Province slashes Ontario Library Service funding by 50%

Southern Ontario Library Service says its budget will be reduced by just over half, as well as the Ontario Library Service-North.

‘It’s a huge issue,’ says Windsor Public Library CEO

Ontario Library Service, northern and southern, is facing a 50 per cent budget cut from the province. (Miriam Katawazi/CBC)

The Southern Ontario Library Service says it's facing a 50 per cent budget cut from the province, which would need to be absorbed into the current 2019-20 fiscal year.

Barbara Franchetto, CEO of SOLS, announced on the SOLS website that some services will be eliminated.

"I have since learned that Ontario Library Service-North is also facing a 50 per cent budget cut and will also have to eliminate valued services," Franchetto said.

The northern and southern library services supports public libraries in a number of ways, from running the interlibrary loan and delivery program to offering training for library staff and volunteers.

The Ontario Library Service delivers services on behalf of the Ontario Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport.

In Ontario's budget for 2019-20, which was tabled April 11, the province plans to reduce the ministry funding by $58.6 million —  from $1.55 billion to $1.49 billion.

In an email statement from Brett Weltman, press secretary for the minister, he says the ministry looks forward to maintaining "strong partnerships" with municipal and Indigenous libraries.

As for potential jobs that could be lost, Weltman said " Southern Ontario Library Service and Ontario Library Service North are responsible for their own staffing decisions."

Kitty Pope, the CEO of the Windsor Public Library, says she will pay close attention to how the library will be affected by the SOLS budget cut. (CBC)

Kitty Pope, CEO of Windsor Public Library which is under the purview of SOLS, said she's watching the funding cut carefully.

So far there isn't any direct affect on the Windsor Public Library with regards to operating grants, but people's access to books will be reduced.

"The issue for losing this service would be at this point, someone in Windsor could borrow a book from any library in Ontario," said Pope. "That would stop."

"It's a huge issue."

The library service provides important support, especially to "very small municipal libraries," said Pope.

Pope said she's also waiting to see if the cut will affect any talking books services for people who are blind or visually impaired.

CBC News has reached out to a number of library services, including Lambton County Library, Elgin County Library and Rural Public Libraries to learn how the budget reduction will affect them.

In an email statement, Nancy Collister, director of customer services and branch operations at the London Public Library, said it's not clear how funding cuts to SOLS will affect support services to the library.

"A cut of this magnitude will have a very significant impact on the many small library systems in Southern and Northern Ontario, who rely heavily on SOLS for so many of their services," said Collister.

Jill Andrew, Ontario NDP Culture critic called the move "cruel."

"Doug Ford is doubling down on taking things away from kids and students," said Andrew, noting that it wasn't the first time Ford had targeted libraries for funding cuts. As a city councillor, Ford supported a move that would have took away $4 million from Toronto libraries. 

"We should be treating libraries like the cultural treasures they are," said Andrew. "Not making cuts to these vital community assets."

With files from Dale Molnar, Chris Ensing and CBC London