The OLA Should Oppose Staffless Libraries
March 23, 2017
Ontario Library Association
Dear Ms. Paterson:
We, the undersigned, are public librarians in the province of Ontario and members of the Ontario Library Association (OLA). We are concerned and disturbed by the OLA’s apparent support for current trends in library staffing that are grossly detrimental to our profession and to the public we serve.
The Toronto Public Library has announced plans to open staffless libraries. This is antithetical to the core values of our profession and to our shared vision of what libraries are and should be.
In a Toronto Star article about this development, you are quoted as saying, “we’re very lucky here in Ontario that we have a library culture that is willing to try new things . . . and I would say that sometimes what drives that is budget cuts.”
We are deeply disturbed that, rather than advocating for adequate library funding, the OLA would re-define budget cuts as a driver of innovation.
The Star article also quotes you as saying, “I think you may not actually see the librarian in your visit to the library, but there is a librarian behind the scenes putting it all together and delivering a really excellent service.”
A staffless library can never be “a really excellent service.” Librarians and library staff “behind the scenes” of a building devoid of people are not enough. A truly excellent library service is one in which educated, trained professionals offer a wide range of services that support literacy, lifelong learning, and social engagement, and enable communities to thrive.
The OLA’s mission statement states that the organization enables members to “deliver exemplary library and information services throughout Ontario.” A library without librarians – indeed, a library without library staff of any kind – is not an exemplary library, and is indeed not a service of any kind.
Further, the OLA’s vision of an Ontario where everyone is “free to imagine, learn and discover, and recognize and celebrate library and information services as an essential resource for realizing individual aspirations and developing communities” is exactly the opposite of the current trend towards minimal – and now, nonexistent – staffing. A staffless library privileges members of our community who are affluent, information-rich, and technologically literate, and increases social inequality.
We believe the OLA should unequivocally oppose the staffless library.
We believe the OLA should actively advocate for well funded, fully staffed libraries, and should actively promote the value to the community of librarians and other educated, trained library staff.
The Undersigned Ontario Librarians