Nearly every day I am reminded that we, Cote Saint-Luc residents, are so fortunate to live in one of the best cities. The drive to maintain this stature and to constantly strive to make improvements, large and small, is a primary focus of the City Council and Administration. Afterall, a responsible administration should be motivated by continuous quality improvement in order to provide excellent services and experiences to its citizenry. It should engage in management techniques to ensure that taxpayers are receiving a strong return on their investment. These dividends are paid out in recreational, leisure, sports and cultural offerings – baseball fields, tennis courts, arenas, pools, parks and libraries. It is the first responder that rushes to your home when someone falls ill. It is a smooth and clean street, it’s the employee who picks up your garbage and recycling and it’s efficient snow removal. It is the full civic gamut of facilities, infrastructure, services and personnel.
We live in a society with finite resources. We make choices every day as to where to allocate our limited funds. It would be easy to wave a magic wand and spend like there’s no tomorrow, currying favour with each interest group: the baseball players, the swimmers, the skaters, those who stroll in the park, those who never recycle or compost and much prefer twice-a-week garbage pickup, the kid next door who’d rather leave his car in front of your house all night long and the library patron who’d like the facility to stay open late every night even though very few others may be around at those hours.
These idealistic exaggerations are very real. City Councils are faced with such decisions daily: how to please most constituents, most of the time, at the lowest cost possible? And such is the reality in Cote Saint-Luc departments and programs, including the Public Library. Traditionally open twelve hours each and every day of the year this gem of an institution cost taxpayers nearly three million dollars in 2015. Faced with the reality of administering a $67 million municipal budget, the need to protect our aging infrastructure, respecting the elderly homeowner living on a fixed budget with diminishing personal investments and the annual exercise to keep any tax increase in line with the rate of inflation, all directors are tasked with reviewing each budget line.
In preparing for the 2016 budget for our city the library came up with about $250,000 in compressions. Half of this, about $125,000, is directly attributed to shortening the hours of operation during very quiet periods on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. Our counts show that as few as 10-15 patrons are typically present in the later hours. Therefore, we agreed to close at 6:00 p.m. on the weekend. The unfortunate reality is that such decisions also affect employees, in this case 10 on-call auxiliary staff.
The library continues to stay open to 10:00 p.m. on all other nights, longer hours than all other public libraries on the Island of Montreal. We stay open throughout the holidays when many others close completely. We are literally open 24 hours a day with our virtual library of downloadable books and magazines. Our Library Lounge at the Aquatic and Community Centre will remain open seven days a week from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. most nights, as a place to read and relax, to pick up and drop off a book for free.
As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of this incredible public library, I am reminded of my many visits to its original location upstairs at the Cote Saint-Luc Shopping Centre and to hundreds of other visits through the years. It is a place that has and will continue to make Cote Saint-Luc the envy of many other residents across the region and still is an oasis for its thousands of patrons.
Glenn J. Nashen
Readers incensed over reduced library hours (Montreal Gazette, Dec. 24, 2015))
For decades, Côte-St-Luc’s public library has been the envy of Montreal residents because of its numerous services and famously long opening hours — its doors are open 365 days of the year, 12 hours a day from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., with the exception of holidays when the opening hours are shortened. It is free of charge to Côte-St-Luc residents.
ALLEN MCINNIS/MONTREAL GAZETTEThe Eleanor London Library is “a sanctuary from the madness of the streets,” one supporter wrote.But starting Jan. 5, the municipality has decided to close the library at 6 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, saying few people use it then and the city needs to trim its budgets to offset escalating costs.
The changes are not going over well with some in the community who fear it will lead to further cuts. The outcry there echoes dissatisfaction voiced elsewhere in Montreal about limited library hours, particularly during the holidays.
“To its patrons (the Eleanor London Library) was, and is, far more than a library,” wrote Côte-St-Luc resident Sharon Zajdman in an open letter to the community. “It is an oasis and a sanctuary from the madness of the streets. For those with nowhere to go and no family to be with, especially at holiday time, the library is a lifeline.”
In several Montreal boroughs, municipal libraries are closed for the majority of the holidays, starting Dec. 24 and running until Jan. 2. All four libraries of the city’s most populous borough, Côte-desNeiges — Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, home to 165,000 residents, will be closed for eight of 10 days during the holidays, shutting from Dec. 24 to 28 and again from Dec. 30 to Jan. 2.
“This is a time of year when children and their parents can take full advantage of our public community libraries,” a borough resident who asked not to be named wrote in a letter to the Montreal Gazette. “Libraries also provide a valuable community resource open for the elderly and isolated adults who don’t have a family to share the holidays with.”
The borough has closed its libraries for most of the holidays for the last few years to allow staff time off during a period when the libraries are less utilized, said Sophie Paquet, a communications officer for the borough. She suggested there are other city-run resources, like the Biodôme and the planetarium open during the holidays, for citizens to use.
Cutting evening hours at CôteSt-Luc’s library will save the municipality $125,000 a year, by reducing the work hours of 10 on-call auxiliary workers, interim mayor Glenn J. Nashen said. In total, the city is looking at cutting $200,000 to $300,000 from the library budget, in part by laying off staff members in 2016.
“We are looking to trim our budgets wherever possible to keep our taxes in check,” without sacrificing services to citizens, Nashen said. “After 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, there are only about 10 people left in the library. I think there are still a lot of positives there. We are open more than virtually any library in Montreal, 365 days a year, and from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday.”
Nashen said he and his city councillors have received only six complaints about the reduced hours from citizens. With a limited tax base and limited resources, the city is looking at every department to find savings, he said.
