Changes to Interlibrary Loan Services in Ontario

Details and Frontline Impact for Public Libraries and Patrons 

As many of you are now aware, SOLS and OLS-North recently announced a resumption of interlibrary loan services in Ontario following extensive discussion with the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport.

As outlined in an earlier update, this year’s Ontario budget maintains provincial operating funding for public libraries at existing levels. The Federation of Ontario Public Libraries appreciates the Ontario government’s commitment to maintaining this investment in local public libraries and its recognition of the essential role they play in communities across the province. Our collective efforts to engage with local MPPs and educate them about the enormous contributions public libraries deliver to the people of our communities was invaluable in demonstrating the need to protect what matters most amidst the government’s fiscal mandate.

However, the Ontario budget also included reductions to SOLS and OLS-North’s 2019/2020 budget allocations. FOPL, alongside the Ontario Library Association, worked tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that Minister Tibollo, his office and our counterparts at the Ministry were aware of the frontline impacts that these reductions would have across Ontario, particularly outside major urban centres.

The voice in support of libraries was heard across the province. We are encouraged that the province re-engaged with SOLS and OLS-N to ensure that critical, frontline library services would continue.

However, the funding reductions to Ontario’s library services agencies have not changed, and with the reduced SOLS and OLS-N budgets we can expect that public libraries will have less access to important, cost-effective, centralized library services they depend on. We will continue to keep you informed as SOLS and OLS-North adjust their operations.

Although interlibrary loan services are resuming, SOLS is shifting to a different model that relies upon the Canada Post library materials postage rate, with a partial provincial subsidy that is roughly equivalent to the approach used by OLS-North to serve northern libraries. In addition to this subsidy, SOLS and OLS-North will also maintain the software service.

This change puts Ontario out of step with other Canadian provinces, most of which fully subsidize interlibrary loan in recognition of the important role it plays in ensuring equity of access and cost-effectiveness for public libraries in small, rural, remote and Indigenous communities.

It is accurate to characterize the resumption of interlibrary loan as a partial restoration. Here are the facts:

  • By moving to the Canada Post library materials rate model, public libraries now:
    • Will have to manage the interlibrary loan workload with the same staff, since they now must weigh, measure, and package each loan separately, use two different unconnected systems, and in some circumstances, deliver the loan to the local post office.
    • Incur the costs of packaging, stamps, etc. in anticipation of receiving a partial subsidy at the end of the year.
    • As interlibrary loan is required by legislation to be at no charge to patrons, there is no opportunity to offset these additional costs without using additional funds (such as from collections).
  • In 2017, the 441,683 interlibrary loans in Ontario would have cost $940,484 at the 2017 postage rates.
    • With special contracts, SOLS was able to do this cost effectively.
    • The proposed new subsidy is capped at $340,000 in southern Ontario and $21,000 in Northern Ontario.
    • Thus, the partial provincial subsidy for the postage rate would amount to approximately 40% of the full cost of fulfilling these interlibrary loans.
  • Municipal budgets are already set and approved. As this change came mid-fiscal year, it must be accommodated with the current limited budgets and staff.

We anticipate that most public libraries will need to carefully manage inter-library loan requests, which will have an impact on the number that can be fulfilled, both for individual patrons and the library as a whole. People will no longer be able to rely on the robust interlibrary loan services they have enjoyed for decades.

FOPL is committed to continuing its active dialogue with the Minister and Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport to encourage the government to consider investments that will ensure that Ontario’s small town, county, indigenous, francophone, northern, rural and remote library users have the equitable access they need.

On a personal note, it has been helpful to receive the first-hand experiences that many of you have shared about the impact of interlibrary loan in your communities. We’ve heard from students, book clubs, entrepreneurs, business owners, researchers, and residents everywhere in Ontario. Perhaps none have so effectively demonstrated how this foundational service has the power to change lives as this experience shared by Sheri Mishibinijima at Wikwemikong First Nation Public Library, which I’m proud to share:

I had the pleasure of assisting a concerned parent of a Grade 2 student. The student was not reading at the grade level. This parent comes to the library for assistance, and the library did not have the leveled reading books on shelf. We suggested Interlibrary Loan and the parent says “what is that?” We explained that this is a free service where the library borrows from another lending library at no cost to the First Nation library nor parent. In the end, the student received an abundance of books to assist with the jump start to their reading level. In the end, this one student received 15 books from 15 libraries north and south that assisted her in reading! If this service is not available, and recognizing the book budget that the First Nations do not have, this is going to be a sad case for children who will not be able to meet the expectation of reading level at any grade.”