Crunching Cornwall Public Library Numbers – Is it time for change? by Jamie Gilcig

library numbers 2012 bCFN – Libraries are important.    Their uses are changing as time dictates technology and the public dictates demand.   With the cost of internet and cable being high for those on fixed incomes more and more people use the library to borrow DVD’s and use the internet.

The funny thing about presentations is that they are rarely if ever audited.

The City of Cornwall has its library in the heart of downtown taking up one of the most prestigious pieces of real estate.  The former post office is still in lovely condition and one of the nicest buildings in the city.

It’s annual budget, according to the library’s 2012 report  is a little over $2M.

The question is whether the public is getting value for those dollars?    Looking at their own numbers again the largest item is wages and benefits which comes out to 2/3 of the total.   That’s .67 cents out of every dollar.

The amount spent on actual Collections & Supplies?  About 1%.

Library Numbers 2012Likewise the utilization of space.   Nearly all of the top space on the ground floor is given to books which are in declining use while Internet space is still limited in units available and amount of time available.   The units are also older.

According to the library  13,020 members used their services in 2012 – that breaks down to $162.45 per member.

That’s quite an amount of money to be pumping out to each member especially as membership is free.

In these times especially it might be a good exercise to re-examine how our libraries are used and staffed.   Do we need as many actual librarians and their skill sets and cost if usage is shifting to video rental and computer use?  For example according to the Library’s UNAUDITED borrowing numbers  over 1/3 of usage is in borrowing  DVD’s and CD’s.    Do we need to support as much highly trained staff which eat up 2/3 of the operating budget?

Am I recommending moving or eliminating the library?  Heck no.   I just think that we need to focus more on what the public wants and needs and less on keeping staff numbers up.

Maybe we need to shift books to the library basement?   Maybe we need to cut back on library staff or gradually shift to lower priced staff or volunteers to help lend out dvd’s and cd’s?   Maybe if library staff weren’t as expensive the library could be open later on some days?

And maybe some of those dollars saved could be channeled into better computers that allowed users to spend more time?

Like any bureaucracy Ms Kiddell always will be seeking more funding.   That’s fine; but surely she should not be given continued free passes by the city when taxes are going up.   And surely the library would be a more attended and used place if it reflected more of what the community wants and needs instead of an antiquated vision of yesterday?

And maybe, just maybe, it’s time to share some of that buildings space with an Art Centre in Cornwall which we are sorely lacking and with Mayor Kilger and Council committing available monies to the Benson Centre simply won’t be available for about a decade?


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  1. “According to the library 13,020 members used their services in 2012 – that breaks down to $162.45 per member”

    That is a lot of money is right per user for a free membership service. While it would be deeply unpopular, perhaps introducing a small fee through a membership card. It would slightly off-set the costs on the taxpayers.

    One may make the argument that such a membership fee would require people who use the library regularly pay twice for service, however since there are members of the community who pay taxes for the library and do not even use it, I do not see a small membership fee in order to slightly lower spending while maintaining similar level of service an issue.

  2. Time to downsize, give the tax payer a break. Nearly everything
    can be found on the internet for free.

  3. Doesn’t look like Cornwall has caught on to the trick in Ottawa to inflate numbers. All users have to renew their card in library each year.
    I can understand providing government journals and daily newspapers because of notices, but CD’s, DVD’s and movies takes away from private business.

    Our high schools, (college or any university even) should be looked at to take over libraries, build a wing on sort of thing. Issues like school security, parking, staffing and types of material could be addressed easy enough.

  4. Author

    UC I think the library services should be free; but I also think that 2/3 of a budget on staffing is kinda nuts when most of those dollars are going into areas of service that are shrinking while there is a demand for other services.

    This should not be about saving the library jobs. Maybe we need different services and skill sets? Maybe more services can be streamlined with staff cuts so more dollars can be put into what the public really wants from the facility and maybe we can better use the building?

  5. The libraries are run by the provincial government (remember Rae Days) and here in Ottawa we have at least 32 libraries to borrow from and the libraries are full of people. That is the difference here is that people who are educated have their kids to be educated and go to the libraries and this is done since the child is very young (like pre school). People who are really educated do not want their kids in front of the idiot tube that you call a TV. Getting ahead in life is what is important and the TV destroys people’s brains.

  6. Hands off the library.

    A modern library is not just about books. A library is a focal point for community, it is a venue for meetings, it is an alternative to the inhuman and ridiculously termed “social media sites”. It is a neighborhood hub and respite from the stupidity outside its doors.

    And as for the educatioanal advantages… there are far fewer students masturbating in the library than in front of computer screens at home — no thanks to parents that won’t kick them out of the house to go crack a book at the library, and actually interact in person with their peers, or resource people that know something of research and library science.

    Shoot the frickin’ geese in the park, send the damned dog home, and put the money saved towards our library.

    Get rid of the spin doctoring public relations slobs at city hall, and pay instead for library outreach programs that engage the community.

    Quit paying for useless committee and department meetings at City Hall and the Civic Complex — that regularly feed the faces of Kilger’s and council’s toadies — while they talk in circles and accomplish nothing.

