The Township Empire: Our Public Libraries

·5 min read

The Buildings: If you’re a relatively new resident of Uxbridge, you may not be aware that there are actually two libraries in the Township. The beautiful central library near the intersection of Brock and Toronto Streets has been a community hub for 135 years; it was built in 1887 by one of the town’s Quaker pioneers, Joseph Gould; the clay for the bricks came from his farm on Mill St., with the lumber from a sawmill in Leaskdale. And as the town has grown, there has been a temptation to build a larger facility in a new building on a site allowing for future expansion.

“There have been lots of proposals over the years,” says library CEO Amanda Ferraro, “the latest of which was to build a new library on the Fields of Uxbridge. But the community loves the building and loves the location, so we’ve committed to doing major upgrades over the last several years, to the lighting, the heating the cooling, the outdoor patio. Just this past year, we did a significant restoration of the clock tower.”

A major renovation in 1987, marking the building’s centennial, made a large addition to the library’s square footage both upstairs and downstairs (where the children’s library and community rooms reside). And stay tuned - there may be an opportunity in the coming years to expand even more on the downtown site.

But the majestic Uxbridge library has a baby sister up in the northwest corner of the Township. Nestled beside the United Church in the hamlet of Zephyr sits a second public library, constructed in 1972 on the site of the old community hall. It’s open from 3-7 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and from 10-3 every second Saturday. That compares to 48 hours a week in Uxbridge (52 in the winter, when Sunday hours are added), but patrons in Zephyr do have access to the full collection at the larger location. The librarian dedicated to Zephyr regularly totes boxes of materials back and forth.

Management: There are significant operational differences between the libraries and the community halls we examined last week. The most obvious is that the part-time staff dedicated to the halls aren’t there when you rent them; you essentially walk into an empty building. The libraries, conversely, are abuzz with people. The public library has two full-time and 11 part-time staff (not counting CEO Ferraro, who wears a multitude of other hats for the Township), as well as five students during the school year. And they’re kept busy.

“Happily, we’ve come back to pre-COVID levels in terms of patron use,” says Library manager Corrinne Morrison. “A great example is the TD Summer Reading Program. In 2021 we had 60 children register and report on reading 621 books throughout the summer. In 2022, we had 123 children register and they have reported on 819 books so far with one more reporting day to go! Uxbridgers have been eager to take advantage of all our services”. Services which staff will be glad to help you explore.

The other major difference in the library’s management is that its nine-member community board is not simply advisory, it’s statutory; that is, it’s mandated by provincial legislation. The province gives an annual operating grant to the UPL. It’s small when compared to the size of the library’s budget, and it hasn’t seen an increase in years, but in return, the province has standards by which public libraries must operate. The board, for instance, has a major role in the budgetary process.

“Thankfully,” says Morrison, “the province helps us in lots of other ways. Ontario Library Services provides training, and operates the inter-library loan system among other programs. They also negotiate discounted pricing for library items and eResources.”

The library also takes advantages of volunteers in a variety of ways, from helping with fundraising to delivering books to people who can’t easily get out.

Funding: As mentioned, the provincial grant provides a small portion of the UPL’s operating budget: $24,000 in 2021, from a total of $855,000. Patrons provide even less. Your library card, of course, is free. In 2021, you paid $3,500 for late fines and replacement books, $4,500 in program fees, and about $7,000 in donations. The balance came from the Township coffers; in other words, from your property taxes.

The major items in the operating budget for last year were wages and benefits ($414,000), library materials ($64K), repairs and maintenance ($57K) and utilities ($25K). On the capital side, projects usually total between $50-100,000 annually, meaning that the total UPL budget ranges between $900,000 to a million dollars per year.

Where are the hands? The clock in the Uxbridge library, manufactured in Connecticut, is one of its most fascinating features; the mechanism goes all the way to the basement, and you can see a portion of it in the genealogy room. Last year’s work made some long overdue repairs to the clock tower, including the eviction of wildlife; certain squirrels and pigeons had to find other homes. But you might have noticed that the clock’s hands haven’t yet been replaced.

“They’re in good shape,” says Ferraro, “but they’re not keeping the same time on every face. Our clock doctor is on the case, but parts for 140-year-old clocks of this design aren’t easy to source. Watch for them soon!”

Conrad Boyce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Uxbridge Cosmos