Stephen Vance, Staff
The Owen Sound North Grey Union Public Library (OSNGUPL) sent an email to residents of the former Township of Sydenham, and issued a media release on Friday, November 25, to announce that the OSNGUPL has accepted the notice of termination by the Meaford Public Library Board of the service contract that allows Sydenham residents full membership with the OSNGUPL.
“I am sorry to be writing with distressing news about your membership in the Owen Sound & North Grey Union Library. Please note that library services at the Owen Sound and North Grey Union Public Library (OSNGUPL) will end for you and all Meaford residents living in the former Sydenham Township on December 31, 2016,” read the opening paragraph of the email sent to OSNGUPL members who reside in Sydenham.
Sydenham Township had been a member of the Union Public Library prior to its amalgamation with Meaford and St. Vincent Township, and it was agreed at that time to continue to allow Sydenham residents to use the OSNGUPL. Five years ago Meaford signed a ten-year agreement for that service with the OSNGUPL.
“The Meaford Public Library Board (MPL) chose to terminate the ten-year service agreement with OSNGUPL five years early, on November 7th,” said OSNGUPL Board Chair Richard Thomas. “And since that time we have been unable to find common ground for a new contract.”
Letters sent between the two library boards suggest that a resolution could be a long way off.
In a letter from OSNGUPL board chair Richard Thomas to the Meaford Public Library Board dated November 21, Thomas suggests that the MPL isn’t interested in providing Sydenham residents access to the OSNGUPL.
“As chair of the OSNGUPL board, I’m concerned that the Meaford Public Library Board isn’t really interested in providing citizens of the former Sydenham Township with access to the services at the Owen Sound & North Grey Union Public Library. As you know, this access was promised to our long-time library members when the present Municipality of Meaford was created through amalgamation,” wrote Thomas.
In the letter, Thomas noted that there were five years remaining on the ten-year service contract which costs the Municipality of Meaford close to $120,000 per year.
“Until a few weeks ago, there were five years remaining in our ten-year service contract. Meaford Public Library terminated the agreement with no prior warning and publicly stated it was interested in a two-year agreement with a possible two-year extension,” Thomas wrote. “We are shocked that MPL is now demanding a contract that is limited to one year. It makes us question whether the MPL has any long-term commitment to providing library services through the Owen Sound & North Grey Union Public Library. If the negotiation of a new contract is just a stop gap measure until MPL comes up with a way to provide library services to the residents of the former Sydenham Township, then we would ask that you be honest about it with both your ratepayers and with us.”
Board chair for the Meaford Public Library, Peter Bantock responded to the letter from the OSNGUPL in a letter dated November 22.
“Richard, with respect, it is disingenuous of you to continue to assert that the board and staff of the Meaford Public Library do not have the best interests of the residents of the former Sydenham Township at heart. This is patently not the case. It is the right of the board to review its service contract with OSNGUPL and it will continue to do so. It would be a disservice to all residents of our municipality if it did not,” wrote Bantock. “The Meaford Public Library board and staff are intensely committed to providing exceptional library service in our municipality.”
In the letter Bantock noted that the OSNGUPL had agreed to provide service to all residents of Meaford as opposed to strictly Sydenham residents, however that access would come at increased cost to Meaford. Bantock also reminded the OSNGUPL that the MPL has been requesting detailed user data from the OSNGUPL in order to be able to better determine if Meaford is paying a fair price for the service provided.
“These are the very fees the value of which we have been questioning for some years and which we cannot continue to accept without the user data we have repeatedly requested,” wrote Bantock, who added that, “Our goal has always been to negotiate a fair and equitable service contract between Meaford Public Library and OSNGUPL that would allow the residents of Sydenham Township and hopefully all residents of our municipality access to the catalogue of OSNGUPL.”
Currently all residents of Meaford, including Sydenham residents, have full access to the Meaford Public Library, while only Sydenham residents have full use of the OSNGUPL. Bantock insists that user data must be provided in order to draft a fair contract, and that a one-year contract would allow time for data to be provided by the OSNGUPL and analyzed by the MPL.
“The only way we can determine if the contract is indeed fair and equitable is to analyze the raw data of how many of our residents withdraw materials from OSNGUPL and how often they do it. It is our opinion that a one-year contract at a fixed rate will give OSNGUPL ample time to reset its computer system to capture the data we have requested. Once we have that data in hand, we will be ready to negotiate a new and potentially ongoing arrangement with OSNGUPL to the benefit of all parties,” wrote Bantock.
Bantock also noted in his November 22 letter that the OSNGUPL turned down an offer from the MPL for a two-year contract at $116,000 per year.
“May I remind you that your board turned down our previous offer of a two-year contract at $116,000 for each year, during which time the OSNGUPL could supply the data we require to determine if a further contract would be possible and at what rate. As a show of good faith, we increased that amount to $119,900, which is in the municipality’s budget for a one year contract. This figure is final for all services in the one year offer,” Bantock wrote.
The OSNGUPL has no interest in a one-year contract, however in their November 21 letter, the OSNGUPL board proposed a two-year agreement with the cost for the first year being $120,500, increasing to $130,000 in the second year.
As for supplying user data, the OSNGUPL board says they will consider the request.
“With respect to the Meaford Public Library board’s request for library user data, the OSNGUPL board will consider the matter upon receipt of draft contract wording, respecting access to OSNGUPL user information by the Meaford Public Library board, that is satisfactory to the OSNGUPL solicitor taking into consideration current privacy legislation and best practices respecting access to information,” wrote OSNGUPL board chair Richard Thomas on November 21.
Bantock also called upon the OSNGUPL to remove its non-resident user fee of $500 which is the most costly non-resident fee of any library in the province.
“Richard, of course the simplest way to resolve this entire issue is for the OSNGUPL to remove its $500 user fee and offer free membership to non-residents as countless libraries across Ontario have done, including ours. Or, at the very least, reduce the fee for non-resident Grey Bruce folks to the level of fee you charge non-residents outside of Grey and Bruce. That would truly be in the best interest of our citizens,” suggested Bantock.
The OSNGUPL was blunt in their comment on the fee Meaford should pay saying that “the cost of the service is the cost of the service.”
“MPL continues to try and dictate the price and terms under which it will ‘accept’ our service. This is like arriving at the cash register and telling the cashier how much you’ll pay for the item and then expecting the store to eat the additional cost. The cost of the service is the cost of the service, and nothing could be fairer than paying the same price everyone else pays for it,” Thomas said.
An information session will be held on Wednesday, November 30 at 7 p.m. at the Owen Sound & North Grey Union Public Library. The OSNGUPL says that they have also prepared an information package that provides more information, history, and statistics for interested residents.