The rally in front of Metro Hall, earlier today. Photo by Lodoe-Laura Haines-Wangda/Torontoist.
If the Urban Affairs Library at Metro Hall doesn’t remain open once this year’s budget wrangling is over with, it won’t have been for lack of opposition.
At a rally today in front of Metro Hall, about twenty people—most of them connected with the TPL workers’ union, CUPE Local 4948—spoke out against the branch’s possible closure. The Urban Affairs Library could shutter if TPL can’t come up with the money to keep it open subsequent to this year’s final budget deliberations at City Hall, set to begin Wednesday.
Though initially conceived as a reference library for City staff and urban-affairs researchers, the branch’s proximity to new condo developments has made it into a small, functional neighbourhood branch.
Maureen O’Reilly, president of Local 4948, thinks closing the Urban Affairs Library would be unwise. “There are four other libraries that do less business than the Urban Affairs Library,” she said on Monday. “You could be cutting one of those if you were so concerned about cutting the library that did least well out of all your branches.”
That is true, according to TPL’s latest usage statistics. Since 2007, when hold pickup was introduced at the Urban Affairs Library, circulation has shot up considerably, to 73,121 items last year (up from 45,517 in 2009). Four other branches didn’t do quite as well, although one of those was a bookmobile.
There were 111,625 visits to the Urban Affairs Library in 2010, which makes it more popular than several other neighbourhood libraries around the city—though TPL staff have been quick to point out that there are plenty of other branches nearby, including the one at City Hall. There’s also a new branch being built at Fort York Boulevard and Bathurst Street, but by last estimate it won’t be open until 2014.
O’Reilly is particularly concerned about the loss of 3.6 full-time equivalencies (each roughly equal to a full-time job) that would come with closing the branch. “I think it’s a major cut,” she added.
At the rally, workers paced in circles while a small cadre of security guards looked on. One sign said: “Hosni Ford: Step off our libraries.”
“Do you think this’ll turn into an Egypt type of thing?” one bystander, wearing a sweater with a City of Toronto logo on it, asked us.
“No,” we said. “Definitely not.”
Kate Zieman, who works in the CBC’s tape library (in other words, a private library, not affiliated with TPL), was standing at the periphery of today’s rally with some co-workers. The CBC building is just a short walk away from Metro Hall, and so CBC staff have come to rely upon the Urban Affairs Library as a place to lay hands on research, and even leisure-reading, materials.
Zieman said the branch’s closure would be a disappointment. “It [the closure] is personally inconvenient, and it’s professionally inconvenient for librarians at CBC,” she added.
This smallish rally wasn’t the first attempt to save the Urban Affairs Library. TPL’s own board, consisting of eight citizen members and five city councillors, has been at it for months.
When TPL staff first floated the notion of shutting down the branch as a means of shrinking the system-wide operating budget in accordance with City Hall’s cost-reduction expectations for 2011, the board squashed the idea, and asked the City for a 2.6% increase over 2010’s budget, to cover not only the Urban Affairs Library but several other existing service offerings. That was January.
But the City manager’s office, with Rob Ford’s blessing, has been asking for 5% cuts across the board, and so it was apparent, even in January, that such a generous increase wasn’t going to fly. That’s even though library staff estimate that because of ever-increasing costs, TPL would actually need something like a 3.6% increase just to maintain its current service levels for the year.
City council’s budget committee requested that TPL reduce their 2011 increase request from 2.6% to a more modest 2%. At their February meeting, the TPL board again defied City Hall. They asked for 2.06%. The extra 0.06% was the amount necessary to keep the Urban Affairs Library open.
But at its last meeting, the budget committee again handed down a strict 2% increase edict, which will face one last round of approval at this week’s special session of city council.
City council has the power to tell TPL how much money they can spend, but not how to spend it, and so if the 2% increase holds up, the library board could still decide to forego closing the Urban Affairs Library. They could instead commit themselves to scrounging up equivalent savings from elsewhere in the TPL budget. Though where “elsewhere” might be is not publicly known.
Closing the Urban Affairs Library would save the City $100,000 in 2011, and an additional $629,000 in 2012.