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New library board proposes shutting 38 branches

Toronto Reference Library patrons use computers with public Internet access in January of 2007.

Deborah Baic/Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

Just when library closures appeared to be off the table, they're back on again.

Cost-trimming suggestions from individual members of the newly appointed Toronto Public Library Board include the idea of shuttering 38 of Toronto's 98 branches, selling or redeveloping surplus land, selling the historic Yorkville branch and reducing the size of some other branches.

But the proposals don't end with property issues. Others among the 23 ideas put forth verge on the bizarre, such as eliminating computers in libraries and warehousing book collections.

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"It's outrageous, just outrageous," said board vice-chair Mike Foderick, who added that the majority of the ideas originated with one director, but would not reveal who. "These ideas are totally against what the citizens of Toronto want."

Board members submitted the proposals to Jane Pyper, the city's chief librarian, ahead of a library budget committee meeting scheduled for Nov. 1. They are intended to help the agency find $7-million in savings it needs to meet Mayor Rob Ford's demand of a 10 per cent budget cut.

Ms. Pyper had presented a plan to close the gap by shaving library hours, but the board chose to put it on hold until they could gather more information and come up with new sources of revenue.

Those new sources form the basis of the ideas going before the budget committee.

"They have submitted ideas, some modest, others obviously extreme," said Councillor Janet Davis. "I chalk a lot of this up to inexperience."

The board's latest incarnation held its first public meeting Oct. 17.

Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, whose ward includes the Yorkville library, issued a news release Friday night urging the board to reject the branch's closure. "The Yorkville Branch is a cherished neighbourhood institution, and has served generations of families well," she said. "It must continue to do so."

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If the board chooses to reject most of the ideas, as staff recommend, it will still fall well short of its directed budget cut. Mr. Foderick, a former executive assistant at City Hall and now an articling student lawyer, said the board is anticipating that an efficiency report from DPRA Consultants will help close the gap.

Last year, the board balked at city hall's demands to cut its budget request and were eventually forced to close the Urban Affairs branch.

"If we come short of 10 per cent, we come short and we'll cross that bridge when we come to it," said Mr. Foderick. "The last board simply said 'no' to budget cuts last year and they ended up with a branch closure. We're not going to play that brinksmanship game."

The budget committee will consider the ideas Nov. 1 before submitting its recommendations to the full board for a Nov. 21 meeting.

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About the Author
National reporter

Patrick previously worked in the Globe's Winnipeg bureau, covering the Prairies and Nunavut, and at Toronto City Hall. He is a National Magazine Award recipient and author of the book Mountie In Mukluks. More

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