TORONTO – Librarians and members of the public rallied today in support of Toronto Public Library services, and against the library board’s threat to those services through provocative demands, days before a bargaining deadline.
Maureen O’Reilly, president of CUPE Local 4948 (Toronto Public Library Workers Union), told rally participants that the board is risking services by not budging from provocative demands that would make it harder for librarians to make ends meet while meeting growing demand.
“Thanks to the recent budget reversal, the support for our libraries across Toronto is obvious,” said O’Reilly. “The board is trying to pretend that this somehow doesn’t mean support for librarians. But it’s clear they can expect an outcry if they disrupt libraries by disrupting our ability to work.”
O’Reilly was joined by poet, journalist, and performer Robert Priest, librarian Mary Bissell, and library patron Guy Ewing.
Bissell is an experienced librarian, but still works two jobs to put together a living wage. She said Torontonians may be surprised to learn the Library does not give librarians the treatment they deserve.
“I provide the alternative to Wikipedia,” she said. “I’ve never received benefits, and between both jobs often work 12 days in a row. I’m no longer sure I’ll ever find full-time employment before I retire. I love being a librarian, but my economic future is grim.”
Ewing said it is time to face up to the “human costs” of starving the library system.
“It was librarians who led the fight during the budget. Thanks to their campaign, the board withdrew from many cuts when Torontonians showed love for their libraries,” he said. “We must continue to show that love, by supporting librarians. In bargaining, they face the cuts they helped us fight in the budget.”
Robert Priest lamented the loss of the public library culture which made him a writer and Torontonian.
“If I had been turned loose in a massive book warehouse with the same degree of customer service now so invisible in megastores like Home Depot it would have been a vastly diminished experience,” he said. “Librarians to me were never cashiers or salespeople. They were mentors and fellow fans of literature with whom one experienced a feeling of community.”
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