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On Libraries

Since being elected to office, the Conservative Government of Ontario has spent most of its time cutting funding and support from programs that were created to ensure a social safety net or enrich people’s lives. It is not possible to include all of the programs cut, but here are some examples: the Green Ontario Fund; 30% of legal aid (including all legal aid for refugee and immigration cases); all funding for the College of Midwives; the Indigenous Culture Fund (which is administered under the auspices of the Ontario Arts Council, which will almost certainly face cuts as well); and —the primary focus of this article — a 50% cut to the Southern Ontario Library Service and the Ontario Library Service-North.

None of this is at all surprising coming from a government led by Doug Ford, keeping in mind that while he was a city councillor in Toronto back in 2011 he declared he would close a library in his ward “in a heartbeat”. When Margaret Atwood took the somehow controversial stance that having access to public services is a good thing and spoke out in favour of libraries Ford responded thusly:

“Good luck to Margaret Atwood. I don’t even know her. She could walk right 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.”

Listening to someone brag about how ignorant they are is usually just pathetic; when the person bragging is leading a province of 14 million people and their platform seems to revolve entirely around access to cheap booze it’s a bit more disquieting (especially if they are also going to cut funding for mental health and addiction services).

Just to what extent all of these cuts will have in the long-term is a bit difficult to say, but major damage has already been done every library in the province with the immediate cancellation of the interlibrary loan system (known as ILLO). Basically, if your library doesn’t have the book (or movie, album, video game, etc.) that you wanted to borrow, it is no longer available. This might sound like a minor inconvenience to some, but for people who cannot afford to purchase all of the texts they need for school, or who live in smaller towns both in the north and south of Ontario, or who have mobility issues, it is an essential service. The program exists specifically to ensure everyone has fair access, especially in areas with less access to other services because of geography or that are economically disadvantaged.

What should be kept in mind is that this isn’t just about books, as important as they are. Libraries have always been at the centre of the communities they are in. Besides being able to take a book out, libraries are places where people go to learn new skills, use systems they cannot afford to access otherwise, or just to relax for a while. A quick glance at the front page of the St. Catharines Public Library website shows just how many programs and events take place within its walls, many of them having nothing to do with the books inside: a presentation entitled “Conservation in Niagara: Drinking Water Protection”; a knitting circle; a community information session about mindfulness and self-care; and adult chess instruction.

Considering all of the benefits provided by a local library it’s depressing how obvious it is that the current government does not care about them, and by extension you. When I look at a library, I see it as physical proof of the very best things about society: knowledge; community; fairness; and optimism for the future that is not always easy to hold on to. When Doug Ford looks at a library, he sees a waste of money

That, to me, highlights exactly what he is and what he has to offer to society.

Written by James Milhaven

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