Friday, December 2, 2016

A Bronx Librarian Keen on Teaching Homeless Children a Lasting Love of Books

November 24, 2016
by Nikita Stewart

Colbert Nembhard looked more like a traveling salesman than a librarian in his dark suit with his rolling suitcase on a recent Wednesday morning in the Bronx.

He had strolled 10 minutes to the Crotona Inn homeless shelter from the Morrisania Branch Library, where he has been the manager for 25 years. As he dug through the dozens of books stuffed inside the suitcase, an announcement crackled over the intercom inside the shelter, where 87 families live: “Mr. Nembhard is here to read stories and sing songs to your children.”

Mr. Nembhard made do in a small office filled with file cabinets and dated desktops that also serves as a computer lab, a children’s classroom and a community recreation room. Tacked to a bulletin board were paper plates, colored and cut into fish shapes. A “Happy Birthday” balloon, almost out of helium, floated a foot above the floor.

For the past eight years, Mr. Nembhard has turned the shelter’s day care room or its dimly lighted office into an intimate library, tapping into the imaginations of transient children with the hope of making reading books a constant in their lives.

New York City has been criticized for failing to prevent homeless children from falling behind in their education and for contributing to missed school days, often because children accompany their parents when they travel from one agency to another seeking assistance.
Mr. Nembhard’s partnership with the homeless shelter, operated by SCO Family of Services, began informally, and has served as a model for a citywide initiative to place small libraries at shelters for families.

In September, the Library of Congress recognized the city’s Department of Homeless Services for best practices in literacy for its Library Pilot Project, an initiative that has created small libraries in 30 shelters for families with children since March 2015 with the help of a donation of 3,000 books from Scholastic Inc.

The progam includes the Crotona shelter, where Mr. Nembhard was already a fixture. His example gave volunteers a blueprint for how to go to shelters and read to children.

“It’s a pleasure to come in here,” Mr. Nembhard began on that Wednesday, never removing his jacket during a presentation that was just short of a Mr. Rogers routine.

He began to sing, “Good morning to you,” and followed with “Wheels on the Bus.” The children joined in with a chorus of “round and round, round and round.”

Toddlers, fidgeting in their chairs or in their mothers’ arms, suddenly became fixated. They could not wait to flip open “Dear Zoo,” by Rod Campbell, a lift-a-flap book, to discover an elephant, a giraffe, a lion and other animals.

Then came Mr. Nembhard’s magical blue glove — magical thanks to Velcro and the five monkeys attached to it — and later he brought out finger puppets. Avani Blair, 2, and Taniyah Blair, 1, stared in amazement.

“I like it, too. I feel like a big kid,” Aaliyah Blair, 24, their mother, said. She said they had become homeless about two months ago after an eviction.
Mr. Nembhard knew most of the children by name. “You build relationships with them so that when you see them they feel comfortable,” he said.

Patricia Wright, the child care coordinator at the shelter, chimed in, “He’s seen them come. He’s seen them go.”

But Mr. Nembhard wants children to have a lifelong relationship with libraries, which, he said, offer much more than books, including free wireless modems they can use at home during the school year.
In eight years, he has signed up many parents and children for library cards. “Oh, my God, I can’t put a number,” he said. “But I would say it’s a lot.”

As a teenager living in New York after his family moved from Jamaica, he saw an ad for a page position at the New York Public Library.

In college he had planned to become a social worker, but turned to library science as a career instead, earning a master’s degree in 1987.

As a branch manager, he saw the role that libraries played in social services. Many people, particularly those who are homeless, would come to the library to complete their résumés, conduct job searches and look for housing, Mr. Nembhard said.

But he said he realized that some people who were homeless did not find the library comfortable or convenient. “We bring the library to them,” he said.

For children at the Crotona shelter, the smiles begin every Wednesday morning at the sound of his suitcase’s wheels going around and around down the hallway.
“Once the kids see that rolling bag,” Ms. Wright said, “they know.”

Source: New York Times

The Internet Archive is building a replica database in Canada in response to concerns over Trump

November 29, 2016
by Paul Sawers

The Internet Archive has been documenting the web’s evolution for exactly two decades, letting anyone revisit the Apple homepage in 1998, the New York Times in 2001, or VentureBeat in 2006 by plugging their desired URL into the Wayback Machine.