    And to those library detractors that are the useless pharts blowing their money on; casino, rib fests, tattoos, and 5 Timmys a day… then enjoy the smell where you seem to have firmly entrenched your heads.

    Until now I thought Claude MacIntosh was the only Cornwall low brow to think that the library was a waste.

  7. Author

    Simon you’re misunderstanding my point. It’s not about getting rid of the library; but better spending resources and adding things like an Art Centre to the building.

  8. Does the Cornwall library have self-checkout? The Ottawa library has that. Don’t need employees around all the time for self-checkout.

  9. jules, I take exception to your comments which border on superiority. I have been able to use about 10 of the Ottawa libraries over the last decade or so, they are not full. The main branch downtown is very busy because of researchers, seniors and students using the free computers and newspapers.
    You would think around exam times students would fill the areas as well, but that is not the case.

    The whole library system in every town should be reviewed for effectiveness. Ontario has a courier service that moves books on loan from region to region everyday with a fleet of trucks and staff, is this the most efficient and cost effective? We don’t know because I doubt anyone checked.

    With finances and costs the way they are, we can not keep doing the same things, good points Admin.

  10. Author

    Thanks Eric. I’m not even trying to suggest to cut the budgets. Libraries are important. My objection is the use of this lovely facility and how many dollars are not being spent on what the public clearly is demanding of for service and how much is being spent on Librarians that are less and less in demand.

    Frankly if we rejig things a few more people can have jobs without raising the Library budgets, albeit that they might not have Library degrees.

    It’s all about VALUE

  11. Eric just about every time that I go to the library it is packed with people and that is in my area of Alta Vista. There are other libraries as well that are packed and the downtown one is always packed to the gills because of the universities who use them. It is a place of research. I will take the library over a computer any day and that is the truth. I cannot stand to read a book on a computer but I love to read a book in hand. Colleges and universities will not accept work from on line resources unless it is something that is to back up what an author of a book wrote. Anybody who is deducated goes to the libraries and I will support them any day. I do agree that a place of art as well as a meeting place is of great value as well. At the downtown library in the basement is where a lot of meetings are held and there is a stage there for discussions. I worked in that tower when I was permanent on Laurier and before that I used to work in the tower at Billings Bridge and before that I was at Tunney’s Pasture and then when I worked temporary I was everywhere and loved it and worked it many well educated people who loved to read.

  12. I would like to provide a few points of clarification concerning Cornwall Public Library.

    1. Free public library service is provincially mandated. We cannot charge for resident memberships or basic library services as described by the Public Libraries Act. This is intended to provide a level playing field for all Cornwall residents, not just those who can afford to pay. The library is allowed to charge for some things i.e. library fines for late materials, printing, room rental, and non resident memberships.

    2. We are audited and accountable at every level. The public library undergoes an annual independent financial audit and submits two annual statistical surveys collected by provincial Ministries to assess performance measures. This results keeps us accountable to the municipality and the province.

    3. According to these annual surveys, the average for staff salaries as a percentage of the total operating budget among our 15 direct comparators in size is 69%. Cornwall’s is 68%. The library employs only two professional librarians and 3.5 library technicians which is far below provincial standards for a population this size. We have already eliminated 2 professional positions as a cost cutting measure. The public service staff do not have specialized educational requirements although many have taken professional development courses offered online by the Southern Ontario Library Service.

    4. Collections are 13% of total operating costs, not 1%.

    5. Dividing the library’s operating costs by number of active cardholders doesn’t provide a complete picture. The library has issued 29,000 memberships in total, 13, 020 were used in 2012 to borrow items. This does not take into account those who use the library’s computers or other services and collections, or who attended programs. According to the province, the cost per capita to run the Cornwall’s library (in 2011) was $38. The provincial average for our community size was $40.

    6. Our recent community consultations show that the library is anything but archaic. We are trying to stay ahead of the curve to ensure that staff and the community can transition an increasingly digital environment. Public Libraries also had the added blow of losing Federal funding for public access computers in 2012.

    7. Your comment about using the building space for other cultural agencies is a good one and is being addressed in the library’s forthcoming strategic plan. We are trying to launch a community archives in the lower level which will provide a repository and focal point for the scattered historical and genealogical collections pertaining to Cornwall’s history.

    At present library use across the board is increasing, not decreasing, and we are scrambling for more space for programming, computers and collections. We will get there, but it will take time to acquire the resources. And yes, I will be looking for money to address these changes!

    Dawn Kiddell
    Chief Librarian, Cornwall Public Library

  13. The Cornwall Public Library has fees for those who live outside of the boundaries of Cornwall. Here in Ottawa with all the amalgamation there are no fees for example Orleans, Nepean, Kanata, etc. since they are all Ottawa and so much more. Our humoungous taxes pays for all of this and so much more. I wouldn’t trade the public libraries for anything since they are of great value to the public. Yes there are some good things on line but not everything can be taken at face value. I generally go y the books and then go and check things out on line and I learn some new things all the time. The library is one of the most valuable assets out there and I support it all the way. I used to love going to the library when my kids were little and they would sit down and listen to stories and also do art work in the children’s department at Alta Vista Branch and they were some if not the greatest memories of all. No matter what I put the libraries ahead of so many other things. One elderly man that we used to walk with at the Power Dam in Cornwall said that as long as there was a good library he would live there but if there was no library he would not live in such a place. A lot of us have great respect for the libraries.

