The idea for the petition began with a local women's book club after they (Joan and Janet) had read a letter to the editor on library underfunding by me (Arnold Neufeldt-Fast) in the Stouffville Sun-Tribune (Mar 18, 2011).
Joan and Janet and their book club wanted to raise awareness about the state of the library's funding and take action to bring about change. They put together a first draft of the petition, which inspired me to address Council on June 21 with the support of the book club members (see questions to Council here).
We were not satisfied with the response, namely, that there is no problem! (No matter how you do the accounting for funding, staffing, materials and facility are far below any provincial norms). So now I've joined their cause. A number of other book clubs (incl. "The Red Tent Sisters," "The Leisure Readers," and a few others [most don't have names!]) are joining forces with us as well to document the Library's funding crisis and to launch this petition.We are referencing all claims with available provincially mandated performance indicators, as well as the Town's own Annual Reports and budgets, etc. to show exactly what has and is happening to the Library. Two trends are obvious, but not necessarily connected: while the Town invests in more sports facilities and parks & facilities staff annually--and in this regard, we are well above the provincial average using the same performance indicators--the Library withers.
I am an academic (PhD; Associate Professor of Theology, Associate Dean) and know a bit about libraries and how to research too. I'm in our Public Library most Wednesday evenings with my young daughter after our swim. I'm not a model library patron, but a regular financial supporter through overdue fines! What binds us in this cause is a love and appreciation of books and music and knowledge. Above all else, we are people who care about our community, and who realize the vital role that community libraries have historically played in Canada--and in Stouffville specifically.
Our petition is modest: that the Town increase per person library funding to the provincial average by 2015, and to begin now to develop plans for a library expansion (once planned for 2009, now no earlier than 2015, after the arrival of another 10-12,000 residents). Where will the money come from? Our recreation spending is above the provincial per capita average; that can't continue as the library withers. As recently as 2004 the library was 5% of the town's budget; today it is at 2%. This can be turned back, for example, 1% a year. (Town Council has suggested the per person funding formula doesn't tell the whole story; my response: then reaching the provincial averages in staffing, materials, and facilities should be our benchmark).
Each community has library "challenges," and throwing money at the problem is normally not a very imaginative solution. Whitchurch-Stouffville however is unique: we are one of the fastest growing communities in Canada. Our town has grown 58% in five years and requires new schools, new roads, new fire stations, etc. When planning for growth neglects the library as essential infrastructure, it gives a strong message about priorities.
We want to show Council that many residents are concerned about the current state of the library: the number of staff, the space needs, and the annually decreasing number of titles per resident. When the "new" library was built, the town assumed we would only reach our current population level in 2021! We have reached that point a full decade earlier than planned--and have pushed off Library expansion plans annually since 2008. Most on council however think that their plan to keep the library alive with life-support (slight annual increase in dollar amounts, but chronic, annual decreasing per capita contributions to the library as new residents flock to town) is sufficient. We do not share this vision. The Library is not just another Leisure facility; the Library is and always has been a pillar of Canadian community life.
You can print out our 2 page info flyer or the one page summary, sign the petition online, or print one out and get your book club members, neighbours, soccer friends, etc. to sign.We'll need all the creative help we can get.
Please forward this via email to your friends in town; spread the word via Facebook and Twitter--or face-to-face! Keep us informed, and join us at the W-S Town Council Public Budget Consultation, Oct 25, 2011.
Arnold Neufeldt-Fast, PhD (W-S Library Petition Coordinator)
672 Millard St., Stouffville, ON L4A 0B2
PS: Let us know if your group would like to be named as a co-sponsor as well.
PSS: Consider contacting the Mayor and your Councillor directly.
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