The nonprofit’s engine crawls the web, taking snapshots on different days to maintain a public record of how the internet is changing. But the broader archive also serves as home to a massive amount of content — such as ebooks and video games — it’s like a library for the digital age. As with their brick-and-mortar counterparts, however, digital libraries aren’t impervious to social or environmental threats, which is why the Internet Archive is now seeking to build a backup of its gargantuan database in Canada, to prepare for a web “that may face greater restrictions,” the company says.

“The history of libraries is one of loss,” explained the Internet Archive’s founder, Brewster Kahle. “The Library of Alexandria is best known for its disappearance. Libraries like ours are susceptible to different fault lines: earthquakes, legal regimes, institutional failure.”

With at least 15 petabytes of captured online content spanning web pages, video, images, and more, the Internet Archive has a lot to lose, should certain conditions come to pass. A few weeks back, Donald Trump became president-elect of the U.S., home to many technology-focused organizations — including the Internet Archive. At the time, Kahl noted he was “shocked” by the outcome, but he remained positive, saying:

I am a bit shell-shocked — I did not think the election would go the way it did. I want to reassure everyone we are safe — funding, mission, partners have no reason to change. I find this reassuring, hopefully you do as well.

The outcome of the election has led to concerns about what a Trump administration would mean for technology companies in the U.S., with issues around surveillance and encryption a particular cause for concern. Trump made a number of statements against the technology industry during his presidential campaign. He had also called for the public to boycott Apple products over the company’s refusal to help the FBI unlock an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino killers. Concerns about a Trump administration’s stance on privacy have been filtering into the public’s consciousness, with a reported rise in downloads of a number of privacy-focused consumer products.
Given that lies and fake news played a crucial part in the 2016 U.S. presidential election narrative, it is somewhat notable that the Internet Archive had launched the Political TV Ad Archive back in January to help journalists fact-check claims made during political campaigning. Now, as the Internet Archive commits to creating a replica of its digital collections in another country, it represents one of the first big technology brands to react to the election result by announcing plans to house its content elsewhere.

Of course, the Internet Archive’s main database will still be in the U.S, but by creating a readily available backup in Canada, the organization is leaving nothing to chance. Kahl said:

On November 9th in America, we woke up to a new administration promising radical change. It was a firm reminder that institutions like ours, built for the long-term, need to design for change.

For us, it means keeping our cultural materials safe, private and perpetually accessible. It means preparing for a web that may face greater restrictions. It means serving patrons in a world in which government surveillance is not going away; indeed it looks like it will increase.

Throughout history, libraries have fought against terrible violations of privacy — where people have been rounded up simply for what they read.  At the Internet Archive, we are fighting to protect our readers’ privacy in the digital world.

The project will cost “millions,” according to Kahl, and, as with the existing archive, he’s asking the public to make a tax-deductible donation to support the cause.

Last year, the Internet Archive announced it was rebuilding the Wayback Machine for the modern era, making it more user-friendly and easier to search. The update will be ready sometime in 2017, but now the organization has added another challenge to the mix — building and maintaining a duplicate of its service in a neighboring country.

Source: Venture Beat

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Quartz: Tunisians are being encouraged to read by turning taxis into libraries

Tunisians are being encouraged to read by turning taxis into libraries

Most of the yellow cabs racing through Tunis are decorated with air fresheners, glittery pendulums, and framed baby pictures. Sometimes you’ll find a complimentary box of tissues. But taxi driver Ahmed Mzoughi, 49, has taken a more cerebral approach to his vehicle’s decor. Scattered on the seats and lining the dashboard are slim volumes of poetry, fat novels, and psychology books. Stuck on a side door is a decal that says, “Attention: This Taxi Contains a Book.”

That’s the tagline for a literary initiative launched in October by online book-sharing platform YallaRead (“Come on, Read” in Arabic). In collaboration with E-Taxi, an Uber-style cab-hailing service, YallaRead has put books in a select number of cabs like Mzoughi’s, giving passengers the chance to skim a few pages of Paulo Coelho or Naguib Mahfouz from the comfort of the backseat.

