Less Vanity, More Information


When it comes to the ever-changing aquatics centre proposal, it’s not clear which is worse; a city councillor telling residents to “stuff a sock in it” and other politically motivated attacks or waxing poetic ad naseum with terms including “world-class.” 

But one thing is clear, no one seems to have a clue about anything when it comes to the latest library plans – it’s all been done in-camera – and that is what is the most troubling.

Perhaps Councillor Maghnieh is seeking the Pullitzer Prize in fiction but his latest vanity blog had me reaching for a Nebuchadnezzar of Pepto Bismol given the lack of information to date.

Last April Al Maghnieh condemned former library board chair Andrew McAvoy for organising a meeting with residents and claiming the new library would be half the size and could result in staff cuts (Dalsen Chen, Windsor Star, April 28, 2011).   One week later  Councillor Halberstadt stated, “”McAvoy is right on. If there is going to be any real savings it will come out of the hides of staff” (Dalsen Chen, Windsor Star, May 6, 2011).

Six months later Chris Vander Doelen wrote, “the city will end up saving “a minimum” of $150,000 on shared operating costs between the library and the gallery, possibly triple that amount when staff efficiencies are found and the rent income from the old main library is counted” (Chris Vander Doelen, Windsor Star, November 18, 2011).

Call me whatever type of coffee you want, but reducing “operating costs” through “staff efficiencies”  can only mean one thing unless Councillor Maghnieh would like to slam the Star columnist for “baseless accusations.” 

Now the media starved councillor is attempting to justify this scaling down of the Central Library writing, “I see smaller libraries. Environmentally friendly libraries. Libraries incorporating the latest technology. Libraries where customers can visit with their portable electronic devices – to download material, connect to material, conduct business or simply relax.”

In addition to suffering from amnesia, perhaps the Councillor should seek the services of a good optometrist because according the Library’s strategic plan from 2010, most of the services proposed today came as a result of the previous library board and seem to contradict his vision.

Although the library can be bustling, with every chair, every computer and corner of the library filled, and people reading in every corner, the number of materials being taken home sometimes does not reflect this activity. Groups of students often gather – sometimes working jointly on a project but most times just relaxing together. Fireplaces and comfortable chairs are the norm in new libraries and every attempt is made to merchandise and imitate the bookstore environment that includes cafés. The library provides a welcoming and familiar place to gather and use resources for creative recreation.

The new public policy environment, supporting accessibility and green, environmentally friendly public buildings, is increasing costs for municipalities.

 The city’s library system could also experience a space shortage of approximately 10,000 square feet by 2016 and 36,000 square feet by 2031 (p. 67).   Branches are “significantly smaller than the average branch…and…As the trend towards larger and more inclusive libraries continues, it will be important to ensure that all library branches are large enough to accommodate books, study rooms, computer areas and program space…” (p. 75)

Al Maghnieh’s solution essentially creates a service deficit in our neighbourhoods, while claiming the move to the Art Gallery of Windsor will attract over 1-million patrons – sure if you take all the patrons from the entire library system and cram them into 35,000 square feet.   Amateur economist indeed.

According to the plan there was a total of 913,850 visits with 104,448 users  for the entire system in 2008 (p. 42).  The Central Branch had a total of 515,000 visits or approximately 59,000 users based upon 8.7 visits per user.

In contrast, the City of Victoria has plans to increase the size of their main branch by over 10,000 square feet:

Downtown Victoria’s public library will one day grow to nearly 46,000 sq. ft. from it’s current size of 32,025 sq. ft., according to the Greater Victoria Public Library’s (GVPL) new facilities plan that will guide library operations over the next 15 years (Mike Kosakowski, Vibrant Victoria, January 31, 2010).

If that isn’t enough to give one pause, the Mayor’s fuzzy math is another.

As my colleague pointed out, the Mayor’s claim the Art Gallery “costs about $600,000 to operate and maintain the art gallery building” (Doug Schmidt and Anne Jarvis, Windsor Star, November 18, 2011)  appears to be misleading.  In 2004, the Windsor Star reported the heat and humidity system alone cost “$605,000 to run in 2003”  with the former director suggesting to operate the gallery properly would cost “$3-million”  (Craig Pearson Windsor Star 02-12-2004).   Where are the savings exactly?

And while technology is exciting, it is also expensive.  The London Free Press reports:

The library buys the rights to e-books from an American company, Overdrive, which provides them to libraries across the continent.  While e-books are often cheaper than real books for consumers at sites such as Amazon, there is no discount for libraries.

“Unfortunately, it’s not cheaper,” Dundas said (Jonathan Sher, The London Free Press, June 21, 2010).

And there is a reason for this. 

According to an email sent by Overdrive , “every new eBook licensed, the library…will make the eBook available to one customer at a time until the total number of permitted checkouts is reached.”

Additionally, Overdrive suggests having oversight of a library’s policy writing, “publishing partners have expressed concerns regarding the card issuance policies and qualification of patrons who have access to OverDrive supplied digital content. Addressing these concerns will require OverDrive and our library partners to cooperate to honor geographic and territorial rights for digital book lending, as well as to review and audit policies regarding an eBook borrower’s relationship to the library…”

Of course these are not obstacles, but decisions are being made without the involvement of the public.   Sure, these “in-camera” decisions will come before council, but that largely has become nothing more than an orchestrated show for television – the decision has already been made.

So Councillor Maghnieh should spare taxpayers the melodrama, spin, poetic waxings and sock stuffing and present a solid business case with all the information so that an informed decision can be made by all. 

In other words, the councillor should spend less time proclaiming his greatness and more time doing the job he was elected to do.

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1 Comment on "Less Vanity, More Information"

  1. Chris we all know that the mayor and council only tell us part of the story including costs we seen that on the WFCU project smoke and mirrors. What bothers me the most is that the council that we elected to protect the taxpayers have not stood up to the mayor to stop this white elephant Aquatic Centre. The Occupy Windsor should be protesting the wasteful money that our city is spending on the mayor’s hair brain ideas. The city costs are going up the unemployment is at two digits and people are leaving the city for jobs. The mayor and council think that it is a good idea to spend money we do not have to spare on a sure to fail project.

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