Five years on, same questions
Counties still pondering what to do about facilities for library branches
The SDG county council is trying to decide how it will deal with the mounting problem of library branches that are outgrowing their small municipally-owned buildings.
The size of library branches has been a longstanding problem in SDG. It has been over five years since the county’s Library Board told its council that the libraries needed more room.
“It is inconceivable that the library of the 21st century can be housed in facilities that are less than 1,000 square feet in size with outdated building services,” read a 2012 facility model report. “It is not possible to engage residents and meet the needs of currently under-served sectors of the community with libraries that are only open 10-15 hours a week and have no dedicated program or meeting areas.”
It has been more than five years since that report and demand for library facilities is still increasing. The small one-room branch in Long Sault, for instance, is seeing the amount of people coming in increasing rapidly as new subdivisions and seniors housings are built.
Since that report, two new library branches have been built, one in Morrisburg and one in Williamsburg, while three were closed in 2016 because they were small, poorly-maintained and under-used.
But according to the Library Board, none of the other recommendations from the report have been followed. On Tuesday the issue was raised again, with the Library Board asking the county council for some kind of direction on the issue.
At the moment, the townships provide the buildings for the library and rent them to the library at a nominal fee of $2 per square foot. The county provides all of the library services such as books, staff and programming. According to the Library Board, this is an arrangement no one is satisfied with.
“Increasingly, there is frustration felt by both sides of this long-established ‘partnership,’” reported the board to the council on Tuesday. “The local municipalities see that the rate paid for the facilities does not even begin to cover basic utility costs, while the library is very much restricted in what services and resources it can offer, largely by the size and condition of its facilities.”
To fix this problem, the library board is once again recommending that the county looks at adopting a system similar to the “variable lease rate model” used by the Middlesex County Library.
Under this model, there would be three different rents that the library board would pay depending on what kind of library facility they wanted to run.
A basic facility, which would meet just the basic library needs of its community, would pay $6.28 per square foot.
An enhanced facility would need to be large enough to have programming space for activities that would take place during regular library hours. For this, the library board would pay $7.21 per square foot.
A comprehensive facility would cost $9.93 per square foot, but would need to be a minimum of 6,000 square feet, have an increased footprint for library services, designated program space, be fully accessible and have space left over for “iterant services providers.”
The re-emergence of the library building issue caused a lot of debate among the councillors on Tuesday with some arguing that moving away from the current model and beginning construction of new buildings or renting privately-owned ones didn’t make financial sense — at least not without limitations. Others, however, argued that dealing with the issue was long overdue.
North Glengarry councillor Jamie MacDonald was in the former camp and said he did not see the point of adopting the variable lease model.
“I don’t get it, either way, there’s still only one (payer). I don’t see what’s the point of going through this exercise, it just doesn’t make sense,” said MacDonald.
North Dundas councillor Eric Duncan argued that the county has a serious problem that needs to be addressed because the public expects there to be adequate library services.
“With all the roofs that need to be replaced, the money from rent is getting tighter, tighter and tighter every year,” said Duncan. “When the rent is just $2, and there is a huge gap between that and operating costs, we can look at modernizing it. We are not in tough times, and if we close one, there will be 600 people in the council chamber with petitions.”
MacDonald countered with a proposal that would see the library be given enough money to pay $8 per square foot, but that each township would be limited to just two branches.
The issue will be revisited when the council begins budget deliberations.