Traffic jams are common enough in Tunis that you can read at least the first few paragraphs of a book in one trip, while a journey across the city lends itself to a full chapter. Before disembarking, passengers are encouraged by advertisements, or even their driver, to visit YallaRead’s website, find the book, and continue the story.

Arabic literature and poetry have a rich and varied history, dating back 16 centuries. Such is the cultural import of Arabic letters that the language’s word for literature, adab, is derived from the same root as etiquette, and used to signify personal enrichment. Scholars point to the Islamic Golden Age (8th-13th century) as the great period of Arabic poetry and prose, and a resurgence of Arabic literature in the early 20th century brought us literary greats like Kahlil Gibran, the world’s third best-selling poet.

Yet despite this rich literary history, actual, sustained readership in Tunisia is low, according to Emrhod Consulting, a North African research institute that has done polling on readership. It’s not necessarily a question of literacy: More than 80% of the adult population is literate, and many Tunisians are fluent in both Arabic and French. But 75% of households have no literary material aside from the Qur’an or newspapers, and only 18% of Tunisians bought a book in the past year.
The ministry of education says it’s uncertain as to why Tunisians are reading so little, though spokeswoman Zoubeida Selah acknowledged that it’s a problem they are trying to address by building more libraries. Tunisia is already home to the biggest library in North Africa (link in French).

YallaRead’s 24-year-old cofounder, Ahmed Hadhri, thinks Tunisians are abandoning books in favor of time online, a cheaper option. “Books in Tunisia are expensive and unavailable,” he says. “There isn’t Amazon, and we don’t find a lot of books in bookshops—people are obliged to ask their friends abroad to make purchases.” A weakened Tunisian dinar has also made overseas book buying prohibitively expensive.

Hadhri launched YallaRead last spring; the platform lets readers post the contents of their personal libraries online and meet up with other bookworms. It follows in the footsteps of programs like Australia’s Books on Rails, which has left 300 books on trains, buses, and trams in Melbourne. Last year, book-wielding commuters in one Romanian city were given a free bus ride.

More than 16,000 cabs serve greater Tunis’ 2.5 million residents, according to the ministry of transport. YallaRead has placed books in Arabic, French, and English; ranging from poetry to self-help; in five taxis so far. The only rule is no religious books, Hadhri says. YallaRead is actively seeking funding and book donations so they can expand to all cabs in Tunis.

“Most Tunisians have abandoned reading,” Mzoughi says, but YallaRead’s program at least “encourages everyone to open up a book, to read a few words or sentences.” The initiative is still in its infancy, but it’s already reached more than 500,000 people on social media. Some clients have called E-Taxi specifically to request a YallaRead cab, Hadhri says.

A selfie in a taxi with a glossy book cover? Now that’s guaranteed to get likes in Tunis.

Source: Quartz

Friday, November 25, 2016

CBC: Yukon libraries now offer some (artificial) sunshine

Yukon libraries now offer some (artificial) sunshine
Full-spectrum lights offered in Dawson City and Whitehorse
By Philippe Morin

Two Yukon libraries are sunnier places these days — even as the days get shorter.

The Dawson City and Whitehorse libraries now offer full-spectrum lights, often called S.A.D lamps, which are intended to ward off Seasonal Affective Disorder.

The lights were bought by Yukon's Francophone Health Network. The group's director, Sandra St-Laurent, says the idea has been tried in other Canadian cities.

"Winnipeg and Edmonton were starting light therapy at the library and we thought, 'this is really good for us,'" she says.

St-Laurent says the goal is to make the library a more welcoming public space and also help people deal with lack of light.

"About twenty per cent (of the population) is sensitive to the seasonal depression syndromes and we thought with the limited exposure to light in Yukon it might be even higher here. So it was really relevant to give it a try here," she said.

Whitehorse has two lamps which can be plugged in anywhere, while Dawson City has one.

"It just has lots of mental-health benefits," says Taryn Parker, circulation supervisor in Whitehorse.

"It provides some good light so it's as if the light is coming in from the window or from the sun."

Source: CBC.ca

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Torontoist: How Libraries Are Helping Newcomers Adjust to Life in Toronto

How Libraries Are Helping Newcomers Adjust to Life in Toronto
This free program offers job assistance, workshops, and interpretation referrals.
By Nikhil Sharma

Three years ago, Gong Zan Cang entered through the doors of the Parliament Street library for the first time. He lived nearby—it took him just a few minutes to get there in his wheelchair.

