Summer brings everyone out for fun times at the beach or cottage county. It’s the season where people catch up and relax. But you know what isn’t having a very good time right now? Toronto’s public libraries.
On February 6, 2011, Councillor Doug Ford issued a statement that was a prelude to his brother Mayor Rob Ford beginning a review of all city services. His words are ominous: “We’re going to be outsourcing everything that is not nailed down.” Mayor Ford’s review aims to slash budgets in the city with his Core Services Review, “a process with the goal of privatizing or shutting down municipal services.” The Toronto Public Library is one of the targets of this review, with the threat of privatization looming over its future.
In accordance with this plan, it’s almost certain that smaller local branches of the TPL would be closed. If not, they would have to deal with user fees and less books and services that the community deserves. Staff members would lose their jobs and hours of operation will shorten. This is unacceptable.
From the establishment of York Mechanics’ Institute in 1830, the library has been an undeniable cultural and educational presence in the city of Toronto. The last 171 years have seen the various communities in the GTA and surrounding neighborhoods grow with the support of their local libraries. Is 2011 the year we see all the hard work and devotion disappear in favour of budget cuts?
You may be wondering why I feel so strongly about this issue, to which I say, take a look around. I love books and I love libraries. My parents raised me to be a voracious reader and ever since I was a little girl, the library’s always been one of my favourite places. The sight of all those books on display gives me hope that literature isn’t dying out, nor that the digital generation will stop caring for books. I’m also a writer and my local library has helped me to become a critical reader and thinker. To hear that the mayor of my city and his councillor brother intend to take that away from their constituents is awful.
It’s especially disturbing that Councillor Doug Ford is so willing to offer up his own ignorance of literature. Margaret Atwood, a Man Booker Prize-winning author and fellow Canadian, asked her Twitter followers to sign an online petition to show support for the TPL, and spoke about Councillor Ford’s remarks comparing the library to Tim Horton’s. When faced with these rebuttals, Ford had the nerve to tell Mayor Ford: “Well good luck to Margaret Atwood. I don’t even know her. If she walked by me, I wouldn’t have a clue who she is…She’s not down here, she’s not dealing with the problem. Tell her to go run in the next election and get democratically elected. And we’d be more than happy to sit down and listen to Margaret Atwood.” He may be happy with his lack of knowledge about one of the best-known authors in the last 40 years, but that’s no reason to perpetrate the ignorance. Is that the kind of behaviour we want our future generations to display when they’re running our city?
At the end of the day, I’m lucky. My parents can afford to buy me books and I have access to the internet every day. But what about the people that don’t have these things? What about kids who can’t afford to learn how to read? What about the adults who can’t speak English and need the help and services that the library provides? Are budget cuts and sports teams more important than public service? Taxpayers in Canada put up with the high charges because we know that our cities give it back to us in the form of necessary services. Whether you use it or not, Mayor Ford, your fellow Torontonians do and we don’t appreciate the callous political maneuvering that will take our libraries away.
Tomorrow, July 28, 2011, the City Council Executive Committee will meet at 9:30 to discuss a consultant’s report that recommends “library branch closures, reduced hours and cuts to children’s programs.” The meeting will take place in Committee Room #1 at City Hall. Maureen O’Reilly of OurPublicLibrary.to will be there and she encourages anyone who can come to do so.
“Anyone can get on a speakers list to make a five minute statement about why the Toronto Public Library is important. All you have to do is send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to request an opportunity to speak.”
If you care about libraries and books and the people that need them to grow, please sign this petition. If you live in Toronto or can spare the long-distance fee, you can call Mayor Rob Ford at 416-397-3673. He claims to welcome discourse with his constituents in a TV interview: “I still return every call that comes in. Anyone who wants to call me, they can call 416-397-3673.” Every small thing counts. We should do all we can to prove to the Ford brothers that the library is an important part of our city, heritage and culture and that we won’t give it up without a fight.