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Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Owen Sound Councillor Concerned Over Province's Library Service Cuts

Owen Sound | by Matt Hermiz  

Richard Thomas says people who can least afford it suffer through cuts to library services.

An Owen Sound councillor is sounding off about the Doug Ford government's decision to slash funding to a service vital to sharing resources and managing costs among small community libraries.

Southern Ontario Library Services has advised many municipal libraries, including the Owen Sound & North Grey Union Public Library, the inter-library loan service has been suspended immediately.

According to numerous reports, SOLS had its financial contributions from the province cut in half earlier this month. The inter-library book loan service was one of the casualties.

Owen Sound councillor Richard Thomas says Owen Sound & North Grey library users borrowed over 2,600 books last year through the inter-library loan service.

"These are books we do not have in our own collection," Thomas explains. "At an average cost of $30 per book, it would have cost (the library) almost $80,000 to buy those 2,600 books our patrons were able to borrow."

Ending the inter-library loan service also limits access for patrons to a wider variety of content, Thomas says. He says many books shared through the service are older titles no longer available for sale.

Thomas says to cut this service is hitting at the members of the community who can least afford to lose it, such as those who don't have internet access at home or the ability to purchase books regularly.

Thomas says SOLS also enables a number of other services to libraries across Ontario such as staff training, online catalogues and consortium book purchasing.

"We could never afford it in Owen Sound," Thomas exclaims. "There are so many implications from this activity and ultimately the implications for us sitting around (the council table) are going to be financial."

Thomas says the province currently only provides $72,000 of the Owen Sound & North Grey Union Library's $1.2-million budget. He says ending the inter-library loan program is just another download of more costs onto local municipalities.

"(The province's) support for libraries is a joke at best right now," Thomas barks.

A statement from Premier Doug Ford's Director of Communications in response to a recent story about SOLS cuts says the inter-library loan and delivery program was one area where efficiencies could be found in library services.

"While the concept is admirable, couriering books on demand by vans between different library boards all across Southern and Northern Ontario is actually slow, inefficient, environmentally unfriendly, and expensive, especially now that digital resources are available," the Ford government statement reads.

Coun. Thomas interprets this as an indication the province is leaning towards more use of eBooks by libraries in future.

Bluntly, he calls eBooks "a scam" to libraries.

"We are paying through the nose for eBooks," Thomas explains. "And we are really going to suffer if that's the way the Ministry thinks we should go."

According to Thomas, an eBook presently costs the same amount as a hardcover book to libraries. He says publishers have calculated a hardcover book can only be read 200 times before being replaced, so eBooks time out after 200 reads and have to be replaced at full-cost, even though nothing physical exists.

"This is just a way to make money," Thomas says. "And, of course libraries, because we're public institutions actually pay more for these things anyway."

Thomas encourages people to engage their local Member of Provincial Parliament to share concerns about changes the province is undertaking with its funding for libraries.

Bayshore Broadcasting News contacted Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound MPP Bill Walker's office for comment but did not receive a response by deadline.

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