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Canada Funding cuts to Northern, Southern Ontario library systems hit rural and Indigenous communities

Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport Michael Tibollo, seen above, called SOLS and OLS-North 'arms-length agencies that have no involvement in the day-to-day operations of Ontario’s public libraries.'

Peter Power/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Two organizations responsible for connecting libraries across Northern and Southern Ontario are grappling with how to adjust services in the face of significant funding reductions.

The Southern Ontario Library Service (SOLS) said on its website last Tuesday that the operating budgets of SOLS and Ontario Library Service – North (OLS-North) have been slashed by about 50 per cent. The two agencies, which operate on behalf of the Ontario culture ministry, facilitate co-ordination between libraries and provide consultation and training. They said they are being forced to re-evaluate their services, making decisions that will especially hit rural and Indigenous communities.

OLS-North – which works with 128 libraries – has ended postage reimbursement. While the agency does not operate van delivery like its southern counterpart, it moves material between libraries by Canada Post and pays the required fees.

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Now, these libraries must pay the cost.

“This will have a significant impact on smaller rural and First Nation libraries because their collection may not be as robust, and they may have been relying on that resource-sharing to provide services, information services, and access to information to their communities,” chief executive Mellissa D’Onofrio-Jones said.

For some areas, online access is not a suitable alternative.

“In Northern Ontario and First Nations communities, we know that the internet infrastructure is not always consistent,” she said. “So even if there is an electronic version … [it] doesn’t serve that patron if they don’t have access to the internet or the technology needed to utilize it.”

SOLS has similarly ended interlibrary loan service for the almost 200 municipalities it serves, ending the jobs of 24 delivery drivers.

“I know this is very sad and disappointing news, but given the enormity of the cut to our operating budget, there is no alternative,” CEO Barbara Franchetto wrote in an online post.

The move will have repercussions for smaller library boards in Southern Ontario. SOLS managed interlibrary loans for King Township, which has about 24,000 people, and delivery between its four branches.

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“The library holds an important part in the community,” librarian Rebecca Robinson said, adding that local book clubs will be especially affected.

“They’re going to have to find some other way of finding their books, which is going to have a huge impact.”

Shannon Matamoros said without the interlibrary loan system, her book club in the 7,000-person town of The Blue Mountains may not be able to continue. Once a month, she has been able to put her children to bed and meet with other young moms to talk about the latest selection.

“We have one library in our community, which has one or maybe two copies of a book,” she said. “So for 10 people to get together and read a book, the interlibrary loans are key.”

Ms. Matamoros said members of the club have formed a sense of community, and that buying the books may not be financially viable for all members.

Haliburton County librarian Bessie Sullivan said that library access not only enriches people’s lives, but can provide information for employment and other opportunities. Interlibrary loans attempt to “level the playing field,” she said, offering rural communities the same access to vast collections that a resident of Toronto might enjoy.

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“By cutting that off, that means that the people who live in Haliburton County are now limited to the items we have in our collection,” Ms. Sullivan said. “And we’re a tiny little library system.

“So to have something that cuts the service so incredibly important to the community, it’s just really devastating.”

In a statement on Thursday, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport Michael Tibollo called SOLS and OLS-North “arms-length agencies that have no involvement in the day-to-day operations of Ontario’s public libraries." He said base funding for libraries would be continued.

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