It is 5pm on Wednesday 15 June 2016. I am at the Library workshop – the only member of the public present – outnumbered and outgunned by the Town’s top movers and shakers.
And then there are the councillors.
I see Bob Shelton, the chief panjandrum and his trusted lieutenants. I see Andrew Brouwer, the Town Clerk, Esther Armchuk, the Town solicitor, as well as a string of Commissioners for this and that. They have all the facts at their fingertips.
Although this is billed as a joint workshop to discuss “the framework for future library needs” there are no members of the library board present other than the chair, Joan Stonehocker.
Shelton suggests waiting for 15 minutes to accommodate the late-comers. No says the Mayor, we press on. Unusually, I find myself nodding in approval at the great man’s decision. Sometimes he gets things right.
Now I see the Chief Executive of Newmarket Public Library, Todd Kyle. He has been in the job for about six years and I expect great things from him this afternoon. Here is his opportunity to shine. I want Todd to tell the Council what he wants and when. I want him to be direct and to the point.
Todd is now taking us through his PowerPoint presentation.
I hear him talking about “a potential road map going forward” and my heart sinks.
He sounds as if he is asking for directions! Has he lost his way so soon?
We are told the workshop:
“will help to form the basis for closer study of Library future facilities options”.
Oh no! That doesn’t sound like we are going anywhere interesting today.
Todd has a lot of slides on funding and financing; development charges and asset replacement funds. Now he asks us to keep in mind “other informing strategic documents and ongoing processes”. Aaaargh!
At long last he is talking about the library, reeling off rather impressive statistics:
Active cardholders: 23,500
Questions answered by staff: 31,500
In person visits: 214,000
Items borrowed: 508,000 (17% e-borrowing)
Now we are hearing about the role of libraries in 2016. Todd trumpets the success of the IdeaMarket, “igniting community dialogue, discovery and debate”. Now his chest swells as he points to the library’s 3D printer whose home is a converted broom cupboard, such are the space constraints.
This provides the intro to an arresting slide on the Library’s limitations.
- Space: one of the lowest per capita in Ontario.
- Accessibility: cramped space; steep ramp
- Logistics: no loading dock, limited storage
- Parking: only 22 dedicated spaces
- Community reach: one location
- Insufficient learning, collaboration, exploration space: MakerHub (ie the 3D printer) is in a former closet!
Now Todd is talking about the options.
Option A: One larger single central location
- Ideally up to 60-70K sq. ft.
- Operational cost containment/ economies of scale
- Community reach?
- Construction costs?
Option B: Maintain current location and add branch location(s)
- ideally up to 20-30K sq. ft. (can be smaller but recommended sq. ft. above is based on per capita comparators)
- Main Street/Riverwalk Commons/Old Town Hall synergy
- Operational costs higher
- Community reach
- Construction costs?
Todd’s face is a closed book. He won’t tell them what he wants. He is dancing around the issue just when they want him to be open and candid.
He ends with a slide setting out the “Library Facility Vision”. He wants the library to be less of a warehouse. Is has got to be open and bathed in natural light.
Now it is question time and Jane Twinney asks an intelligent question about satellite libraries. Wouldn’t this mean duplication?
“A great question. The answer is yes and no.”
Now John Taylor is inviting Todd to tell us more about his vision. In the end what do you want to achieve? Is one community hub (aka library) better than two?
Todd views this as a huge, gaping elephant trap. He won’t be drawn, retreating into meaningless waffle about “community priorities”.
However, he tells us that Guelph – a University town of course – has no fewer than eight branches.
Just when things are getting interesting the Mayor solemnly reads out the motion to close the meeting to the public (ie me). Pre-programmed, without waiting for him to finish, I obediently move towards the door.
The rationale for going into closed session is to discuss the Framework for Future Facilities and Land Use. This was set out on 22 February 2016 when the Council had a similar workshop on the Recreation Playbook. Councillors were told there were many “long term strategic decisions, pending and upcoming, related to land, facilities and community development.” They were given “an overview of property and facilities of strategic interest”.