TORONTO—Toronto’s public libraries are the busiest in North America and second busiest in the world but have suffered from 20 years of chronic underfunding, says a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-Ontario (CCPA-Ontario) report.
The Great Equalizer: The Case for Investing in the Toronto Public Library looks at public library use and government funding going all the way back to pre-amalgamation 1992 – something no one had ever done before.
“We discovered Toronto’s libraries are wildly popular. They’re more popular than the top 10 entertainment draws in the city combined,” says the report’s author, Govind Rao. “It’s the sleeping giant of entertainment. Yet government funding falls far short of what’s needed to keep up with growing demand.”
Among the report’s core findings:
- Provincial funding as a share of Toronto’s public libraries’ budgets dropped from 6.3% in 1992 to 3.1% in 2011.
- Municipal funding cuts compounded the problem: since 1992, the cumulative operating provincial and municipal cuts to the city’s library budget totals $800 million (2002 dollars).
- The cuts meant a lot fewer staff: since 1992, Toronto has lost 532 library staff. Staffing levels are nearly 25% below what they were 20 years ago.
- Cumulative cuts to the acquisitions budget since 1992 have resulted in $51.6 million in materials being removed the shelves, despite growing demand.
- In 2011 alone, there were 19 million visits to the Toronto Public Library—a 15% increase since 2000.
- The 2012 City of Toronto budget exacerbated the funding shortfall, undoing improvements to the library system after the cuts of the 1990s.
“This year’s budget process doesn’t look any more promising,” says CCPA-Ontario Director Trish Hennessy. “The library board has recommended a 0.4% increase in the operating budget.
“If, instead, the city invested a little more into the system, libraries could be open for extended hours and Torontonians could enjoy welcoming, up-to-date buildings that they could spend time in. And they want to spend time at the library. It’s part of what makes Toronto stand out in the world.”
The Great Equalizer: The Case for Investing in the Toronto Public Library is available on the CCPA-Ontario website: http://policyalternatives.ca/ontario
For more information contact Trish Hennessy at 416-551-2059.