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Three things that would make Toronto public libraries even greater

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100 million: according to a city staff report, that was the total usage of Toronto's public libraries in 2014, making it the busiest year since 2005.
Public libraries are hugely popular in Toronto -- per capita, they're among the busiest in North America.

Despite a rise in public library usage, there are about 25 per cent fewer library workers in Toronto's public library system today than there were two decades ago, thanks to funding cuts.

CUPE, which represents 22,000 workers in libraries across Canada, is waging a campaign to draw attention to a little-known aspect of library work: it's becoming more precarious than ever.

In Toronto, about half of public library workers are in precarious jobs. That's why CUPE Local 4948 is hosting a public forum Sunday, October 25 at the Downtown YMCA on Elm Street featuring an expert panel which will address solutions (details here).

Our own research in this 2012 report, The Great Equalizer: The Case for Investing in the Toronto Public Library, documents how the Toronto Public Library system has been reeling under years of real cuts to staffing, operating, capital and acquisitions budgets.

Here are three things the City of Toronto could do that would make Toronto's excellent system of public libraries even better:

1. Restore the library collections budget

The library collections budget has been subject to chronic underfunding. Investments here will make for happier library visitors.

2. Increase capital investments

Major budget cuts in the 1990s, followed by years of chronic underfunding, resulted in a backlog in repairs, slower library expansion than high demand would dictate, and less investment in library materials. It's time to play catch up.

3. Invest in more full-time workers

Major budget cuts in the 1990s, followed by years of chronic underfunding, resulted in dramatically fewer library workers. Since then, chronic underfunding has fostered the rise in precarious library jobs.

Our research showed that Toronto's public libraries are not only hugely popular, they provide vital social and educational benefits to Torontonians from all walks of life and from people who come to live here from every corner of the world.

Public libraries are a great equalizer in our society.

Valuing the role of public library workers is a potent sign that we value the people behind one of Toronto's hidden gems.

Trish Hennessy is director of the CCPA-Ontario. Follow her on Twitter: @trishhennessy

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