The following article by Local 4948 President Maureen O'Reilly was published
in Partnership: The Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and
Research. It is republished here under Creative Commons license.
Libraries and librarianship
everywhere are under attack, but popular resistance has been strong. The Toronto
Public Library Workers Union (TPLWU) Local 4948 (CUPE) led a successful
community fight-back campaign against the Ford administration's 2011–2012
austerity budget. That campaign not only stopped further crippling cuts to the
TPL, it garnered support for the library workers during a difficult round of
collective bargaining which followed, and it has begun to change the
conversation about the library from "cuts" to "investment."
Rob Ford; TPLWU Local 4948; Toronto
budget; public libraries
Stop the Gravy Train
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford
was elected with a mandate to "stop the gravy train" at city hall. He hired KPMG
consultants to do a Core Service Review. Though the review produced very high
ratings for the library service and a warning that "cutting libraries will be
met with resistance," the beloved and well-used Toronto Public Library (TPL) was
targeted for cuts and branch closures. In KPMG's own words, the city needed to
"rationalize the footprint of libraries."
In 2011, the TPL was ranked as the busiest public library system in North
America. That year the library circulated 33 million items and welcomed 19
million visitors (Key Facts, n.p.). Despite the closure of the Urban Affairs
Library the year before, 98 branches remained.
To put TPL's success in context, public libraries in Ottawa, Vancouver and
Montreal combined circulated 30 million items, New York 24 million, Los Angeles
16 million, and Chicago 10 million (Rao 10).
The few attempts the Ford administration has made to formulate public policy
here in Toronto have been imitative of Chicago, where the Ford brothers — Mayor
Rob and Councillor Doug — have a second, and very lucrative, division of their
Toronto-based Deco Labels and Tags company. The only economic development trip
that the mayor has taken was to Chicago. Chicago has 79 libraries, so Toronto
should too. This seems to be the simplistic rationale for targeting the highly
successful TPL for cuts.
These cuts were proposed after several years of deep budget cuts by Ontario's
Harris Conservatives. The $10.5 million provincial spending envelope for TPL was
reduced to $4.6 million. Municipalities, in turn, reacted to the provincial cuts
by making cuts to their own budgets. Since the early 1990s, the TPL operating
budget has been cut by $800 million, the acquisitions budget by $51.6 million,
and service hours slashed. Five hundred and thirty two library workers' jobs
were also cut during this time, representing a 25 percent loss (Rao 7). Although
amalgamation in and of itself was a cost cutting exercise, the library budget
under the Lastman and Miller administrations remained static, and it wasn't
until Ford took office that dramatic cuts began again.
Project Rescue: Our Public Library
responded to the latest assault on the library budget with an unprecedented
display of support, one far in excess of the ‘resistance' anticipated by KPMG.
The 2,400 members of Local 4948 launched a city-wide campaign on July 13th under
the banner "Our Public Library." Later that summer the Local presented a
petition with over 22,000 signatures to Budget Chief Mike Del Grande in front of
a boisterous crowd. I had difficulty delivering our deputation due to the chants
of support for the library. We certainly believe we were the first to wake the
city up to the Ford administration's true motives. Ford had been elected on a
promise of no cuts to service, and this was exactly what was being proposed.
(The budget was the first defeat the Ford administration suffered and signified
a turnaround in Toronto politics.)
The petition we launched was unique because the software that ran it
created an email to the appropriate city councillor based on the petitioner's
postal code. This was supplemented by "action alerts" throughout the campaign,
which highlighted issues for our supporters and generated even more
correspondence to city councillors. I have been told by some councillors that
the campaign unleashed an outpouring of public support the likes of which had
never been seen at City Hall before.
The campaign really heated up and captured the attention of the media
during what I refer to as the "Doug speaks, Margaret tweets" phase of the
campaign. I was fortunate to have a team that had the know-how to use social
media to take advantage of some of the crazier side-shows going on. Councillor
Doug Ford told talk radio that he had more "liberries" in his ward than Tim
Hortons locations. Margaret Atwood, who has a Twitter following of 250,000,
tweeted her support for the library workers' campaign. Doug's response was to
say he wouldn't know Margaret Atwood if he passed her in the street. The
campaign took on new heights culminating in the "My Library Matters to Me"
contest. Other Canadian authors joined Margaret Atwood in the contest in which
both adults and children entered to win a prize of a group lunch and literary
tour with one of the authors. This resulted in coverage on the CBC National
The campaign was not supported by TPL nor by the Ford appointed library
board. Ford's library board councillors especially took great exception to the
campaign. Incredibly, they did not think that politicians should be held
accountable for their voting record! A Forum Research poll showed overwhelmingly
that not only were Torontonians against library closures, but they would not
support a councillor in the next election who voted against the library.
The final vote on the city budget took place on January 17, 2012. Further
cuts to the library were stopped by a one-vote margin. Three of five library
board councillors, including the Board Chair, supported the full 10% cut to the
library. Though no libraries were closed, program and service hours were saved,
and the collections budget preserved, the library did suffer a cut of 107
full-time library worker positions.
Changing the Conversation
struggle, there was a modest increase in the 2012–2013 library budget. More
critical were the comments made both at the library board and city council not
to repeat last year's experience! The conversation about the library has begun
to change. Library board members are beginning to talk about restoring service
at TPL. This mindset turnaround was aided by the appearance of a report from the
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives "The Great Equalizer: A Case for
Reinvesting in TPL."
The library workers will continue the campaign for the
2013–2014 budget cycle with this theme. We intend to launch a whole new phase
this September. In 2014, the municipal elections take place, and library workers
intend to play a key role. I am crazy enough to think that we can influence
those elections. Does Toronto want a mayor who supports libraries or one who
wants to close libraries? After all, 55 times more people visited the TPL than
voted for Rob Ford!
Key Facts. Toronto Public Library.
N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Feb. 2013.
Rao, Govind C. The Great Equalizer: The Case for
Investing in the Toronto Public
From Partnership: the Canadian Journal of Library and Information
Practice and Research, vol. 8, no. 1 (2013)
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