The 79-year-old immigrated to Toronto from China in 2002 to join his daughter who already lived here. He speaks Mandarin and little English.

Cang went to the library that day to attend one of its workshops, Tai Chi for Well-being. It wouldn’t be the last time, he’d be a frequent client of the library in the coming years.

When Cang lost his Canadian citizenship card last February, he went there again looking for assistance. A woman named Sarah Shi stepped in to help him. They had met before when she taught the Tai Chi workshop.

Shi is one of the Toronto Public Library’s settlement partnership workers.

She speaks Mandarin, Cantonese, and English, and she helped Cang fill out government forms so he could get a replacement citizenship certificate. She also helped him renew his Canadian passport.


“Sometimes he receives letters from the government he can’t understand,” Shi says, translating Cang’s responses to Torontoist’s questions. “But he comes to the service and the social worker can help him to interpret and translation. It (the program) is more convenient for people such as him who come from other country and have a language barrier.”

Shi has been a settlement worker for the TPL for over eight years. When her clients need help, they come to the library. There are no limits on how many times a client can meet with a settlement worker in a week for assistance.

The Toronto Public Library began its partnership with five settlement agencies as part of Toronto’s settlement and education partnership in 2002. From then on, summer settlement services were offered at branches, with workers assisting newcomers across the city when schools were closed for summer vacation.

But in 2007, the library and agencies worked together to deliver a proposal for settlement workers to be present at libraries year-round. The proposal was successful; today, the program is a three-way partnership between Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, the Toronto Public Library, and seven settlement agencies. The initiative is entering its ninth year.

Multilingual workers provide free one-on-one information and referral services, as well as customized programs to assist newcomers to Toronto in integrating into Canadian society and overcoming challenges such as finding employment and accessing heath care services.
Connecting new residents with employment and health care services is one of the program’s priorities. It offers classes and workshops on topics such as dental and oral health, mental health and migration, career awareness for women, and understanding their rights in the workplace.
The program is funded by IRCC. Settlement agencies receive the funding and hire the settlement workers.

Then the TPL provides physical space for the workers in the branches and resources such as ESL collections, materials on resumés and job interviews, and electronic business resources.
Sixty-seven per cent of immigrants use Toronto Public Library branches once per month or more, compared to 46 per cent of non-immigrants, according to a November 2012 report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

While there are 100 public branches across the city, the library settlement partnership program is only offered at 16 of them, which raises the concern of limited accessibility.

Under the Canada-Ontario Immigration Agreement, signed in 2005, $920 million in federal funding was invested over the next five years for settlement and language training programs and services in Ontario.

But in 2010, $44 million cuts [PDF] were made federally for immigration and settlement programs in Ontario by Citizenship and Immigration Canada, as the federal department was then known. CIC also slashed coordinator positions for the library settlement partnership program, as well as the federal Host program, which helps match newcomers with a volunteer who spends time with them weekly.
Over the last four years, IRCC has provided approximately $1 million annually for the program.
One of the program’s focuses is job assistance.

Elsa Ngan, senior services specialist of multicultural services with the Toronto Public Library, says some newcomers experience challenges in finding employment comparable to that which they had in their home countries. She recalls when a teacher from China visited the Scarborough branch, trying to figure out a way to get into teaching here in Canada.

“For someone who is new, who is starting fresh, having that kind of pressure and barrier adds to distress,” Ngan explains.

The number of visits to the library rose last year. According to the TPL’s 2015 key performance indicator dashboard [PDF], the library saw a 2.3 per cent increase in its overall visits, which include virtual and in-branch visits, from 48.3 million in 2014 to 49.4 million in 2015—despite serious slashes to the budget over the past several years.

Provincial funding as a share of the city’s libraries’ budget plunged to 3.1 per cent in 2011 from 6.3 per cent in 1992 [PDF]. A total of 107 librarian and support worker positions were eliminated in the 2012 budget.


In its 2017 operating budget submission, presented to the TPL board in September, the library is seeking approval for a base budget of $178.7 million, a $1.5-million increase over the 2016 budget.
The report says it “is a reasonable and responsible funding request necessary to maintain existing services and service levels.”

