By Chad Ingram
Converting more library branches to book depots or reducing operating hours at some branches were among the ideas broached during a budget-focused meeting of the Haliburton County Public Library board on Sept. 25.
A draft budget report prepared by library CEO Bessie Sullivan showed a total library budget increase for 2020 of nearly $85000. The library’s annual budget is in the $1-million range the bulk of that cost being wages and benefits. Wages and benefits are increasing by nearly $52000 for 2020. The book budget is slated for an increase of nearly $6000 with a five per cent increase being the supplier’s recommendation for a total of nearly $125000 for 2020. This does not include an e-book budget with e-books purchased mainly with money from fundraising group Friends of the Haliburton County Public Library. There’s an increase of $1500 for computer equipment in keeping with the replacement schedule as well as a $10000 reduction in known donations.
The report also indicates it would cost $15000 to keep the inter-library loan program operating at the same capacity it had been in 2018.
In the spring the Ford government made a 50 per cent funding reduction to the Southern Ontario Library Service which operates an inter-library loan program allowing users from different library systems within the province to access materials from other collections those materials transported by vans. As a result of the funding cut SOLS ceased operation of the inter-library loan courier leaving public libraries to carry on the service themselves through use of Canada Post.
“For the 2020 budget the board will have to decide at what capacity they want to be offering this service or if we want to be offering it at all” Sullivan’s report reads.
While it is funded mostly by the County of Haliburton the library like all libraries is operated by a board. The board consists half of members of county council and half of members of the public.
Board members spoke favourably of funding the continuation of an inter-library loan service.
“I personally think I’d want to see that reinstated” said Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts the board’s chairwoman. “Our system can only hold so much material.”
“I think it’s one of the most valuable things in a rural community” said Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt.
Sullivan told the board that demand for inter-library loans outpaces capacity and that re-instating the inter-library loan system along with more downloadable materials are the two most common sentiments she hears from library patrons.
“The people I’m hearing from most are the entrepreneurs . . . people who need very specific information” Sullivan said regarding inter-library loans.
Moffatt wondered if finding money to reinstate the program could not be done through a specific fundraising campaign.
“It would take really good marketing because it’s not a thing it’s a service” said Sullivan indicating fundraising campaigns are often tied to capital purchases.
“This isn’t like $100000 we’re asking” said board member Sally Howson.
Sullivan also told the board that if U.S. President Donald Trump is successful in imposing tariffs on China it could put a wallop on the library budget since many books are printed in China. She said that as many as 75 per cent of the books the library purchases could increase in price by 20 per cent.
“I think there comes a point when there are these external pressures and things over which we don’t have any control that some tough decisions have to be made” said Moffatt. “So if the Haliburton County Public Library and in fact any library service may no longer have the luxury of trying to be everything to everyone.”
She noted that many municipalities are pulling back to core services in the wake of mounting financial pressures.
“If you’ve got 10 things on your library table that you’re offering and there isn’t enough money to do all them what would you give up?” Moffatt said. “If you had to give something up what would you give up? I know it’s a horrible question and a really tough question and I don’t really expect an answer but I think this is where this is heading.”
Moffatt also said at some point she thought there needed to be a discussion about the number of branches in Highlands East. Of the seven branches of the Haliburton County Public Library four – in Wilberforce Gooderham Cardiff and Highland Grove – are located in Highlands East.
“I think that has to be part of that conversation is consolidation of services into fewer locations maybe move the hours around a little bit” Moffatt said.
Of the four branches in Highlands East only the Wilberforce branch is a standalone building the other branches located within other facilities and with a couple of them – Highland Grove and Cardiff – open fewer than 10 hours per week.
There had been eight branches but effective at the end of August the branch in Dorset which was housed in the Dorset Recreation Centre was transitioned to a book depot where residents can order and pick up books from the county collection but have no on-site collection to browse. Algonquin Highlands council voted earlier this year to change space where the branch had been which had been open eight hours per week into a community hub space.
With staffing the cost of one library hour for the year is approximately $1550 and Roberts suggested that some savings could be found by reducing hours here and there. She used the example of closing the Dysart branch at 7 p.m. rather than 8 p.m Tuesday through Thursday.
County Warden and Algonquin Highlands Deputy Mayor Liz Danielsen that cutting 10 hours for the year would cover the cost of operating the inter-library loan program.
“To me though I feel like that’s not very much money to spend to have a community still have a library branch” said board member Jenn Watt who is also the editor of the Haliburton Echo.
“They’ve got four branches” Danielsen said.
“Yup which are open a very short period of time for each of them” Watt said. “I don’t see it as a conversation around budget so much as service provision and what’s best for the community of Highlands East.”
“The trouble with it is we have a very strong opinion so it’s probably best for me to sit and listen and then take it back [to Highlands East council]” said Highlands East Deputy Mayor Cec Ryall. “We’ve had some very serious conversations in Highlands East as well and part of what we need to do is find out what the challenges are with relation to the overall operation and to listen and get the information is the right thing to do and then take it back to see what the heck can be done what options are on the table . . . and then handle this the right way as opposed to saying we’re not shutting anything down or you’re going to shut them all down.”
Ryall said much of the activity that takes place at the branches is not as much about the library or books but about community – that the branches are part of the social fabric of the community.
“This isn’t about the removal of services this is about the realignment of services that makes sense for everybody” Moffatt said. “What can library services look like in the face of these pressing financial demands when one municipality has four branches? It’s not about taking something away but realigning it to make the most sense.”
Sullivan’s budget report will go to members of county council as they prepare to start 2020 budget conversations.
The library has a reserve of $44000.