  14. Costs of 162 dollars per member is quite simply to high for the taxpayer to continue to support. I do not have a problem with legislation which supports BASIC free access to resources. Publications, books these are basic resources that I am sure legislators were wanting offer to all without additional cost to users.

    While I believe that hard copy resources should remain loyal to the concept of free (nothing is free) meaning no user fee for this level of access, realism must enter the equation at some point.

    If individuals wish to access other forms of service which could be provided such as computers, internet, dvd movie collections etc. than I believe a small user fee to cover the costs is not only fair but responsible decision making to ensure the continuance of a valuable service. The taxpayers pockets have bottomed out it is time to be fair, creative and above all realistic in addressing the needs of the public at large.

    The alternative when you look at the costs is to axe employees altogether and go self serve and virtual, however is this realistic ?

  15. If we were to axe employees this would put a strain on the unemployment lines. We have self serve here in Ottawa at the downtown library but not at Alta Vista that I can recall. I like to deal with the people who are very nice and not with a machine.

  16. JULES according to Dawn Kiddell there are 5 full time and 1 part time that consume 68% (71% via city sources?) of the allocated monies for the operation of the Cornwall library. In the grand scheme of things 6 more bodies really has little impact on the system (employment insurance payments have far less impact on the taxpayer than the actual salaries and benefits currently being paid out by the same taxpayer) the impact unfortunately is felt by the six bodies themselves who would have to find new jobs/career.

    If we continue our demands on the current system in place we will soon have to by necessity deal with “machines” rather than “people who are very nice”. That word the politicians love “sustainability” comes into play and I predict will be the go to phrase as services disappear or radically alter in the delivery.

  17. Mr. Oldman I do see your point and I am asking how many librarians “the ones with the degree” are there in Cornwall. I am not talking about the one that puts your books through the system. The ones with the degree make the big money and they take the biggest chunk of the system. I don’t know how many “library clerks” that there are in Cornwall but when we lived there there were a number of them.
    At our Alta Vista Library there is “one degree” librarian and maybe one or two who have college and the other staff which are very few are just hired clerks to check books in and out. It is a very small library including most others. There are only a few libraries that are big in size. The downtown library is the busiest place of all and they do have machines for check out as well as clerks to check books in and out. When people bring books back to the library most of us just throw them in a kind of a shute like the way we used to put mail in the old post office in downtown Cornwall where the library is now and the clerks would check them into their system. The same thing downtown and everywhere else. Cornwall’s library charges fees to those who live outside the city limits in other communities and that is the way it should be for everything. If the smaller communities amalgamated with Cornwall I can tell you all first hand that your taxes would skyrocket beyond belief and then you would want things back the way they used to be and it would be too late to turn back.

  18. JULES i hear and agree on the amalgamation issue (I grew up in the former NEPEAN which was a debt free city).

    The comments by DAWN KIDDELL Chief Librarian, Cornwall Public Library refer to 2 professional librarians and 3.5 library technicians as the current staffing.

    Could Cornwall manage with one professional librarian and 4.5 library technicians? No doubt this is probably being considered by the responsible Cornwall Council budget committee members.

  19. Mr. Oldman 1 professional librarian is more than enough for Cornwall and even for each of Ottawa’s libraries is more than enough. You are right indeed about that. The higher salaried person(s) is the one taking the biggest chunk out of people’s taxes.

    Mr. Oldman so you grew up in Nepean and the mayor at that time was the very best mayor going maybe even for the entire province of Ontario. Nepean was debt free and when they amalgamated with Ottawa and all the rest of them the taxes shot up beyond belief. Kanata is the most debt ridden section of Ottawa. Amalgamation doesn’t always work out for the better and it sure didn’t in this case. The traffic is horrible, roads in badly need of repair, sewers as well and the list just keeps on going on and not enough roads for the population and very stressful to drive. Nepean was a great place to live before all this craziness happened.

  20. The libraries are the most important on my list and even if I had to pay a little extra in fees I would do just that. Yes the taxes are humoungous and don’t we all know. I cannot read a book on line but only things that are short enough to read. There is nothing like a good book in hand. One librarian is enough and if the machines have to be used to check out books then so be it but people will be without work.

    Take a good look at our education system and health care system at the humoungous cost that it is and students pay humougous money to go to university with tons of debts that they cannot pay back and no work. Nurses are run off their feet and are burned out at a young age and I know because I worked in the federal government with registered nurses who left the profession that is how bad things were back then so can you imagine today. The administration is what is taking the money and the same holds true for the city of Cornwall with the administration which is too big for such a small town as well as ten councellors – ten councellors for what to keep them employed for doing absolutely nothing except to steal from the taxpayers and pay high priced lawyers for their incompetences. Things have to change and starting from the top down. It is those at the top who are to blame. The little people are struggling to pay the bills every month.

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