Public meeting does little to quell frustration

 

 The SD&G County Library Board held a public information meeting in Williamsburg May 9, at the Williamsburg Oddfellows Hall.

Over 75 people attended the meeting where Library Staff provided a power point presentation concerning the upcoming consolidation of the Williamsburg and Morrisburg library branches.

Staff and the library board members were focussed on showing the public the plans for the new branch location in Morrisburg. 

They spoke about the need for rural libraries, like rural communities, to find creative ways to sustain themselves.

With the opportunity to consolidate at a new high traffic location, the board made the decision to consolidate the two branches.

With the prospect of a new location that will see much higher foot traffic past the door of the library, which will include everyone using the St. Lawrence Medical Clinic or visiting the South Dundas Municipal Centre, the board seized the opportunity.

Using the Kemptville library as a model for a difficult changes that have had a positive outcome, the SD&G Library Board initiated similarly difficult changes. 

Eric Duncan, who is a member of the library board, explained that the expansion of the Kemptville library included the closure of small branches in South Gower and Oxford Mills.

“There was a huge outcry from the public and disaster was predicted. People were furious when it happened,” explained Duncan.

But through the change, they moved to a higher profile, higher traffic location and were able to get more usage and increase membership to 62 per cent.

“If we are one fifth as successful as Kemptville that would be huge for South Dundas and County-wide for the library system.”

That one branch in a place with one-quarter the population of the Counties now has more visits than all 18 branches in SD&G combined. That speaks volumes,” said Duncan. “This is not negative. Give it a chance to show it can work.”

“We need to make the library system better,” said board chair Bill McGimpsey.

Presently about 12 percent of the population of South Dundas uses the library. The board aims to double that usage by attracting some of the large majority of the local population who does not presently use the library.

They plan to offer a new, comfortable and inviting space, longer hours, more staff and more programming including children’s programming and one-on-one technical programming aimed at seniors.

While the board sees this decision as a positive one, those on hand at the meeting felt quite the opposite.

“Our library money is going to Morrisburg,” shouted someone from the crowd.

“You live in South Dundas,” said McGimpsey. “South Dundas is getting a better library.” 

That was definitely not what the crowd of Williamsburg library supporters wanted to hear. 

They expressed their frustration, anger and disappointment with their small town losing yet another service and with having no opportunity to have a say in the decision until after it was already made.

They repeatedly stressed the importance of the Williamsburg branch of the library in their every day lives and its importance for their children.

One of the most important questions asked at the meeting was whether the board would reconsider their decision.

No one would directly answer that question, but most left the meeting with the impression that the decision has been made. “This decision has been made, and our opinions don’t matter,” shouted someone from the crowd.

The library board is hosting a public information session Thursday, May 16, 7 p.m., at the Morrisburg library to show the community what they have planned for the upcoming consolidation.

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