Dorset library space ‘an open book’
By Sue Tiffin
Published Dec. 24, 2018
Dorset library branch, within the Dorset Recreation Centre is moving closer to becoming a multi-use space.
The space is currently open eight hours a week through the Haliburton County Public Library but has been facing low circulation figures. Algonquin Highlands councillors have been considering possible future development to make the space more frequented than it is now by adding more computers and providing a book-drop service, where residents could order and pick up books through the library system, which would mean removing the books that are currently there to peruse.
The space could be open 40 hours a week being used as a multi-use room if the books were not there, as they require a fully-trained librarian to manage their circulation. Currently, according to Chris Card, parks, recreation and trails manager, the numbers show that the computers available in the space are frequently used.
Back in September 2017 when the subject was broached for the second time in the past decade, the township again faced public opposition to dismantling the library’s book services. In July and August this year, the township released a survey to gather public input about whether to keep the space as it is or change it.
“This isn’t about saying, get rid of the books and put four computers in there,” said Mayor Carol Moffatt at a Dec. 13 council meeting. “It’s what do we, as a group of decision makers, [through] consultation, see as the best use of space to try to give something to everybody.”
The survey was made up of 11 questions, available via SurveyMonkey online through the months of July and August and received 154 responses though some respondents skipped questions. Just over 77 per cent of the respondents said they lived or cottaged in Algonquin Highlands, while almost 20 per cent said they were from Lake of Bays. Just over 50 per cent of respondents, or 71 people – said they use the library for books. A little over 76 per cent of respondents said they supported the idea of book drop services – ordering books online through the HCPL system and picking them up at the DRC from township staff trained by the library. Almost 70 per cent of respondents said they supported a “reimagining” of the space.
Almost 59 per cent of respondents, 79 people, said they supported the space being transitioned into a township-managed community space, and about 40 per cent of respondents, or 53 people, said they supported the Dorset library as is, under the library board’s governance.
Space was left for respondents to make suggestions about what to do with the space, with most answers requesting that the space stay the same or include books rather than a book ordering system.
Moffatt, in explaining some of the background of the library’s history, said the Dorset library branch, like the one in Cardiff, also in Haliburton County, has been poorly performing for quite some time.
“The Dorset and Cardiff libraries have been living on a whisper and a prayer for years,” she said. “This is not the first time that the library board has raised the issue of poor attendance.” Moffatt said it has been asked if the library could offer more librarian hours, but the answer is no.
“We have thousands of people using other locations and there just isn’t the money and people,” she said. “And so Cardiff and Dorset have been for years just falling off the edge of the world.”
Moffatt said she was non-committal to either outcome, the room staying as it was or becoming a multi-use space, but said, “I do believe personally that it should be a space that’s open more for more people for more reasons.”
She encouraged councillors to speak to the issue, based on what they had heard from residents in the community and the results of the survey, to decide how to move forward.
“It’s empty so much, when it is open,” said Councillor Julia Shortreed, who uses the recreation centre and noted low attendance of the library room. “It’s only eight hours a week, the way technology’s going in our world and everything ... turning it into a multi-use facility is much better for the community than what it is now, definitely.”
“I see it as an enhancement,” said Deputy Mayor Liz Danielsen, who sits on the Haliburton County Public Library board. “I know it’s a difficult thing, and I will say it again, I feel a bit bad about saying this but I think the library board has to some extent put their heads in the sand and have had them there for some time. They don’t want to be responsible for making this decision. We’ve tried everything we can to encourage joint decisions, joint presentations, we asked them to participate in the survey, they didn’t want to participate in the survey, and I think the [former] chair was quite clear in saying ... that she just wanted it go to away and not be dealt with while she was chair. It’s a tough decision.”
Later in discussion, both she and Moffatt acknowledged that the HCPL is award-winning, with Danielsen saying, “[the library is] extraordinary in their advocacy, in the work that they do, in the programs they offer, in the partnerships they have developed and the fundraising they do ... they work hard.”
Danielsen told new councillors that council has asked if volunteers could run the library, but that the answer was there needs to be a qualified librarian in place for reasons that include organization and confidentiality of users. She suggested a “take one, leave one,” book rack, and said that might solve the issue that residents raised about wanting physical children’s books in place.
