In response to the changing economic and information climate, Ontario public libraries are redefining their roles in order to better serve their communities. Public libraries across Ontario are expanding digital collections, providing more community services to fill the gaps, and implementing innovative programming such as 3D printers and makerspaces. Public need and demand is high, and libraries are busier than ever. This is an exciting time for libraries. However, many libraries are struggling to keep up with public demand due to limited budgets.
Even though Ontario public libraries rely on the provincial government for a large amount of their funding, there has been little discussion about their funding during the 2014 Ontario election campaign. After searching the party websites and platforms and coming up short, I decided to get to the bottom of it by contacting my local candidates directly. I decided to approach the issue on two levels: Is there any change in the works for the amount of funding to public libraries? And is there any policy in place for the allocation of funding between libraries? Below you will find a summary of their responses, my methodology, and a list of resources for more information.
A policy representative from Deb Matthews’ campaign office assured me that “a strong library system is a cornerstone of our community and the Ontario Liberals remain committed to supporting the library system.” When asked whether there would be any changes to the amount of Ontario public library funding, she directed me to The Ontario Libraries Capacities fund on page 83 of the proposed Ontario Budget 2014 which states:
“Recognizing the key role that public libraries play in delivering and supporting important community programs, the government will provide an additional $10 million over the next three years to help achieve IT improvements across the public library sector, improve service delivery, and encourage more research and innovation.”
The representative noted that the Liberals are the only party with a fully costed budget ready to go, and that if elected on June 12th, they will implement the budget as soon as possible. In response to my question about the policy of distribution (i.e. application processes for grants, or a rural or urban library priority), the representative stated, “As with any party’s platform, if re-elected, the details are worked out with the appropriate ministry after the election. In this case, that ministry is Tourism, Culture and Sport, which is responsible for developing provincial policies for public libraries, and would be the appropriate ministry to direct questions related to distribution of funding.”
The Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport can be reached via their contact page, and information on the ministry’s responsibilities towards public libraries can be found here.
In response to a broad question about taking a stance on funding for public libraries, Kevin Labonte responded by saying “I believe funding should be administered at municipal level but supported by the province.” When asked for more details about the amount of funding allocated to Ontario libraries he said, “While I would like to see across the board increases in support, I think communities with smaller tax bases need more support.” Kevin Labonte was the only candidate to provide an answer about the plan for distributing the funding, however he was not able to provide an official document supporting this policy.
New Democratic Party: Did not respond.
Progressive Conservative Party: Did not respond.
How I Did It
I used a combination of phone, e-mail, and social media to contact the candidates from North-Centre London Ontario. On May 16, 2014 I sent the same tweet out to each of the North-Centre London MPP Candidates:
London voter here wondering: What is your stance on funding for public libraries? — Karissa Dawn (@karissadawna) May 16, 2014
After receiving responses, my plan was to follow up with questions about amount and distribution of funding. Since after one week only the Green Party candidate (Kevin Labonte) had responded, I decided to go another route. During the last weeks of May I sent e-mails through contact forms on the candidates’ websites, but did not receive any responses.
On June 4 I phoned the campaign offices of Deb Matthews (Liberal candidate), Judy Bryant (NDP candidate), and Nancy Branscombe (PC candidate). I explained that I was a London voter looking for policy information on an issue that hasn’t been explicitly discussed in any of the parties platforms or websites: funding for public libraries. Each of the campaign offices took my phone number, name, and question, and assured me that I would have an answer within the next week. The Liberal office was the first to respond only a few hours later. By June 8th, I had still not heard from the NDP or the PC parties, so I sent an e-mail directly to each campaign office explaining the situation and re-asking my two questions. However, by June 10th I have still not received any response from the NDP or the PC parties.
Their silence could be interpreted in several ways: a) during the final stretch of the campaign, some e-mails and phone calls may slip through the cracks, b) the issue of funding for public libraries is overshadowed by many others, and finding information on their party’s stance is proving difficult, or c) they just don’t have good news for public libraries. It is not my place to interpret their silence, but if you want to learn more about each parties’ platform from a non-partisan source, visit the CBC Compare Party Platforms tool, or take the Vote Compass quiz to find out which party most closely shares your political values.
For more information on public libraries and the provincial election check out the following resources:
- The Federation of Ontario Public Libraries point of view
- The CNIB receives official responses from the 4 parties about funding for Equitable Library Access in Ontario
- The proposed Liberal Budget for 2014 (see page 83 for library funding information)
- Public Library Statistics from the Ministry of Tourism, Culture, and Sport (check out the “Library Financial” section for the most recent 2011 results, divided by population size)
- The Ontario Non-Profit Network’s analysis of the party platforms
- Follow #VoteON on Twitter to participate in the conversation
- Compare Party Platforms on CBC.ca
- Not sure how to participate in the election? Elections Ontario has many resources explaining where and how to vote.