Provincial budget cuts could have a big impact on libraries in Brock Township: CEO

Brock Township Public Library CEO Brian Harding recently took part in a Q-and-A session with The Brock Voice regarding the funding cuts announced by the provincial government and the impact they could have locally.

What impact will these budget cuts have in Brock Township?
The budgets of the Southern Ontario Library Service (SOLS) and Ontario Library Service North (OLSN) have each been reduced by more than 50 percent. BTPL receives a wide range of services from both SOLS and OLSN – we are somewhat unique in Ontario in that we utilize the services of both organizations (most other libraries use one or the other).
At this point, the only announced service cut has been the provincial Interlibrary Loan Service (ILLO) which SOLS administers. The ILLO system allows libraries in Ontario to borrow materials from each other. This is a highly-efficient system, reducing the need for each library in Ontario to purchase and shelve the same titles. This allows us to spend our collection budget more efficiently, borrowing titles from other libraries rather than purchasing every title a patron requests.
Our relatively small collection budget requires us to focus our spending in specific areas that we know will be popular (i.e., best sellers, award winners). ILLO adds diversity to this collection, ensuring that our users still have access to less popular subject areas, to rare or hard to find items or items, etc.
Given the size of the budget reductions we expect further announcements of service reductions. For the Brock Township Public Library this could impact any of the following:
Catalogue – this is our core IT system, organizing all of the materials in our collection and tracking all of our circulation, patron information, transactions, etc. Without this system we simply couldn’t lend material. Our current catalogue is administered by OLSN and we pay a significantly reduced cost as a result of our participation in the OLSN consortium;
eBooks – our eBook collection is a consortium collection administered by SOLS, allowing us to pool our resources with other communities in Ontario and offer access to a significantly larger collection of eBooks and digital audiobooks than we could otherwise afford. Use of this collection by our users has grown significantly in the last few years, largely, I think, due to the size and quality of the collection;
Staff Training – recruiting staff with library education and previous library experience is difficult in rural areas. SOLS has developed world-class training and development programs for library staff. Numerous BTPL staff are enrolled in or have completed these development programs. This is training that directly supports our efforts to deliver high quality services and programs;
Interbranch Delivery – BTPL was in the process of contracting SOLS to perform the delivery of materials between our Beaverton, Cannington, and Sunderland branches. It is unlikely SOLS will be able to support this service. While we are optimistic that we will find an alternative delivery service it is unlikely we will find a service that can match SOLS’ proposed costs.
If any of these services are reduced or eliminated there will be further, direct impacts to our users and increased pressure on our budget.
Following the announcement regarding the ILLO system on April 18 we immediately ceased our ILLO service in order to focus on recovering the items we currently have circulating across Ontario and to return the items our patrons have borrowed from other libraries.

How often was the interlibrary loan program utilized by local patrons?
We received over 1,400 ILLO requests from BTPL users in 2018. We also lent nearly 1,300 items to other Ontario libraries in 2018. Combined, this represents approximately eight percent of our total book circulation in 2018.
It is worth noting however that the items borrowed through the ILLO system are often regarded as having greater importance by library users, in part because they would often have no other means to access these titles. Many of the titles lent and borrowed through ILLO are no longer available to purchase or are extremely expensive in the used book market. When we can source some of these obscure titles, patrons are often incredibly thankful.

How important was the program for small libraries or those in rural areas?
Critically important. As a relatively small library system the size of our collections are limited, both by the size of our budget and the physical space available to house our collection. Space is one of our biggest constraints – making physical space to store books is expensive.
In smaller systems like ours with relatively small branches we constantly need to make room for new titles by discarding older titles. The process of discarding is made easier knowing that the title remains available at another library system and remains accessible to our users through ILLO. Building larger branches to store more books simply isn’t cost effective.
From this perspective, the ILLO system was actually incredibly efficient. In Ontario, we effectively had access to a library collection distributed across all of the library branches in the province, collections that could be accessed from anywhere else in the province. Now libraries will be under increasing pressure to acquire more materials and, at the same time, to not discard materials which will result in increased pressure for storage and floor space.
Digital collections are often touted as a solution but, as a society, we’re not anywhere close to shifting away from physical formats at this point in time. Further, in Brock any digital solution is also complicated by our extremely limited broadband access.
Given the size of our collections budget we also have to make difficult decisions about the titles we will and will not buy. In the past, we could do so knowing that our patrons would still have access to the materials we couldn’t afford to purchase through ILLO. The cessation of the ILLO budget effectively reduces the collection available to our users to a fraction of its previous size. It will likely also force us to distribute our budget more broadly, resulting in fewer copies being purchased which will in turn result in longer wait times.
While larger library systems are also going to be affected by this service reduction, I would assume that small, rural systems will be disproportionately affected. We depend far more on the shared infrastructure and cost sharing benefits of services provided by SOLS and OLSN. Eliminating these services will further isolate our community and limit the resources and services available to our residents.

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