Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Library Services A Must, But at What Cost? – Updated

By Stephen Vance, Editor

*Please scroll to the bottom of this article to read some additional information added at the request of Meaford Councillor Deborah Young.

For many residents in all parts of our municipality, library services are an issue that bring about strong opinions and emotions – and rightly so.

Libraries are an important component of a thriving community. Much more than a warehouse for books, libraries are a valuable resource, and they are one of the cultural hubs that help bind a community together.

Sadly, in all of the turmoil that has surrounded the library services contract renewal between Meaford and the Owen Sound & North Grey Union Library, the Meaford Library Board has been vilified due to their attempts to negotiate a better contract, a contract that would save taxpayer’s money.

Based on much of the email that we’ve received at The Independent recently, Meaford’s library board has been accused of meddling in an issue that they should have left alone, and some have even suggested that their refusal to sign the agreement as presented, was an attempt to deny library services to the residents of the former Sydenham Township.

Many have even held up the actions of the Meaford Library Board as evidence of a divided community in which rural resident concerns are ignored by those in the urban part of our municipality.

If we can set emotions aside for a moment, and if we can also set aside the issue of whether library boards should have negotiated the contract renewal, or whether that task should have been handled by council and municipal staff, anyone who had taken the time to listen to what the library board was saying, understood that Meaford Library Board felt that the price tag of the contract was simply too high.

$110,000 per year is certainly a lot of money, but how much cheaper could it have been?

Meaford councillor Deborah Young, who council voted on Monday to appoint to the library board, attended her first meeting with that board on Tuesday afternoon.

During a heated exchange at that meeting, Councillor Young called the offer made by the Meaford Library board of $55,000 in their attempt to negotiate a new contact, insulting.

The other board members told Young that the $55,000 amount that was contained in a proposed contract submitted to, and rejected by the OSNGUL board was based on the average cost paid for non-resident memberships at libraries across Ontario.

“In what world?” Councillor Young asked.

We at The Meaford Independent thought that was an excellent question, so we researched the non-resident membership fees charged by Ontario libraries, and the answer to Young’s question as it turns out is – in the real world.

Based on the 1,371 Sydenham residents who hold memberships at the OSNGUL, the $110,000 that is being charged to Meaford for library services at that facility is equal to $80 per person.

Our random sampling of 20 libraries in communities of varying size in Ontario showed that the average non-resident membership fee charged is $36.58.

The $55,000 proposed by the Meaford Library Board, though half of what Meaford was being asked to pay makes a little more sense now doesn’t it?

Some of the libraries we sampled charge nothing for non-resident memberships. Windsor, Oshawa, and Lambton County all charge nothing, though non-resident members sometimes have restrictions placed on the number of items that can be borrowed at one time by a non-resident member.

The majority of libraries sampled charge a non-resident membership fee between $25 and $40.

In Caledon the library charges $25, Hamilton $40, Gravenhurst $25, Blue Mountains $37.50, Newmarket $30, Waterloo $35, and in Meaford the library charges $40 for non-resident memberships.

Certainly there are libraries that charge more. Barrie for example charges $60, Guelph charges $50, and in Vaughan non-resident members are charged $80.

But based on our own research, the average non-resident library membership fee in Ontario is less than $40, so you can understand why the Meaford Library Board felt that $80 per member at a library that “treats Meaford like a partner” was too much.

Nobody has suggested that Sydenham residents shouldn’t have access to the OSNGUL. It only makes sense that they have access to that facility. It is much closer to where they live, the children from Sydenham attend school in Owen Sound, and it simply makes sense. Everyone should agree on that point.

But should Meaford be paying $80 per person for use of that facility when the average library in Ontario charges half that amount?

Meaford’s Mayor and council apparently were not concerned that Meaford is being asked to pay double the average fee for our Sydenham residents to use the OSNGU library.

The responsibility for signing the contract was delegated to Meaford council, and the deal is done. Meaford will pay the $110,000 per year, for the next 10 years, and Sydenham residents will continue to be able to use the library in Owen Sound.

“They treat Meaford as if we are a partner,” Mayor Francis Richardson told reporters in November, “They are going to charge us exactly the same as they do for all of the Union members. And to my mind, you can’t get a fairer agreement than that.”

Really?

Update: December 15, 17:00

Meaford Councillor Deborah Young left a comment on the Meaford Independent facebook page in which she raised a very good point.

“From what you wrote, you are saying that the non-resident rates are lower everywhere else. I don’t believe any of those libraries are Union Public Libraries. I would suggest that you do some homework on Union Public Libraries and then compare apples to apples,” commented Councillor Young.

The Meaford Independent had in fact looked into the non-resident membership rates for Ontario’s union public libraries, and while we did list the rates in response to Councillor Young’s comment on our facebook page, we decided to add that information to this editorial.

The non-resident membership rates at Ontario Union Public libraries are as follows:

  • Burk’s Falls, Armour & Ryerson Union Public Library – non-resident membership fee – $20.00

  • Bruce Mines & Plummer Additional Union Public Library – non-resident membership fee – $20.00

  • Perth & District Union Public Library – non-resident membership fee – $35

  • South River Machar Union Public Library – non-resident membership fee – $5 adult, $10 family

  • The Powassan & District Union Public Library – non-resident membership fee – $20 individual, $25 family

  • Bonnechere Union Public Library (Eganville) – non-resident membership fee – $30 household.

  • Owen Sound & North Grey Union Public Library – non-resident membership fee – $160/household

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