Zajdman said the city should find others areas in which to cut costs, such as to its $18-million aquatic centre instead of a beloved cultural institution that will turn 50 in 2016.
“We get that you need to save money, but why here, where are your values,” she said.
“Don’t do it at the expense of our library. Don’t play with our money …
“You either rescue the library or you lose my vote.”
Côte-St-Luc is holding a byelection in early April to elect a new mayor to replace Anthony Housefather, who was elected as a member of Parliament for Mount Royal in the October federal election.
Online comment by Shirley Nadell:
The Eleanor London Library is a gem! If the City needs to save some funds to perpetuate the wonderful services it provides then that decision must be made.
Letters: Cutting CSL Library hours is fine (Montreal Gazette, Dec. 26, 2015)
Re: “Readers incensed over reduced library hours” (Montreal Gazette, Dec. 24)
I beg to disagree with those complaining about the reduced hours at Eleanor London Côte-St-Luc Public Library. The services we are getting at this library are beyond efficient — they are extraordinary — with a huge range of reading at one’s disposal.
I believe that keeping the doors open until 10 p.m. daily is unnecessary, as a significant percentage of the inhabitants of Côte-St-Luc are elderly and not given to gallivanting at night.
Daytime is perfectly sufficient, and yes, if that helps to cut costs, why not?
Selma Menezes, Côte-St-Luc
I am a Cote St. Luc resident and a patron of its library. This week I was shocked and dismayed to discover that, not only will hours during the upcoming holidays be truncated, but also, beginning January 5, evening hours for half the week will be permanently axed, and several services are being eliminated. When I inquired further, I learned that staff members have been “terminated” without warning—a week before Christmas. Their duties will be divided among library employees who have survived the purge, and will now have to work harder, while receiving less.
For many years this borough was blessed with a great mayor. His ambitions reached beyond this neighbourhood so, unselfishly, his constituents gave him what he wanted, and voted him into Parliament. That was two months ago. A good deed never goes unpunished. It appears we are now being led by a rudderless bunch of bean counters whose first official independent act has been to attack our library.
The Eleanor London Library is a 50-year-old institution that began life in an upstairs corner of the Cote St. Luc shopping center. It was called The Cote St. Luc Library, then. It was the visionary librarian Eleanor London who nurtured and steered a tiny establishment into a treasure chest of literature, film, music, and cultural programming. The Eleanor London Library developed into the envy of every other borough. It was open 12 hours a day, seven days of the week, for every single day of the year. To its patrons it was, and is, far more than a library. It is an oasis and a sanctuary from the madness of the streets. For those with nowhere to go and no family to be with, especially at holiday time, the library is a lifeline.
Ten years ago, when Montreal’s City Hall forced its boroughs to merge while simultaneously axing a $300,000 dollar grant to the Eleanor London, library patrons were offered a choice; accept truncated hours and lose programs, or accept new fees. Without hesitation nor resentment, patrons opted to pay out of pocket in order to keep the library open and running fully and full-time.
In the past five years, while library patrons continued to pay for what had once been subsidized, and library hours were cut on legal holidays anyway, a $22 million dollar state-of-the-art community and aquatic center was built, opened, and has been maintained.
Cote St. Luc is a financially comfortable neighbourhood. While the rest of this province descended into Comic Opera Land, there were still signs of intelligent life in this neighbourhood. They seem to be disappearing. Firing employees a week before Christmas is the act of a ruthless and brutal factory owner, not the action of a civilized suburban administration. Gouging the guts out of a cultural institution that has proven itself a beacon of light in the darkness is the act of philistines. A cultured community is a civilized community.
I ask Cote St. Luc residents who care about culture and the civility it represents to contact City Hall and make their voices heard. If fighting for our values cannot reverse this cynical decision, then I urge the community to purge City Hall in the same manner as City Hall has purged our library, and vote the current administration out of office.
I have just read the open letter from Sharon Zajdman and would take this opportunity to spell out a few facts of life for her.
The Cote Saint-Luc Library stands out among city libraries and it is supported almost entirely by taxpayers as a place to borrow and obtain books, records and films for use in our homes. And even after what I feel are minor changes, the Library is an example of a prime service.
Every so often, as is the case in most well-administered communities, services must be reviewed and updates implemented as necessary.
For those of us who use the library, and I take out an average of 3 books a week when in Cote Saint Luc, the cutting off of a few hours on week-ends, particularly in the evening when very few citizens but many staff could be found on hand, the decision to curtail some hours was no surprise. I would have thought it should have been done several years ago.
Ms. Zajdman feels that the library is for people with nowhere to go. That is not the object of a library. Regretably, there may be the odd person who has spent the week-end evening sitting around at the library, but at what cost?
Additionally, Ms. Zajdman errs when she refers to the A.C.C. as having cost $22 million when in fact the total was less than $17 million, of which the City paid only one-third.
If a person has nowhere to go on Saturday or Sunday evening, he/she could always go to the A.C.C. to sit around in the unattended library reading room there, or maybe catch swimmers or basketball players in action.
As for those who have been laid off, yes, it is unfortunate and the timing might not be the best, but they were temporary workers and had to know there was always the possibility that their positions would be eliminated.
I have made some inquiries and learned that the anticipated saving is about a quarter of a million dollars and that other necessary compressions have also taken place in other municipal government areas. Hopefully none should adversely affect the terrific public service rendered by Cote Saint-Luc’s managers, staff and elected officials.
At a time when many costs are rising and revenues are not necessarily keeping up with the times, even with some cuts, a mild increase in our property taxes had to be implemented.
Would Ms. Zajdman have preferred that all our residents pay more in their property taxes instead of acting responsibly as they did?