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Speaking Notes for
The Honourable Marilyn Mushinski
Minister of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation

Presentation to the Standing Committee on General Government Business on Local Control of Public Libraries Act, 1997

April 7, 1997

Members of the Committee, I am pleased this morning to present my support for the Local Control of Public Libraries Act, 1997. 

There is no doubt that our library system is one of Ontario’s important cultural and economic assets. The changes proposed in the new library framework are designed to build on the strengths of that system and contribute to the evolution of library service in Ontario.

Many of you are aware that changes in the library system have been a long time coming. Last year, my Ministry began a review of the library system shortly before the work of the Who Does What Panel. The goals of our review and the goals of the panel were very similar. Accordingly, many of the recommendations from the Who Does What Panel were adopted in the government’s proposals on the new library framework.

I also asked my Parliamentary Assistant to lead a caucus committee to review the delivery of library services. At about the same time, the Who Does What Panel, chaired by David Crombie began looking at a whole range of policies and programs affecting provincial/municipal relationships, including the responsibility of public libraries.

My Ministry staff and I held consultations with library organizations and library users in 1996. Members of the library community shared their understandings of what is most important to their local libraries and to the provincial library system.

There was absolute agreement that libraries play a critical role in the future of Ontario. Libraries are key to the future of life-long learning and access to global information. A well-educated, literate workforce is one of the province’s greatest economic assets, and the importance of information and knowledge cannot be underestimated in this Information Age.

There was also agreement by the library community that libraries must make the best use of limited resources. There are efficiencies, improvements and expansions of services that can be achieved by sharing facilities and resources. There are benefits to be had by linking not just public libraries, but also the information resources of school, college and university libraries, corporate libraries as well as government libraries and archives.

The proposed changes stem from my Ministry’s review of libraries, from our consultations, and from the restructuring our government proposes for the provincial/municipal relationship. The reviews and consultations demonstrated the key issues to be: governance, fees and the role which the province can best play in the library system.

Our consultations revealed significant support for the continuation of library boards. We heard from library professionals and library users that library boards encourage voluntarism, assist in fundraising, bring particular expertise to library management and can act as a buffer on potentially sensitive issues such as intellectual freedom. 

We are giving communities more say in how they want their library boards to operate. In Bill 109, library boards would be retained but there would be fewer restrictions on their composition and operation. Let me remind you what the current legislation requires: prescriptive requirements dictating who sits on library boards, how often boards should meet, how many board members there must be, how board members are removed, and so on.

Through our consultations, we also heard often that access to information was important, as was the ability of libraries to have discretion over what services are provided free and those for which there may be a fee. Bill 109 provides for both interests.

Free access to information is the cornerstone of our proud library tradition. The objective of this part of the new library framework is to balance the principle of providing universal access to libraries and information, with the desire to give municipalities and local library boards greater flexibility to generate revenue.

The government proposal is to govern library fees with a new Regulation under the Municipal Act. This would allow the continuation of free access to libraries, free use of the library’s collections on library premises, free loans of books and other printed materials to residents, and free loans of special format materials for residents with disabilities. 

For all other services, library boards would be free to set a fee policy which suits their own needs. This does not mean that libraries would be required to charge for other services, but it does mean that they could charge for other services if they so choose.

We believe that local officials will make choices that are right for their communities. Our proposed framework gives municipalities the authority and responsibility to establish and oversee their libraries, reflecting the needs of their communities. It is municipalities which create public libraries. Municipalities currently provide the major portion of library funding, on average about 85%. The government’s conviction is that it is therefore appropriate for municipalities to assume maximum responsibility for, and control of, libraries. That is why they are called local libraries.

With the transfer of responsibility for library services to municipalities, the provincial funding role to libraries will be phased out. There is an opportunity for a very different provincial/municipal relationship. The government’s role is to provide leadership, and to facilitate and encourage partnerships. It is strengthening the inter-connectivity of libraries, working on network standards and guidelines, as well as policy support, strategic funding and forging partnerships, that expresses the province’s best role in our public library system.

As part of our new focus, we are placing great emphasis on library networks -- making networks more accessible and more useful to library users.

We have worked closely with the private sector and the public library community to develop Network 2000 -- a province-wide network of interconnected libraries that share resources, telecommunications links and much, much more. We are concentrating our funding efforts to support networks that provide access to global information and encourage resource sharing. 

Library users will be familiar with the advantages of the Ontario’s library network, because a part of it is dedicated to the inter-library loan system. We almost take for granted the fact that any library patron may request and receive a book from the circulating collection of virtually any library, anywhere in the province.

In our new Information Age, libraries have indeed become far more than the repositories of books they were a century ago. With new technologies, a small library in an isolated community can link its users to global information systems in ways never before possible. 

In this way, the libraries of the future will continue to play a key role in nourishing Ontario’s well-educated and literate workforce -- indeed one of our greatest assets.

Learning, as you know, is a life-long process. Increased and improved access to electronic information will not only give us a competitive edge in a knowledge-based economy, it will connect us to the world.

All these proposed changes, the Local Control of Public Libraries Act and the proposed regulation under the Municipal Act, together form the new library framework.

Mr. Chairman, I am pleased to recommend this Bill to the members of this Committee. Its adoption would provide a solid basis upon which Ontario’s public libraries can build their future. In closing, I will emphasize once more that the province has an absolute and continuing commitment to Ontario’s public libraries. Libraries are the heart of a community. Not only do they give you an opportunity to learn more about the world, they give you a sense of belonging -- a place where an isolated senior can meet a friend; where a child discovers the joys of reading; where a person with no other access to computer technology can learn to use a computer. 

The nature of our relationship with libraries is changing -- as it has done continually since the first Public Libraries Act of 1851. Our government’s goal is to ensure that Ontario’s public library system stays strong and continues to thrive in new and old ways. By supporting technology and encouraging private sector involvement, we are helping to create a system that works and can adjust to the constantly changing needs of the community.

Thank you.


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Last Modified: Monday, April 28, 1997