With a growing digital demand among its users, the Toronto Public Library is also looking to adjust to the market.

According to the TPL’s Strategic Plan 2016-2019 [PDF], the system will explore “advancing our digital platforms, breaking down barriers to access, driving inclusion, expanding access to technology and training, establishing TPL as Toronto’s centre for continuous and self-directed learning, creating community connections through cultural experiences, and transforming for 21st century service excellence.”

The challenge with the library settlement partnerships program is finding new ways to reach out to immigrants who may not be aware of it. The services offered by the program are promoted on TPL’s website and on social media platforms, but not all newcomers may be well-versed in digital technology, just as all born-and-raised Canadians aren’t. There is still that digital divide.

Another challenge is that TPL settlement workers can only do so much. Shi can only assist clients who come through the library doors. Services need to expand more broadly across the city, outside of a library setting.

She is able to help clients prepare for tasks in their daily life outside of the library, though, by providing referrals.

For instance, if Cang needs an interpreter for a medical appointment, Shi will find an agency that can offer interpretation staff to accompany him. However, if there is no interpreter available, his wife will assist him in using the health care services.

“If it’s possible in the future, especially when they need to see the doctor, the social worker or community worker can accompany them when they go outside,” Shi says, translating Cang’s response to the question of what should be improved about the program.

“It will be more convenient, especially for seniors who need to see the doctor and have language barriers.”

Shi says if an interpreter is not available when Cang needs to go to the doctor, it can be stressful for him.

“Right now, in addition to helping them with health and employment, some of the workers are steering towards also helping the newcomers to feel a sense of belonging,” Ngan says.

All the TPL settlement workers speak different languages, and some are able to speak multiple languages. If there is ever a language barrier for a client, he or she will be connected with a settlement worker to help them either interpret or translate.

“In the library we also have a service called Language Line that helps customers who have library-related questions, and if we have communication barriers, we can use that for a real-time interpreter,” Ngan says.

For Cang, the diverse assistance offered by the program went a long way to help him feel at home here.

“He’s thankful for a lot of social services and social workers who can speak different languages; this helps him a lot,” translates Shi. “Living in Toronto, it’s multicultural. It’s a big need for the people from other countries if they have a language barrier.”

Cang says he hopes that government services have more staff who can speak different languages. This will benefit him and other newcomers.

Source: Torontoist

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Toronto Star: Don’t mix in the libraries with the ‘gravy'

Don’t mix in the libraries with the ‘gravy'
It's peculiar to bash Toronto’s libraries and call them by a Rob Ford name.
By Heather Mallick

It’s a given. Some people scorn libraries, presumably because they can buy their own books, thank you very much. Or they think reading is effete, or dull, or that they themselves cannot be improved upon.

When people cut library budgets — as is being attempted by Mayor John Tory — they crush the life chances of children with careless or unknowing parents, of students sneaking into libraries after being bullied for bookishness at school, of people who need the library’s computers to look for work, of new Canadians trying to learn English.

A library offers everything to everybody. As Star columnist Edward Keenan recently wrote of the Toronto public library board’s refusal to give Tory the 2.6 per cent cut he wanted — though he wants it from every department and may still get it — it was a unanimous statement of defiance.

Some things can be cut. But transit needs a great deal more money. So do libraries. Not all city functions are equally necessary or similarly structured, despite what Tory says. Some are apples, some are oranges. Some are glass and laminate, some are cotton.

Yes, there are ways to cut library costs. The Star’s Sara Mojtehedzadeh has described the same bloat of highly paid administrators in libraries that is seen in universities, where precarious adjunct professors teach on the cheap. In 1999 there were six library managers making $100,000 or more. By 2014, there were 63.

I don’t want layoffs but certainly don’t want branches across the city closed on weeknights, as had been proposed, or less work for an army of precarious part-time library workers.

And then I read a peculiar column by Matthew Lau in the Financial Post calling Toronto’s entire public library system by a Rob Ford name, “gravy train.”

Where’s the gravy? It claimed Toronto’s libraries were less efficient than those in other smaller cities and that in fact, libraries are totally unnecessary. Surely if they wished, “anybody with an Internet connection can access an endless supply of virtually costless words.”

How writers demean themselves.

