Councillors have tough choice about library service delivery

Lennox and Addington County councillors appear to be coming to a pivotal point in the story where in one moment they can address a heightening concern and their actions will dictate how the book ends for loyal readers.

Next week, during a strategic planning session, they’ll discuss a 2016 library services report that suggested the County continue to pare down its system and look toward two or, perhaps, three super libraries that would house larger, centralized print collections, but also become hubs of cultural programming, activity, and new technology. Naturally, those facilities are being conceived in higher population centres like Napanee and Amherstview.

On the one hand, maps and usage data sourced by the County shows that library users throughout Lennox and Addington are travelling to those urban branches now in large numbers, passing by closer branches to do so. One can presume that’s because they can  have an experience of finding books that may not be available closer to home or they can access services that just aren’t offered in their smaller branches.There’s also the question of hours of access with the larger facilities being available more often.  When one looks at the idea of core-periphery services and considers that people from across lower Lennox and Addington are typically driving into Napanee or Kingston to do their shopping now, it makes sense library services could be something specialized enough that people expect to do it on their drive, just like they might do to visit an arena, take in a show, or meet a health-care professional.

Conversely, the library is a dedicated space where residents can gather close to home and receive access to information and leisure. It’s a service that supports their choice to live in a quiet, rural area and it may be considered an essential for those choosing to locate in some parts of the County. An erosion of services in those areas does deal a blow to community spirit and identity, which may impact the attraction of settlement in those areas. One must also question whether cutting services from communities that are more self-sustaining now, like Tamworth and Bath, is wise given the concentration of seniors and families there.

While one can understand the need to prioritize resources to ensure the services delivered are effective, branch consolidation would be more easily accepted if the residents of Lennox and Addington could have faith that some of the other burdens of rural living could be overcome. Affordable transportation options linking rural communities together would help not only with the library system, but in linking people to employment, to social programming, and to businesses and amenities that are increasingly existing only in larger areas. Adequate high-speed Internet would provide some access to research materials and a broader community. Addressing those shortcomings might make the plan palatable.

Perhaps, if the County is to move away from bricks-and-mortar branches, the onus is on its politicians to think of different ways to connect residents to the system. Maybe municipal halls or schools could have computer terminals that act as satellite links to the library system with a special weekly courier drop for books and resources.

There are lots of ways to run an efficient, effective service and connect with people where they are. Like any good page-turning novel, they require creativity, fresh ideas, and execution.It will be interesting to see how councillors sharpen their pencils and what plot arcs they will plan.

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