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Libraries win reprieve from cut on operating hours

People study at the British Library in London June 20, 2011. Google plans to digitise a quarter of a million books from the British Library's collections covering a period from the French Revolution to the end of slavery as part of its ambitious books project. The search engine giant has already scanned 13 million books through partnerships with more than 40 libraries around the world, which it makes available through its search results.

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A money-saving plan to cut library hours has been put on hold for at least one month as board members gather more information and hunt for new sources of revenue to allow branches to keep their existing hours.

"We don't have to jump tonight – there is no fire right now," Councillor Sarah Doucette, a library board member, told a meeting Monday night.

The board – meeting for the first time with eight new members of the public – was asked to consider more than $17-million in cuts for the 2012 budget.

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The cost reductions – a response to a directive from city hall for all departments to find 10 per cent savings in next year's budget – include reduced Sunday openings, fewer weekday hours, less spending on collections and the elimination of 100 full-time jobs.

The board backed $9.7-million in funding cuts, which include the job reductions. The cuts will shave 5.7 per cent from the budget.

Another $7.3-million in savings, including the shortened hours and reduced collections spending, will be considered at a November meeting.

The board, which appointed Councillor Paul Ainslie – an ally of the mayor – as its new chair, also voted to form a task force to look for additional revenue to maintain hours.

As many as 59 branches could see their hours reduced, according to an internal document leaked to the media. The weekly reductions range from a few hours to as many as 13 hours at branches such as Parliament Street and Parkdale. Even North York Central Library would lose 9½ hours, according to the document.

Councillor Paula Fletcher, whose ward faces some of the biggest cuts to branch hours, said the first meeting of the new board was no time to make such an important decision. She said her office has received around 2,000 e-mails from her ward alone on the library issue.

"Take the time to make a good decision," she told the board.

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