Thursday, March 23, 2017

Toronto Star: Toronto libraries extend hours — but not staffing — for pilot project

Swansea and the Todmorden Room branches, which have the lowest number of open hours in the city, will extend hours, but will use video technology to connect customers to staff.

As part of a pilot project Swansea and Todmorden Room branches, which have the lowest number of open hours in the city, will be staff-free during the extended hours, but will still have staff during their regular hours.  
By Azzura Lalani
March 20, 2017

Two Toronto libraries will be the subject of a pilot project that will leave them staff-less part of the time in a bid to increase community access.

Swansea and the Todmorden Room branches, which have the lowest number of open hours in the city, will be staff-free during the extended hours, but will still have staff during their regular hours.

“These are two very small branches and they’re only open 28 hours a week, so this is really to extend service to the community beyond what they’re already open,” said Moe Hosseini-Ara the branch operations and customer experience director for Toronto Public Library.

Both locations are in community centres and will only be open during their hours, said Ana-Maria Critchley, the stakeholder relations manager for Toronto Public Library. They could be open for a maximum of 65.5 hours per week under the pilot program, which will begin in Fall 2017 and will run for a year.

The program will work by having libraries monitored in real-time with video surveillance to connect customers to staff when needed. Staff levels will not be impacted.

Customers will be able to pick up holds and books and use the Wi-Fi, but it is not meant for research, said Hosseini-Ara.

It’s a move that’s divided librarians.

“We believe that if library hours are to be extended, it should be the comprehensive library service and money should be found to support that,” Toronto Public Library Union president Maureen O’Reilly said. “We don’t believe that it (provides) a true library service.”

Increased library hours have been demanded by Torontonians for years, said O’Reilly, and modest gains have been made by using technology and stretching staff.

“This model just entirely eliminates the staff as a cost saving measure and we believe the library staff is an integral part of the library service and library service is more than just a building,” she said.

Hosseini-Ara agreed library staff are one of the “key resources,” but said, “This is really an opportunity for us, without expending additional dollars, to try to provide those other services.”

“I think that 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,” said Shelagh Paterson, the executive director of the Ontario Library Association.

But, she added, innovation can only go so far in the face of budget cuts.

“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.”

And beyond providing essential services in the library, library staff are also there in case anything unexpected happens.

A recent spate of violent incidents — there was a stabbing and two assaults last month — in Toronto libraries and any possible medical emergencies are also a concern for O’Reilly.

“If something like that happens in one of these buildings that is open, you’re depending on somebody viewing it on a camera and depending on a response time,” she said.

Hosseini-Ara said due to the layout of the libraries — both are small rooms within community centres — this is less of a concern, but that the model may not work for all libraries.

If the pilot project is successful, Hosseini-Ara said it will continue.

Source: Toronto Star

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