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

Ontario Library Association
1997 SuperConference

February 7, 1997

Let me begin by offering my sincere congratulations to the Ontario Library Association (OLA) for the planning and hard work which has gone into this conference. I admire the vision which the library community is displaying through this "super conference." Looking at the conference catalogue, I am very impressed with the many opportunities for an exchange of ideas. 

But, of course, that isn't surprising, since you are the experts in keeping information on the move. 

I would also like to congratulate tonight's award recipients once more: 

The Peterborough Public Library. I visited your library last weekend and was thoroughly impressed by the collaborative efforts there; 

The Pickering Public Library, which has made a very important advance for blind and visually impaired library users; 

The Etobicoke Public Libraries, which has established a model of resource sharing and co-operation in its community. If you have not yet toured Humberwood, I recommend that you make an opportunity to do so. And 

The North Bay Public Library, for the BabyTALK program. I am a new grandmother, so I have a renewed and very personal interest in programs for children in the under-three age group. 

These award winners are great examples of the spirit of innovation, and represent achievements in community service. 

My own interest in libraries is not something which suddenly appeared with my concern for the development of my wonderful new grandson - nor it is something I came to with the responsibilities of becoming a Minister of the Crown. Like most people, I am a lifelong library user. I have benefited from the resources of the libraries in the communities in which I have lived, and I continue to do so. 

Long before I was involved in public life, I was a volunteer in a public library. My "constituents" were the youngsters to whom I read stories. 

A little later in my life I was a municipal councillor. I served on the Scarborough City Council for twelve years, and I was able to look at and appreciate our libraries from that vantage point. As you know, municipalities provide the greatest portion of library funding. As a council, we were proud and somewhat possessive of Scarborough's libraries. 

Today, as Mininster of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation, I remain proud of the libraries in my home community of Scarborough, and, I am in the enviable position of being able to take pride in all Ontario's libraries. There is no doubt that our library system is one of Ontario's greatest cultrual and economic assets. 

1997 will be a year of change for the province's library system. We have proposed a new library framework for our public libraries. We anticipate a new regulation under the Municipal Act, and Legislation is now before the House in the form of the Local Control of Public Libraries Act 1997. 

The changes proposed in the new library framework are designed to build on the strengths of our public libraries, and make a contribution to the evolution of library service in Ontario. 

As you know, the Government of Ontario has taken on a major initiative to restructure the broad municipal/provincial relationship. The new library framework will serve to protect and promote libraries within that restructured environment. 

Many of you are aware that changes in the library system have been a long time coming. Many members of the library community were part of last year's consultations and you were very generous in sharing your understandings of what is most important to your libraries and to the provincial library system. 

My ministry staff and I have been the beneficiaries of your well-considered advice on how you would like to see the provincial/municipal relationship restructured and how the Ministry of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation can serve libraries. You have told us what you would like to see changed and what should remain the same. You've been very frank and articulate with us, and that too has been appreciated. 

I was very impressed -- and grateful -- for the thoughtfulness and for the time and attention you gave us. 

The dialogue between my ministry and the library community is not limited to such special periods of consultations. We have good and open channels of communication, and I thank you for making the efforts which keep this on-going communication so healthy. 

I would also like to acknowledge members of my own ministry in the Cultural Partnerships Branch. I hope and expect that you, the members of the library community, will continue to work closely with your contacts in my ministry during the changes which lie ahead. 

The proposed changes flow from my Ministry's review of libraries, from our consultations, and from the restructuring our government proposes for the provincial/municipal relationship. 

Our consultations showed us that there is a significant consensus on many points of discussion. 

You told us that you wanted to avoid fees for core library services. Now, the government is proposing a new library framework that would guarantee free access to libraries and to their collections. It would guarantee free borrowing of books and other print material by residents, and free borrowing of special format materials for residents with disabilities. Libraries would be able -- but by no means required -- to charge for other services. 

Our consultations also showed a strong consensus in favour of the continuation of library boards. This too is part of the proposed library framework. Under the new library framework, the new boards would have fewer restrictions on their composition and operation. I am very pleased that the retention of library boards is a part of the new, proposed legislation. 

The new library framework is part of a much larger picture which encompasses the provincial/municipal reorganization and the report of the Who Does What panel. 

As you know, the overall mandate of the Who Does What panel was to recommend ways to reduce costs, eliminate duplication, and improve accountability for services. The new library framework proposes simpler administration and better defined areas of responsibility for both the province and municipalities. Under the new framework, municipalities, which already provide, on average, 85% of library funding, would have authority for local library operations; provincial resources would be directed to the provincial networks. 

The guiding principle for this division of responsibility is that the level of government that can best do the job should be given the means and authority to do it. Local needs vary, local priorities differ from place to place. Local councils and boards are in the best position to know what is best for the people they represent. 

Local councils and library boards do not need the province to tell them how to do their business. The current Public Libraries Act is too prescriptive on matters such as board composition, board meetings and some matters which should be the responsibility of the library boards alone -- or the library board and the municipality -- to decide. 

