school board, this can still happen.”

Ontario’s Public Libraries Act previously required school board representation, but that clause was repealed in 2002.

Togman said there have been no objections to the proposed change.

“I can say it was a unanimous vote of the board, so the school board reps essentially voted themselves out of a job – they agreed that change was necessary. It wasn’t contentious, we didn’t get any pushback from the school board reps or the boards themselves.”

He added the change comes at a time when the library's board will be making once-in-a-generation decisions about the library system, like a facilities plan that could see the organization close branches and build new ones.

Pending council’s vote on the matter, the school board representatives have continued to be invited to library board meetings.

If council approves the change, the city will then recruit for two citizen members to the library board.

Those who have experience in education and who are passionate about the library’s role will still be valued on the board, said Togman.

The library seeks board members with experience in areas including information, management, law, finance, accounting, public relations, architecture, engineering, education, and literacy – though city council ultimately chooses who is appointed.

TBnewswatch has reached out to the public and Catholic school boards for comment.

Ian Kaufman

About the Author: Ian Kaufman

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