Editorial: Market instead of close library branches

A recent consultants’ report released by the SDG Library in January leaves cause for concern that rural library branches in South Dundas – specifically Morrisburg and Williamsburg – and elsewhere in SDG Counties are once again at risk of closing. Examining closures was one of 20 recommendations in the report. However, there were more that were not only concerning, but appeared rather foolish to implement.

For example, one recommendation is to have SDG Counties own the physical locations of its SDG Library branches. Currently 14 of 15 branches are leased from lower-tier municipal partners. The Counties own the SDG Library branch in Lancaster, which is an outdated and undersized location. In the previous term of council an expansion study pointed to an $840K cost to upgrade that facility. Rent and utilities for the municipally-housed branches are about $328K per year, which is a fantastic operating budget line for a 15 branch library system.

The consultant claims that Library branch sizes are limited by space for programming. While this may be true in a few select locations, most branches are in municipal centres or are adjacent to schools. Morrisburg’s branch is located in the South Dundas Municipal Centre, and Iroquois’ branch is in the Iroquois Civic Centre. SDG Library could easily book municipal meeting space for programming. For larger events, both branches are next to Upper Canada District School Board schools, and that board actively seeks community partnerships to use school space after hours.

There are 20 recommendations for the library system in the report. These range from cutting costs, building staff connections, hiring more staff, reviewing programs, and reviewing policies and procedures. The only two recommendations that should be followed and greatly expanded involve marketing and customer experience.

According to the report, only 15 per cent of the approximately 65,000 people who live in SDG Counties have a library card. That is the lowest number out of comparable library systems in Ontario. The first goal of SDG Library should be to encourage more residents to sign up for a library card, then to use it. That takes marketing to make people aware of all the good things that libraries are to a community.

Libraries are no longer just books, and have not been for many years. They are a hub of learning, creativity, socialization, innovation, and adventure. There are movies, audio books, magazines, computers, maker spaces with 3D printing, Lego Clubs, and reading clubs – and so much more. Libraries are the great equalizer in any community. A user’s age does not matter, nor does their income. A library card costs the user nothing, but gives everyone access to so much.

Reviewing policies, buying property, or closing branches – as this report recommends – makes the SDG Library issues more complicated than it really needs to be. Market what the library does, sign up more users, and the rest will take care of itself.

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