The columnist himself had free library access at university but doesn’t want it for the rest of us. He earned a commerce degree but wants lower taxes, which will cut higher education. He does not understand city planning, architecture, soft power, self-teaching, the publishing industry, encouraging student graduation or the existence of ethnic enclaves that would welcome more Canada via beautiful libraries.

Christopher Bird of Torontoist.com got wonderfully irate about this. He crunched Lau’s numbers and found they didn’t make enough corn flakes to crust a tartlet. He said numbers were combined wrongly, that Toronto workers are paid more because it costs more to live here than, say, in London, Ont., and that Torontonians in fact use their libraries at a higher rate than do citizens in other cities and towns.

But this doesn’t interest me as much as how anti-tax, anti-library, anti-union people like Lau end up sounding like the Ford brothers. Maybe Lau shouldn’t have mentioned “gravy.”

I see status anxiety bubbling in the pot. Well-read people seem a threat, and the dread word “elite” always pops up, though that’s weird in the case of Conservative leadership hopeful Kellie Leitch, who is highly educated and inarguably elitist. She must hate herself but appears not to.

Toronto’s libraries give power to the people. I have never understood why populists like the Fords wanted “regular folks” not to have a multiplicity of libraries, in the same way I wondered why they disliked even basic rules of public decorum. They sensed books and courtesy were considered desirable but had been raised to sneer at both. It is an uncomfortable position for an adult to be in.

But an adult has freedom to decide what he wants to be. Children do not.

“The association between books for children and autonomy for children is very strong,” wrote Francis Spufford in The Child that Books Built: A Memoir of Childhood and Reading.

Books are an escape for children who have difficult lives, as Spufford did. His sister was very ill; his parents were frantic, and for years it was distressing to see. He survived by immersing himself in reading so deeply that it became druglike.

The comedian Stephen Colbert endured the plane-crash death of his father and two of his 10 siblings by immersing himself in Dungeons and Dragons, in Tolkien, one place to distract him, another to hone his good brain.

British feminist Caitlin Moran, the eldest of eight children growing up poor in Wolverhampton — it’s dire there — was saved by libraries, but they’re now being closed across the nation.

“A library in the middle of a community is a cross between an emergency exit, a life-raft and a festival,” she has written. “They are cathedrals of the mind; hospitals of the soul; theme parks of the imagination. On a cold rainy island, they are the only sheltered public spaces where you are not a consumer, but a citizen instead.”

I want more libraries, more hours open, computers and books, softer chairs, more children’s corners, more security guards and librarians. Any cut at all will be a kick in the teeth to the ambitious people of Toronto.


Source: Toronto Star

Monday, November 21, 2016

Torontoist: The Financial Post and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad anti-Toronto Library Op-ed

The Financial Post and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad anti-Toronto Library Op-ed
Matthew Lau argues Toronto should close half its libraries. Here's why that's a stupid idea.
By Christopher Bird

Periodically, one gets the opportunity to see the pundit equivalent of a caterpillar emerge from its chrysalis, typing unsupported or simply wrong and factless drivel in the same way that a veteran of Toronto newsrooms would. The difference is that these caterpillar pundits are much younger, giving us the opportunity to see how your Margaret Wentes and Joe Warmingtons enter the pundit world.

Enter Matthew Lau. Lau began publishing poorly written libertarian/conservative screeds while at the University of Toronto, and appears to have graduated, hack-wise if not degree-wise, to the Post, where he has written about how the Laffer Curve shows that Canada’s taxes are too high and how the gender pay gap isn’t a problem, thus ensuring he has a future writing hateclickbait.

Lau’s latest screed, however, is about how the Toronto Public Library is fiscally wasteful, and at a certain point one must stop indulging the follies of youth and slap them across the goddamn face.
Just the other week, the Toronto Star complained in an editorial that municipal politicians were still convinced they had to “stop the gravy train…. But there is no gravy train.” The editorial was decrying a request from Mayor John Tory that city departments, including the Toronto Public Library, cut a paltry 2.6-per-cent from their budgets. City spending, the Star insisted, “has already been cut to the bone.” Oh, please. Anyone who looks at the library’s budget will find more gravy there than at Swiss Chalet.
This sort of writing just sets my teeth on edge. That Swiss Chalet line in particular is the sort of Toronto pundit quip that is completely tone-appropriate for Toronto newspaper punditry, because it is a Canadian cultural reference that manages to be hackneyed, unfunny, and not even really the right answer because Swiss Chalet isn’t known for their gravy but for their delicious barbecue sauce.

