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Interlibrary loans restored in Ontario, but cost concerns remain

Interlibrary loans are returning to parts of Ontario after a provincial funding cut, but some librarians warn celebrations may be "premature." 

Courier service in southern Ontario to be replaced by Canada Post delivery

Interlibrary loans allow small and rural libraries to offer the public items they don't have room to keep on their shelves, or the money to buy for themselves. (AFP/Getty Images)

Interlibrary loans are returning to parts of Ontario after a provincial funding cut, but some librarians warn celebrations may be "premature." 

The program helps small and rural libraries offer more books to the public than they can store on their own shelves. In southern Ontario, couriers in vans shuttled the books between libraries.

The program was eliminated in April when the latest provincial budget announced 50 per cent funding cuts to the Southern Ontario Library Service (SOLS) and Ontario Library Service-North (OLS-N) — both funded through the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport.

Canada Post service

After some public outcry and criticism, the province's two library services recently announced the return of the service in a joint statement.

It said they worked with the ministry over the past month to revise their 2019-20 budgets, and that a solution was found to restore interlibrary loan services province-wide as of June 1.

In southern Ontario, part of the solution was eliminating the courier service and replacing it with Canada Post service, as was already being done in northern Ontario.

But some of the details remain unclear, said Richard Thomas, chair of the Owen Sound & North Grey Union Public Library's board, on CBC Radio's Ontario Morning.

'A bit of an overstatement'

"To say they're reviving it might be a bit of an overstatement ... because the interlibrary loan, in southern Ontario at least, has always been a van-based service which involved pickups a couple times a week," Thomas said Wednesday.

He said the SOLS will still have to subsidize the Canada Post service "to some degree. And at this point we have no idea what that even looks like."

His library, which is funded by three municipalities, loaned about 2,800 books and borrowed about 2,400 books through the interlibrary loan system last year, Thomas said.

It's not yet known how much libraries will be reimbursed for the cost of mailing books.

In an emailed statement, SOLS CEO Barbara Franchetto wrote that the amount libraries are partially reimbursed "will depend on the volume of lending this year."

Bigger workload

In addition to the unknown mailing costs, Thomas said the change also comes with staffing costs to handle the extra work associated with processing books for Canada Post delivery.

Thomas said the library estimates it'll have to turn a part-time position into a full-time position at a cost of about $25,000 to $30,000 per year.

"The new system is going to require us to package each book individually, weigh and measure it, go onto Canada Post's website to input that information and pay for it using a VISA card, before a book ever even goes in the mail. So this is going to create significant staffing costs for us as a library, and that's where my real concern lies," he said.

"A big part of the problem here is so little is actually known, and for the government to boldly announce that everything's been restored and we should all be happy again is a little bit premature, because we really don't know, at a local level, what this is looking like."

Franchetto of SOLS wrote that "libraries are able to monitor their volume of activity and determine their level of participation in the network."

Representatives of the ministry were not immediately available for comment Wednesday.

With files from CBC Radio's Ontario Morning

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