City councillor lobbying for better library service in his ward

Coun. Riley Brockington wants better library services in his ward where there is no public library branch. (Submitted by Riley Brockington - image credit)
Coun. Riley Brockington wants better library services in his ward where there is no public library branch. (Submitted by Riley Brockington - image credit)

An Ottawa city councillor will try to lobby his council colleagues to seek more library programming across his ward, since there is no library branch, after the head of the Ottawa Public Library denied his request.

Last week, River ward Coun. Riley Brockington appeared in front of the Ottawa Public Library Board as a delegate asking the library to allocate $100,000 of its almost $11 million reserve balance to bring established programming, like family storytimes, French language lessons, and book clubs, into community centres across the ward.

He said the chief librarian and CEO, Sonia Bebbington, rejected his request saying River ward already has an established alternative library service model serving the community.

"I'm very disappointed," said Brockington.

At the meeting, Brockington said he made a case for why his ward would benefit from these added programs. He said he has the space available in community centres and is willing to sit down to identify the programs that are most needed by residents.

"I'm asking to take less than one per cent from their rainy day account and target at-risk communities in my ward," he said.

Bus service to nearby libraries not adequate, councillor says

Not only does River ward not have a public library branch within its limits, Brockington said there are also no direct bus routes to the closest library branch locations — Alta Vista, Greenboro, Emerald Plaza and Carlingwood.

Currently, there are eight OPL Bookmobile buses that service neighbourhoods throughout the ward once a week between Tuesdays and Thursdays. There is also a kiosk, described by the library as a "vending-machine style delivery system," at the Hunt Club-Riverside Park Community Centre.

Francis Ferland/CBC
Francis Ferland/CBC

Linda Sabine, resident of River Ward's Hunt Club neighbourhood, said the book kiosk — where you order a book online and it's delivered to a locker — can be glitchy.

"I've had several instances where they won't open or you scan your card and it says the book is unavailable," said Sabine.

The kiosks also offer a selection of books that can be borrowed at any time. While convenient, Sabine said there are usually only eight titles for adults and eight titles for kids, with a couple of copies of each available.

"That is not a lot," she said. "We're just asking for more services as well as books. I don't know why that is such an impossibility."

Councillor Matthew Luloff, chair of the Ottawa Public Library Board, said funding from reserves is never allocated toward programming like this and the library doesn't fund programming on a ward basis.

"It's certainly not a sustainable source of funding," he said.

Instead, he said in the 2023 budget, which the library board just passed and which will go before council on Wednesday, the library has allocated around $360,000 to establish a team focused on community development, including three dedicated staff members.

"[The library has] always done a community development, but there hasn't been dedicated staff resources for it," he said.

The team will be looking at communities through an equity lens and Luloff said River ward will definitely benefit from this initiative.

He also said, given there are four wards in the city which do not currently have a library branch, the library will be reviewing its facilities and service delivery. This could mean new library branches in some of those wards.

"I understand that it's difficult to be patient while these processes go through, but...through the criteria that we've developed....River ward will certainly be better served moving forward," Luloff said.

Community starts own storytime program

Just over a year ago, along with other community members, Sabine started a Toddler Storytime program that runs out of a community centre. The program is funded by the Hunt Club Community Association, which secures the room rental.

Sabine said she has spent her own money on books and puppets to support the program.

"If we had a library branch in the neighbourhood, that is a very common thing that a lot of library branches offer," she said.

In Carlington, another neighbourhood within River ward's boundaries, residents have been waiting to hear if a library branch will open in the proposed Alexander Community Centre expansion.

Brockington said he proposed an idea for a mini branch in the community centre's old 2,500-square-foot gymnasium, but has not received much support from the library.

"Talking about communities that would benefit from a library, Carlington is your poster child," he said.