It’s a terrible piece of writing, so you have to assume that Lau is going to be writing shitty columns for conservative Toronto papers for a long time.
Toronto’s public library system cost 22-per-cent more to operate, and its staffing costs alone were 33-per-cent higher, than the public libraries in Brampton, Hamilton, London, Markham, Mississauga, and Ottawa combined. This suggests that, contrary to what the Toronto Public Library Workers Union would have us believe, Toronto’s library workers are not overworked and underpaid.
Before we start discussing all the other ways Lau is wrong, it is worth noting that the cost of living in Toronto is higher than it is in Brampton, Hamilton, London, Markham, Mississauga, or Ottawa, and in particular housing costs are much higher. This is why library workers in Toronto get paid more: because Toronto is more expensive. (Besides, librarians particularly need to understand the needs of their community in order to ensure that their library serves it well, and that means living in the community, rather than commuting in from Barrie or what have you.)
All this additional spending might be justified if Toronto’s library was significantly more efficient and productive than the library systems of those other six cities. But that’s not the case. Those same six cities combined serve 26-per-cent more residents than Toronto does. Together they offered 56-per-cent more by way of programming than Toronto’s library did that year. And they had a 16-per-cent greater circulation of materials than the Toronto Public Library did in 2013. Those numbers, again, are combined. But Toronto’s library, being the largest, should actually be enjoying some efficiencies. It is certainly odd that it should actually be less efficient than a half-dozen smaller Ontario libraries combined.
Some of Lau’s statistics here are misleading. Stating that the six other library systems offer “56 percent more by way of programming” is stupid, for example, because what he seems to have done is add up total program attendance, child program attendance and youth program attendance as shown here, which effectively double-counts child and youth programs. The actual figure is that the six cities have 14 per cent more programming—which means that, since they have 26 per cent more population (or at least did per 2011 census figures, a fact which Lau neglects to mention), Toronto is actually putting on programming more efficiently.

Similarly, the “16 percent greater circulation of materials” figure actually speaks to how comparably used Toronto’s library is—after all, as Lau points out, those six cities have 26 per cent more people and accordingly you would assume that their circulation would be 26 per cent higher as well. Toronto’s library users are, in fact, using the library at a higher rate than people in those six cities.

This is actually fairly impressive, because as libraries get larger, their circulation rates generally grow less quickly with population, because larger library systems have larger collections, which in turn means “a larger amount of items most people never read.” There’s nothing wrong with popular items being in a library’s collection, of course, but the entire point of a larger library—and the reason circulation does not typically increase directly with population—is that it has a wider variety of materials in it, which in turn increases its maximum variable usability. Most people will never go search through the microfiche archives of the Toronto Telegram, or read through an 19th century operatic score composed by the wonderfully-named Giacomo Meyerbeer, or read a Dan Brown novel (well, we hope they won’t read a Dan Brown novel), but the Toronto Public Library has all of those things if you need them. TPL’s engagement and circulation rates show that Toronto library users are more wide-ranging in their use than average.

What’s more, it doesn’t just have those things for Torontonians, either, because all of the libraries Lau mentions have interlibrary loan agreements with the Toronto Public Library, meaning that if someone in Brampton or Markham or Ottawa needs to review Toronto Telegram microfiche archives and their library doesn’t have them (which they likely don’t), borrowers of those libraries can, through their libraries, borrow from the Toronto Public Library. (TPL fulfilled approximately 4,000 such requests in 2015.)

This is more or less the point of libraries in the first place. Lau’s argument that there should be “economies of scale” is just dense, because libraries aren’t goddamn McDonald’s franchises. As a population grows and gets more diverse the challenges that exist for libraries grow rather than shrink. The Toronto Public Library maintains collections in nearly 70 languages other than English, as well as collections in Braille, large print, and AV works for the hearing impaired. It provides support to Centre for Equitable Library Access for people with print disabilities. It subscribes to a impressive number of international newspapers. It needs to be stressed that smaller libraries do not do this sort of thing, because they simply don’t have the resources or mandate to do so.
Perhaps others might have once considered it unthinkable that Toronto would someday have more library branches than New York City, Los Angeles, or Chicago. But it does.
Spoiler alert: It doesn’t.

