Tay libraries thriving despite contrary rumours, says interim CEO

·5 min read

Some Tay residents are afraid they may lose their library branch.

But fear begets fear, says interim CEO Heather Delong.

"I think there's always fears when everyone is surrounded by fears, just in general," she said, in a conversation with MidlandToday about a letter submitted to council by a group called Citizen in Support of the Library.

"The library feels very well supported by the local communities and we look forward to returning to a somewhat normal."

The template letter, several copies of which were signed by various residents of the township, was submitted to a council meeting last month.

Some of the concerns expressed in the letter are around a motion by the board chair, seconded by the deputy chair, "to study library usage and service and population over the last many years, all the while questioning the utility of the Library, its three branches, and the Strategic Plan. All of this without public input.

"We urge the Township to halt this hasty and ill-planned process," continues the letter. "If a new strategic plan is to be prepared, we request that it be done with an outside, expert, arms-length consulting firm, and only after widespread public consultation. The Library currently has a $96,000 surplus, so perhaps part of this should fund a fair, and arms length Strategic Plan Update. Tay’s Strategic plan, adopted in 2019, recognizes the importance of the Library."

When the letter came up at the council meeting, it seemed to strike a nerve with all elected officials.

All those who had been on the board and are current appointees highlighted the inaccuracies in the letter around board members and council members leaving and stressed that never had any plans to close a library branch been brought up.

In his conversation with MidlandToday, Mayor Ted Walker was firm about the talk of closures being rumours.

"I can emphatically say that that's not the case," he said. "We have been committed to the three-branch system since the municipalities amalgamated in 1994. There's been no talk whatsoever about closing any of the branches."

As for the inaccuracies, he said, only two public members have left and one of them occurred because she moved away from the township.

"Then there was a mention of the council member changing," Walker continued. "That is a practice we follow half way through a council member's term, so there's nothing sinister to be read into it."

The concerns around a new master plan being drawn are also unfounded, he added.

"At the last library board meeting (held Jan. 19), they were talking about statistics and the fact that they wanted to do some statistical review on the usage of the library," said Walker. "I would expect this to be done on a regular basis any time.

"I guess there were people watching the meeting, which is a really good thing. I guess they misunderstood what the board was doing. Once it got onto social media, it kind of morphed into a rumour that we're thinking of closing the Waubaushene library. There's no truth to it."

Delong confirmed that was the case.

"I feel the concern is misplaced," she said. "The library did recently (at least five years ago) do a master plan and there have been quite a few changes both in staff and board since that time. The board had requested a 'where are we on the master plan recommendations' just to see what has been accomplished, what's in progress, and what has yet to be tackled."

What's still to be done, Delong said, are a couple of procedures and internal processes mentioned in the master plan recommendations.

Walker said service reviews are not uncommon, even the County of Simcoe is conducting a comprehensive service review, which includes libraries.

"They're starting to go into public consultation with that, so perhaps the library board would have statistics for that," he said, adding, "We're one of the only townships in the county that has three branches."

It's the township's intent to retain all three, Walker noted.

"Because we have three libraries, there are some things that are difficult for us to do at each of the branches," he said. "There's a cost component as well. What the board is looking into is what is the usage of the books, programming, and computers to get a good read into it."

Contrary to what the letter says about a drop in usage, Delong said, the truth is quite the opposite.

"I think we're doing really well right now, given it's been the weirdest year," she said, adding, she doesn't yet have any concrete numbers around usage. "The library has been very fortunate, even though this year has not been, with the closures and constant changing of levels of restrictions.

"I think we've done a good job of maintaining our connection with the local communities and keeping patrons engaged with what the library can and does provide as far as programming and educational information goes."

As a long-time employee within the Tay Township library system, Delong said she sees library usage as cyclical: Some years there's lots of talk around libraries and other years not so much.

"When people are most concerned about accessing services they're having a hard time finding elsewhere, the library is the first place they go," she said. "For the pandemic year, there's a lot more conversation about the library and what it can and can't do."

Mehreen Shahid, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, OrilliaMatters.com