Toronto library chair defends multilingual collection

The chair of the Toronto Public Library board defended the circulation of foreign-language books and DVDs after the city's budget chief questioned their value.

The chair of the Toronto Public Library board defended the circulation of foreign-language books and DVDs after their value was questioned by the city's budget chief.

Coun. Paul Ainslie, chair of the TPL board, said Wednesday that non-English materials are vital for Toronto's changing demographics.

"They are an excellent resource tool for people to acclimatize themselves to the city of Toronto, […] to learn English as a second language, for example," Ainslie said.

"It goes a long way to helping them integrate into our city."

Coun. Mike Del Grande suggested that libraries might be able to preserve current library hours if fewer resources were spent on non-book material, in response to proposed cuts to library hours on Tuesday.

He also questioned spending on foreign-language books and DVDs.

"What proportion of our budget should go for non-English movies and books?" said Del Grande in a widely publicized statement.

"An argument can be made that this is what makes the city great, but I would dare say our common language is English, we’re spending tons of money for ESL, should we not have a discussion of how much of the library budget should go for non-English resources?"

Forty languages represented at the library

According to the Toronto Public Library there are 40 languages represented in library materials.

English materials make up 88 per cent of the collections and French materials account for two per cent.

The multilingual collection, not including French, makes up nine per cent of all books, magazine and movies.

Materials for learning English as a second language, most of which are teaching aids, make up one per cent.

A spokesperson for the TPL said much of the multilingual collection is paid for by Citizenship and Immigration.

"Over the past two years they've provided $400,000 towards the collection," Anne Marie Aikins said in an email to CBC News.

Del Grande had also expressed concern for the library system becoming "a blockbuster," asking whether circulating copies of new movie releases like Pirates of the Caribbean was "core program or program creep?"

Ainslie said being able to borrow films and other forms of entertainment for free is one of the benefits that the busiest urban library system can offer.

According to the library, DVDs, including documentaries, make up five per cent of the total collection in all languages.