26 Aug 16

August 24, 2016

library 6 CMYK

Library patrons protest closures in Cornwall

The whole group of passionate protestors shout out “SAVE OUR LIBRARIES” and form the collective in which to make themselves heard. Many voices are better than one. Sawyer Helmer photo

Library closure protestors desperate to be heard

Kalynn Sawyer Helmer

Record Staff

CORNWALL – On Mon., Aug. 22, at 8:15 a.m. in front of the United Counties office in Cornwall, protestors gathered to publicly express their dismay with the three library closures across SD&G.

At the helm of the protest was Cal Martin who attends the St. Andrews West library a few times per week. Martin’s efforts brought an incredibly significant amount of people who represent each of the communities facing library closure, together to fight for their right to public libraries.

During his first address to the group of protestors, Martin reminded his comrades that despite their anger and frustration, the protest was peaceful and respectful. “Any councillors who pass by should be treated with respect. We need to show our friendliness and community spirit.” It is that community spirit which has brought these people from across the counties together.

Nicole Duffy and her two sons joined the protest and represented the St. Andrews West library. The two boys are part of the summer library program and Duffy said they have never missed a day. Duffy said she reads to the boys one to two books each night. Without the library the family’s access to books will disappear. Duffy commented that in her house, and much like the houses of the fellow protestors, “there are never enough books.” Duffy said her sons were very upset about the closure not just for their summer reading program and home reading, but also because the St. Andrews school would often bring students to the library for a change of pace and some learning activities during the school year.

For a number of the communities, libraries are a place where the community can come together. Debbie Courneyea, a protestor who was representing the Morewood library, said the library is the only place the community has to begin building up again. Courneyea mentioned the feeling that Morewood had dwindled in the past years as a community and town. The library had been helping to bring life back to Morewood through the library coffee group and other activities.

Courneyea went on to explain that the library has been a place for people with disabilities to go and experience a social activity. The daughters of Courneyea’s friend live with disabilities and the library is one of their favourite places to spend their time. While they expressed to Courneyea a desire to attend the protest, they girls were far too upset and could not attend.

Two young library members did attend the protest with Courneyea however. Chase Summers and Maxwell Messervey. Courneyea said Summers’ older brother does his community service hours at the library and Summers had intended to do the same. Many kids heading to high school, who will need to get their community service hours in order to graduate, will no longer have a place close by to do so. Without the library, these kids will have to find ways of travelling to surrounding areas for those hours.

The feeling of displeasure in the crowd was overwhelming and the number of people affected by the closures is enormous. There is a lot of anger brewing over the issue. As the young man Messervey said about his home town of Morewood, “What more can they take from us? They already took the school and church, and now the library.”

However with every one who is protesting there are some things that need to be considered. In an interview with The Record’s writer Candice Vetter on Wed., Aug. 17, North Dundas Mayor Eric Duncan told the paper that costs of the Morewood Branch of the SD&G Library, which is a portion of the Morewood Firehall, included much more than the $2 per sq. ft. that the library pays. “The building has one meter and one heat bill – I don’t have the exact costs in front of me, but it is thousands per year. There is also administration, etc., on top.”

The issue of the library closures has been the overarching news of SD&G for two weeks now. After the protest on Monday, councillors heard speeches from a representative of each of the three libraries. Over 100 people attended the meeting to support the libraries and many people got to have their voices heard. Martin said during the protest that his hope is that the protest and the speeches will be able to convince the remaining councillors on the opposing side of the libraries to change their minds. Despite the meeting following the protest, unless the Board Chair calls a special meeting to discuss the issue, the libraries will close as is currently planned.

Many, including Martin were displeased and suspicious that the announcement of the closures happened so fast and without any real public hearings.

The future of the libraries is not looking good and the planned closures by Labour Day is fast approaching and Martin and his comrades are working tirelessly to do everything they can to change the outcome.

The big question supporters are asking is if the County Council and Ombudsman do not have jurisdiction over the Library Board, then who does?