the ford brothers vs libraries, next installment: reason for hope

By now you've probably heard that the City of Toronto public budget hearings continued through the night and into the morning, making this the longest City Council meeting in the city's history.The Star reports:
Some 168 people took Mayor Rob Ford up on his invitation to tell him what they think of the suggestions. It was the kind of meeting where, at 4:30 a.m. in a city hall surrounded by hushed streets, a 14-year-old girl sobbed as she told the mayor how much she loves her local library.

Between 9:30 a.m. Thursday and 6:30 a.m. Friday, only two speakers endorsed any kind of cutting. The rest alternately criticized, mocked, pleaded with and reasoned with a placid Ford, who acknowledged the comments of only a few before the meeting finally ended at 8:55 a.m. Friday — 22 hours and 25 minutes after it began.
Although this story contains plenty of cynicism about the process and fatalism about the results, there is reason for hope. From Maureen Reilly, President of the Toronto Public Workers Union:
We’re making an impact.

This morning, around 1:45 am, I appeared before the City of Toronto Executive Committee to tell them how much Torontonians support our public library.

To make our point, we brought 10 full boxes of messages that you and tens of thousands of others in the city have sent to City Hall in support of the Toronto Public Library.

The room, which was still packed to the rafters even in the middle of the night, erupted when we marched in with our boxes, cheering and clapping for a very long time. Nearly half of the presenters talked about our public library in their presentations, and many others devoted their entire presentations to defend the TPL.

A young woman was overcome by emotion as she testified about how terrible it would be if her library closed. It was very moving for me and for the members of the Executive Committee.

Our campaign is producing results. This week, two Councillors who are part of Mayor Ford’s inner circle declared that they will not support cuts to our public library, and the Globe and Mail published an excellent editorial in support of our public library. And today, we will surpass the 40,000 signature mark on our petition!

But we haven’t reached the finish line yet. In fact, we need to re-double our efforts.
The final decision on drastic budget cuts to TPL will come in a vote at the end of September. If you live in the GTA and value public libraries, it's our job to keep up the heat until then. Stay tuned.

From the Globe and Mail:
Put aside the question of whether or not Toronto Councillor and mayoral confidant Doug Ford knows what Margaret Atwood looks like or has read her books. What is shocking is his suggestion that a great literary icon should “go run in the next election and get democratically elected” if she is concerned about funding for libraries.

Ms. Atwood has an unquestioned right to stand for libraries. Every citizen does. As she says, “This is about what sort of city the people of Toronto want to live in.”

Presumably, they, like people in other Canadian cities, want a city that aspires to the best. And, in fact, Toronto’s public library system is among the best. Not only the best in Canada, but in North America.

Toronto’s system is the second largest, by number of branches, and the busiest by circulation, on the continent. New York City public libraries lent out 24 million volumes in 2010; Toronto’s lent out over 32 million. The system has innovated, offering music and e-book downloads, making Internet access widely available, delivering materials to local branches, and lending out cards that give free access to local museums.

Mr. Ford’s attack is ironic, because no public service puts democracy on display more than libraries. Toronto and other cities that have invested in them foster a learning and reading culture. How? By democratizing knowledge. And the value of the system is inseparable from its density. Yet Mr. Ford attacked that too, complaining about the number of libraries in his own ward.

That doesn’t mean that a rigorous review of library spending should not be part of efforts to rein in the municipal budget. And Mayor Rob Ford, Doug Ford’s brother, is right to be aggressive in seeking budgetary savings across the city. But government is not exclusively a site of bureaucratic slumber or waste. It can be a wellspring of excellence. There are some things that the city does very well, and Toronto’s public libraries represent the best of that city’s public services. There is no shortage of other areas that deserve closer scrutiny.
I don't necessarily agree with that last bit, but it's clear that in targetting the public library, Rob Ford has gone too far.

PS: I don't even live in Toronto, but as someone who works and goes to school there, I'm entitled to a Toronto Public Library card. I have it and I use it. I intend to fight for it, too. In case you haven't signed yet: go here.

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