ontario librarians: should the ola support staffless libraries?

This week, the Toronto Public Library announced plans to open libraries with no staff. Not just no librarians -- we've seen that in many places -- but no staff whatsoever.

This was bad enough, but we were further horrified to see that the Ontario Library Association, a membership-based organization that is supposed to further the interests of libraries and librarians, seems to support this idea. OLA Executive Director had the chutzpah to re-frame this as "innovative".

If you are a librarian in Ontario, I hope you will provide feedback to the OLA through this petition: The OLA Should Oppose Staffless Libraries. Please consider sharing with your own library network.

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March 23, 2017

Shelagh Paterson
Executive Director
Ontario Library Association
Toronto, Ontario

Dear Ms. Paterson:

We, the undersigned, are public librarians in the province of Ontario and members of the Ontario Library Association (OLA). We are concerned and disturbed by the OLA’s apparent support for current trends in library staffing that are grossly detrimental to our profession and to the public we serve.

The Toronto Public Library has announced plans to open staffless libraries. This is antithetical to the core values of our profession and to our shared vision of what libraries are and should be.

In a Toronto Star article about this development, you are quoted as saying, “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.”

We are deeply disturbed that, rather than advocating for adequate library funding, the OLA would re-define budget cuts as a driver of innovation.

The Star article also quotes you as saying, “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.”

A staffless library can never be “a really excellent service.” Librarians and library staff “behind the scenes” of a building devoid of people are not enough. A truly excellent library service is one in which educated, trained professionals offer a wide range of services that support literacy, lifelong learning, and social engagement, and enable communities to thrive.

The OLA’s mission statement states that the organization enables members to “deliver exemplary library and information services throughout Ontario.” A library without librarians – indeed, a library without library staff of any kind – is not an exemplary library, and is indeed not a service of any kind.

Further, the OLA’s vision of an Ontario where everyone is “free to imagine, learn and discover, and recognize and celebrate library and information services as an essential resource for realizing individual aspirations and developing communities” is exactly the opposite of the current trend towards minimal – and now, nonexistent – staffing. A staffless library privileges members of our community who are affluent, information-rich, and technologically literate, and increases social inequality.

We believe the OLA should unequivocally oppose the staffless library.

We believe the OLA should actively advocate for well funded, fully staffed libraries, and should actively promote the value to the community of librarians and other educated, trained library staff.


The Undersigned Ontario Librarians

Sign here: The OLA Should Oppose Staffless Libraries.


johngoldfine said...

I'd never even heard of 'staffless libraries' until I opened up wmtc this morning, so I had to do a little research (I act as my own research librarian, so we are never staffless here.) I thought you might like this link, if only for "daft"--a word Americans understand but seldom use, but a popular one in the UK and apparently in one of its former colony/components. (The other UK phrase I love,--dog lover that I am--but that is not widely known in the USA is "barking mad" and that too applies to the notion of the staffless library.)


laura k said...

In Canada we hear those words pretty frequently, holdovers of the colonial past (and to many Canadians, the present).

Staffless libraries are happening now in Denmark, Ireland, and the UK -- unsuccessfully, as you might imagine. I don't know if the experiment has been halted anywhere.

Indeed, daft applies perfectly. And I'm pretty sure someone in my Facebook feed said they were barking mad!

impudent strumpet said...

You know, before we even get into questions of excellence in library service, I'm not even sure how safe I'd feel in an unstaffed indoor public space. I can't even think of anything comparable, where there's an enclosed area that anyone can just walk into but there's no staff or security guard or anything.

(I get that excellence in library service is the focus here because the petition targets the Ontario Library Association, but as an end user I have to start at the bottom of Maslow's pyramid.)

laura k said...

Imp, it's a security nightmare. It is absolutely unsafe. Here's the public letter you can sign.

And here, check out the videos. They are really worth watching, so creative and funny. They're each about one minute long. You're probably already in the public campaign, but it's worth signing again.