The proposed revisions to the Library Act would remove many of these process-oriented requirements. For example, it would no longer be a requirement that library boards have official representation from their local school boards. Peterborough's PACLAN network demonstrates the advantage of close co-operation between public libraries and school boards, but how this co-operation is to be achieved, would, under the new library framework, be left to each municipality to determine. 

Another process-oriented requirement that would be removed is the obligation to obtain consent for the closing or amalgamation of library branches within county boards. This is not a change that will affect all library boards, but it is a change which a number of country boards have been asking for for some time. So I am pleased to be able to answer their request in the proposed legislation. 

These are two examples in which there should be no doubt that the responsibility for decisions and the authority to carry out the decisions lies with local boards and councils. 

Libraries play a central role in the lives of their communities so it makes sense that communities should have full authority to govern their own libraries. It is also important to note that, under the present arrangement, municipalities provide by far the largest portion of library operating funds. In fact, all public libraries have been created by municipal by-law -- not by an action of the provincial government. The provincial government believes that municipal governments will make responsible decisions for their libraries. 

The new library framework takes into account the education tax relief which municipalities would experience as a result of legislation proposed by the Minister of Education. 

It is no secret that our government has cut costs in many areas -- this is at the core of the mandate which we received from the voters. On its own, the new library framework is not designed as a cost-cutting measure. I expect, however, that the new library framework will contribute certain cost-saving efficiencies which will allow libraries to provide even better service. 

My ministry will be constantly monitoring library funding during the transition period, and you can be assured of my personal, continuing commitment to the good health of our public libraries and to future of the library system in this province. 

My personal experience of reading to children was a very traditional activity for libraries. I believe that it was a valuable program. And, I believe that even in this hightech age, there will always be a need for people who will read to children. 

Under the new library framework, my ministry would continue to work closely with libraries in a partnership which would continue to build on the traditional services and expertise found in our libraries. 

The networks, which connect libraries with other libraries and with information resources throughout the province, the country and the world, are very important now and are going to become more and more important in the future. 

In the future we can make the networks even more accessible and more useful to library patrons. The libraries of the future should be able to use the new technologies to be electronically networked to the world of information -- and there should still be room for people to do my favourite library activity -- reading to children. 

The new library framework places great importance on library networks. The importance of electronic networks was not anticipated in the province's first library legislation in 1851, and the technological wonders we can achieve today are beyond what our predecessors could imagine in 1851. However, the tradition of libraries building on their strengths and areas of expertise has not changed. 

I don't possess a crystal ball, but I'm quite sure that libraries will have an exciting future. In this Information Age, the opportunities libraries have to serve their communities are immense. Libraries are already in the business of teaching people how to access information; they are open convenient hours; they are well-distributed throughout the province. 

Public library staff also have the skills to bring quality information about Ontario to the Internet by organizing and digitizing information from their own collections and those of their municipalities. The connection to tourism and other local industries might be a natural outcome of this activity. 

The province recognizes the great value of libraries to the economic health of the province through their role in creating a well-educated and literate workforce. Learning has been accepted as a life-long process, and it's clear that our libraries have a central role to play in this pursuit. 

Library activities are expanding from collection-based services to include access-based services. This trend opens many opportunities for benefits to the communities served by our libraries, and gives small libraries the opportunity to provide services which are now only available in the larger facilities. To fully realize this progress, a strong library network will be essential. The Ministry of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation looks forward to opportunities to work with you to build the networks and services that can best serve our communities and our province. 

I believe that it will be important -- and achievable -- for smaller communities to have the same access to information as larger centres. Investments in network access, connectivity, public workstations, electronic document delivery and electronic access to government information are examples of services which all libraries might be able to provide. This kind of access to information would greatly help Ontarians to compete in a knowledge-based economy. 

It is also important to maximize the investment we now have. Public libraries hold 29 million books and much additional material. This great resource can be shared through networking, digitization, and digital content development. 

The facilities of the public libraries could also be used as the entry point to other collections. Our public libraries are a great resource, but so are school libraries, university libraries, corporate libraries and government libraries and archives. 

Our public library system is already moving towards this "multi-type library". The award-winning innovations in Peterborough and at Humberwood are just two examples of facilities that are leading the way. 

At the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) Conference, we heard from the councillors of Dryden that they could not afford to pay for three library systems in their municipality -- nor should they. A networked, multi-type library with shared resources and co-operative programs might be the best solution for Dryden. I say "might" because the decision is theirs. 

The Ministry of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation has identified an area of great potential here, and we will be looking for ways in which we can use our role to help with library networks and other sharing of resources. The Ontario Library Service (OLS) will be particularly important in this trend, and I expect the OLS to be an important partner in all network development. 

I believe this is the direction in which our library system is moving. The re-organization proposed in the new library framework will put us on the road to achieving the goals we set. 

I do not underestimate the challenges we face in achieving the ambitious goals we all have for Ontario's libraries. I also assure you that I do not underestimate the depth of talent and commitment we have within the library system. 

My staff at the Ministry of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation and I greatly look forward to working with you to fulfil the great promise of Ontario's Public Libraries. 


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