Toronto doesn’t have “more library branches” than New York City or Los Angeles. What Lau has done here is assume that the New York Public Library and the Los Angeles Public Library are the only public libraries servicing those two cities. But New York has three separate public library systems: the New York Public Library (which services Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island), the Brooklyn Public Library, and the Queens Public Library. All together, New York’s three public libraries have 216 branches. Similarly, Los Angelenos are serviced by both the Los Angeles City Public Library and most of the branches of the Los Angeles County Public Library; in Los Angeles (not counting the suburban and exurban cities the County library also services) Los Angelenos are serviced by about 130 library branches.

Chicago, admittedly, has only 90 public library branches to the TPL’s 100 (plus a few libraries operated by Cook County rather than the City of Chicago), but it is worth remembering that Toronto is slightly larger than Chicago is now.

Finally, anybody writing about how they favour public library budget cuts probably doesn’t want to discuss the New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago library systems. The combined annual budget of the three major New York public libraries is approximately $471 million USD. The combined annual budget of the Los Angeles City and County Libraries is approximately $260 million USD. The most recent Chicago city budget puts the total library budget at $110 million USD. The Toronto Public Libary’s 2015 budget, in comparison, was $171 million Canadian—or approximately $127 million USD. Any comparison of library expenditures of large cities on a per-capita basis shows that Toronto is arguably underspending on libraries.
Rather than the 100 branches it has now, a more appropriate number for a city of Toronto’s size might be 40 or 50.
The source for this “more appropriate number” appears to be out of Matthew Lau’s ass. Perhaps he should look at Toronto’s map of locations and explain which 50–60 locations should be axed and how he would do this without impacting services?
Indeed, closing branches is not a new idea: In 2011, a businessman who was on the Toronto Public Library’s board of directors suggested slashing 38 branches to save money.
The businessman in question is noted Rob Ford appointee Stephen Dulmage. He resigned after six of the most bizarre months on the board in recent memory.

But when you really think about it, isn’t it also possible that the system itself might be unnecessary gravy? Is there any evidence that the same markets that keep us well served with winter boots, cars and groceries (including, of course, delicious gravy) couldn’t also provide us a solution for shared reading material if that’s what people wanted? It seems especially possible in the age of the digital sharing economy, where anybody with an Internet connection can access an endless supply of virtually costless words.

And of course, Lau ends his sad little screed with the appeal of libertarians everywhere regarding libraries, which is a less-refined version of the “what if we just gave everybody iPads instead of having a library” argument so popular with Silicon Valley hacks. (To answer that question: real-life books survive changes in digital and technology standards, allow kids to develop a sense of patience necessary to turn children into lifelong readers, and create tactile associations with books that enhance both affection for reading and the ability to remember what has been read.) I also note that anybody who suggests that the internet provides “an endless supply of virtually costless words” is a fool who knows literally nothing about the costs of e-book licensing and who does not realize that Google is simply not a one-to-one replacement for actual reference library services when it comes to searching for data. And “virtually costless” is not the same as “actually costless,” which matters when you are, for example, homeless and thus unable to afford any cost.

The answer to Lau’s question is that we came up with a solution for shared reading material, and they were called “libraries.” Remember, the entire concept of libraries initially conceived them as privately owned resources. The concept of the public library arose because societies recognized that public access to educational and informational resources was benefited everybody, and when your anticipated user base is “everybody” it makes sense to organize the programs publicly anyway.

Of course, none of this seems to matter to Lau, who clearly hasn’t spent much time in Toronto’s public libraries or else he would at least have better research skills. It doesn’t matter to him that the Toronto Public Library generates $5.63 in value for every dollar spent on it. It doesn’t matter to him that Toronto delivers children and youth programs more efficiently than his agglomerated group of six libraries either. Lau arrived at his conclusion before he ever started writing his piece; it might make for a good pitch, but it’s terrible journalism.

CORRECTION: 6:00 PM The Toronto Public Library does not run CELA, as the article originally stated. CELA is an independent not-for-profit, and the TPL provides ongoing support. We regret the error.

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Source: Torontoist.