Despite a Rough Political Year, Toronto Public Library Usage Is Up

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Despite a Rough Political Year, Toronto Public Library Usage Is Up

It isn't just lip service: Torontonians really do love their libraries.

Toronto Reference Library. Photo by {a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/halfkitkat/2758114510/"}HalfK{/a} from the {a href="http://www.flickr.com/groups/torontoist"}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}.

The Toronto Public Library just released its annual report on usage statistics, and surprise, surprise: by almost every meaningful metric, the system was busier in 2011 than it has ever been before. This happened in the very same year that political pressure forced the TPL to agree to shed the equivalent of 107 full-time jobs.

Those jobs were cut as part of the library’s 2012 budget. Some of them were management positions and others were back-end gigs, but about a third of them were made vacant by accelerating the roll-out of RFID-based self-checkout technology. And so branches with that capability will have fewer front-line staff.

Next year, the TPL could potentially shed more jobs.

Eatonville branch. Photo by {a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/imuttoo/2863504823/"}Ian Muttoo{/a} from the {a href="http://www.flickr.com/groups/torontoist"}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}.

A new agreement with the library’s unionized workers, reached after a short strike, loosens some of the layoff protections previously enjoyed by employees. For the four-year duration of the contract, it will be much easier for TPL management to get rid of staff, if they feel the need.

Below are some highlights from the TPL’s 2011 usage-statistics report. The question—though there is, for the time being, no ready answer—is whether these types of gains are sustainable in a political environment where libraries are increasingly making do with less money and fewer staff.

  • Wi-Fi Use Is Way Up: The Toronto Public Library offers wireless internet in all its branches, and Torontonians are evidently taking advantage. In 2011, TPL recorded 2,526,757 wireless sessions in its branches, up 126.5 per cent from 2010. By a wide margin, that’s the biggest usage jump in any service category. Library staff attribute the increase partly to the prevalence of new mobile devices, which sometimes connect to wireless networks without their owners realizing.
  • Workstation Use, Also Up: Library computers had more users than the TPL’s wireless service, with 6,380,037 sessions in 2011, for a 6.5 per cent increase over 2010. Workstation usage numbers have been trending upward since at least 2007.
  • Circulation Has Been Climbing Steadily for Five Years: Circulation (that is, the number of materials that were borrowed) at the TPL was 33,252,235 this year, up 2.9 per cent from 2010. And that’s no fluke: every year for at least the past five, circulation has increased by a comparable amount. The biggest growth category was e-books, e-audio, and e-video—though the report says these formats still make up only about 1.6 per cent of all items borrowed.
  • Program Attendance, Too: 865,495 people attended library programs in 2011, which is a 9.4 per cent increase over 2010. Interestingly, the number of programs offered increased by 10.8 per cent over 2010: there were more events, and there were more attendees. We can only assume the two things are related.

Read the full report here: [PDF]

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