Highgate hopeful the story doesn’t end

·4 min read

Councillor Steve Pinsonneault first got into politics when he found out there was talk of closing the Thamesville library branch.

Fourteen years later, Pinsonneault is fighting for another library to keep its doors open.

In August 2020, a report that came to council, “2021 Budget Opportunities for 0%”, stated that Chatham-Kent Public Library will review the number of locations and service delivery. CKPL will also review usage, locations, and future needs, as well as a modern delivery model and opportunities to co-locate with other municipal services.

As council began to discuss their growth strategy and how they pay for it, word quickly spread around the community that the Highgate library could potentially be on the chopping block.

According to a report, a detailed analysis of East Chatham-Kent, Ward 3, and the rest of Chatham-Kent has been completed. The report analyzed and compared Library services in East CK to the rest of Chatham-Kent.

The report factored in many variables, such as the distance to travel to a nearby branch and the demand measured by circulation, computer usage and people through the door. It indicates there are 10 different branches within 21 kilometres of each other. The distance from Ridgetown to Highgate is 10 kilometres.

Ward 3 has more branches and open hours than any other ward in Chatham-Kent. Bothwell, Highgate, Ridgetown and Thamesville, have a combined total of 77 open hours per week.

The report also states the costs of operating the Highgate Branch are $28,716 for wages, $ 6,719 for facilities, and $ 100 for supplies for a grand total of $35,535.

“The actual cost to run the Highgate Library is $6,700 a year after you remove the labour,” said Pinsonneault. “That’s an insult to the Highgate community to close a library branch for that amount of money.”

Pinsonneault added libraries are more than just books; they are a link between Chatham-Kent and the community of Highgate. He said they are there to help people, such as those who don’t have the internet at home, allowing them to use the internet there and do homework.

“It is extremely important to keep these rural libraries open. I will fight for this one,” said Pinsonneault.

But Pinsonneault isn’t the only councillor fighting for Highgate. Fellow Ward 3 councillor John Wright said while he will fight, it is important to use the library.

“The biggest thing with the library is, you use it, or you lose it,” said Wright. “People have to remember to use it, as the more it is used, the more chance there is of us saving it.”

Wright said decisions are made off numbers, and if the numbers aren’t there, it is put on the chopping list.

According to the report, circulation at the Highgate branch has been declining over the last few years. In 2018, Highgate circulated 6,537 items. In 2019 it circulated 7,169 items. In fact, removing Highgate’s circulation and open hours from the equation means that Ward 3 is circulating more per open hour than it does with Highgate included.

There are 262 active patrons registered to the Highgate Branch. Six of those patrons are reciprocal borrowers from neighbouring counties. Of those active patrons, 165 are registered as living in Highgate and 37 live in communities with CKPL branches.

“I will fight to keep it. If necessary, there will be another community meeting as the community spoke up well the last time, so if it happens again, they’ll be back again,” said Wright.

In the end, it’s a giant balancing act, according to Chatham-Kent Chief Administrative Officer Don Shropshire.

“We were asked to come back as administration and provide council with options,” said Shropshire. “We’re not sitting back here and saying that any of the services we’re thinking of changing or reducing are in any way, shape, or form, not valuable services.”

Shropshire added he is trying to provide a comprehensive plan and some options for council, recognizing how difficult it is, and that there’s some pros and cons of the trade-offs.

According to Tania Sharp, CEO and Chief Librarian for Chatham-Kent Public Library, she has not heard anything directly from library patrons yet but noticed comments on the “Let’s Talk Budget Survey” asking not to close the Highgate Branch. She added an equal number of comments on the survey that have chosen the options around streamlining services, including libraries.

“Any recommendation to close a branch is not taken lightly,” said Sharp. “Many factors are examined, including active patrons, computer usage in the library, items checked out, to name a few. Administration is supportive of streamlining facilities in order to provide the best library services and programs to Chatham-Kent residents.”

Bird Bouchard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Ridgetown Independent News