“Keeping in mind children’s books are still going to be available,” she added. “All the things that the libraries have within their system are available to everybody, you just have to order it, ask, and it will be delivered. That’s not the same as having a little children’s nook so to speak, but there’s no reason why we can’t incorporate something like that into a corner.”
Concerns have also been raised about the need for a seniors space, and that the library serves a population who might not have transportation to get to the next closest libraries, located in Baysville and Dwight.
“I think we need to remember too that this is not a black and white decision,” said Moffatt. “It is in terms of leaving it as is or transitioning to something else. But the something else ... could be fluid, and it would be our responsibility as decision makers in consultation with the community, to keep poking at those things.” Moffatt said a new space open longer might help create a community gathering space.
“...If we created a space that was pleasant enough, that the concerns about seniors having no place to go could be in some way alleviated, if they [the recreation centre] are this place where there’s always coffee on, and maybe a fire going,” she said. “Now it becomes a community space where there might always be someone to talk to and alleviate some of those concerns about isolation.”
Councillor Jennifer Dailloux said she spoke personally but also for residents of Ward 3 who she had talked to during the recent election campaign.
“I’ll declare my bias upfront,” she said. “I’m a huge proponent of public libraries and I believe, as do many others who frequent them as often as I do, that as soon as we lose a library it’s never coming back. It’s a forever thing. There’s no turning back that decision. Once a library has left a community it’s gone for good.”
Dailloux said that not being able to distinguish if survey respondents were permanent residents who only have close access to the Dorset library branch, or seasonal residents who access libraries more frequently elsewhere, made the results difficult to interpret.
“My fear is, what if there is a part of our community who really would support having more hours, having a better service, and they’re squished in with all of those other responses and we’re not hearing their voices,” said Dailloux.
“If the local people can still go there,” said Danielsen, “Go in this re-purposed room, use the computers that are there, browse any book they want, can order any book that the library system in Ontario has, have it delivered to the Dorset facility ... they’re not missing anything, they’re gaining use of the facility for 32 more hours at least of the week.”
Councillor Lisa Barry asked if programming that includes literacy programs for children and technology teaching for adults could still be available through the HCPL. Danielsen said yes, that would be available. Moffatt suggested that a committee, though not affiliated directly with the library, could be initiated to help create further programming and nurture programming already in place.
Shortreed asked, if nothing was done, the already-few hours the library is in operation might be reduced anyway.
“This whole issue started, I don’t know, 10 years ago, where there was discussion of closing the doors of the library,” said Danielsen. “Local people had warning that something was going to happen and they were up in arms about it but nobody did anything about it to use it more.” She added she couldn’t see hours reduced further.
“I’m heartened by some of the suggestions I’ve been hearing, about how we keep the spirit of books alive,” said Dailloux, suggesting that developing partnerships with other close libraries, encouraging their use and continued use of electronic books and book ordering is essential. “If we, around this table, can keep the spirit of books alive and the spirit of book sharing alive, then I would personally feel much more comfortable endorsing the plans that are at this table in releasing that space that is taxpayer space and not used very much for other things that more of our taxpayers can use and might encourage community [engagement].”
Moffatt said she saw it as a tremendous opportunity to breathe more life into the space, by adding more programming that residents want and continuing to offer books through the ordering system.
“It’s up to us to figure out what that looks like,” she said.
Councillors all agreed to support transitioning the room into a multi-use space.
“The big decision is to move forward,” said Moffatt, adding that they would look to information from the parks and recreation department about programming that could be offered and what the new space could look like. “And just keep it, dare I say, an open book.”
Moffatt will sit as the representative for Algonquin Highlands on the HCPL board for this term.
More results of the survey can be accessed via the Dec. 13 agenda for the Algonquin Highlands regular meeting of council as listed on Haliburton Civic Web (haliburtoncivicweb.net).
The Dorset library branch, located in the Dorset Recreation Centre at 1051 Main Street, is open on Tuesday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., and on Wednesday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. According to 2017 numbers, Dorset and Cardiff library branches have the smallest circulation numbers, with Dorset circulating 1,360 items and Cardiff circulating 961 items in 2017, up to August.