Representatives of 12 public libraries from Renfrew County met at the Pembroke Public Library recently to discuss the recent cut in funding to Southern Ontario Library Services (SOLS) and Ontario Library Services (OLS) North, organizations that provide services for public libraries.In April of this year, the provincial government announced that the SOLS budget was to be cut by 50 per cent resulting in the decision to terminate the inter-library loan delivery service, among other programs and services. These cuts have been a controversial issue causing staff, board, patrons, and supporters of Ontario public libraries much concern, particularly those of rural libraries.John Yakabuski, member of provincial parliament for Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke, as well as Mayor James Brose of North Algona Wilberforce, sat down in Pembroke with all 24 representatives from these libraries who wished to voice their concerns.Judy Sauve, chairwoman of the Bonnechere Union Public Library Board began the meeting by expressing how everyone present was there because of their love and appreciation for their libraries. Presentations were arranged by library representatives to express this appreciation and stress their concerns about service limitations provided for public libraries in Ontario.The relevance of libraries in our digital age was stated in the lively speech of Jenna Schison, president of the Youth Advisory Council for Bonnechere Union Public Library. Schison’s speech, which was a recent winner in the Royal Canadian Legion Public Speaking contests, drove home the importance of libraries as community connection points in an age where technology has often left people socially isolated. This youth advocate has given this moving speech at libraries, council meetings, and events throughout the county. Her passion and enthusiasm for literacy, her library, and her community displayed in itself the powerful impact that public libraries can have on youth.Following Schison was Karen DeLuca, chief librarian of Arnprior Public Library, who spoke in practical, mathematical terms of the usage of their library, the services they offer, and the money saved by using inter-library loan for resource sharing. She spoke also of how the public library serves to fill the gap between other community resources created by other budget cuts. By accessing items from inter-library loan, patrons are able to utilize far more than their individual library could ever afford. DeLuca shared how Arnprior Public Library saved $63,000 in resources in 2018 alone by using the inter-library loan service. She also shared the statistic that 95 per cent of resources requested for inter-library loan are not available in e-resources. When you take away inter-library loan, you take away the ability of the library to provide those resources to their patrons, she explained. In conclusion, DeLuca urged that there be a return on the investment that libraries provide for the public.Karen Filipkowski, CEO of Madawaska Valley Public Library, gave the viewpoint from the perspective of a small community library.“These cuts have a trickle-down effect to other services,” she said.She spoke of the steady erosion of library funding and how budgets are a constant struggle, especially when you have a smaller library. Madawaska Valley Public Library was already operating under a lean budget when the SOLS cut came, even to the point of having library board members and volunteers utilized to fill in the staffing gaps.“There comes a point when you can’t cut any further.”Filipkowski recognized that the intention of this budget cut was not to specifically shut down inter-library loan, but for their library, it leaves them no choice. The newly reinstated system of inter-library loan, which uses Canada Post to deliver items, is not an option for their library given financial constraints. She entreated that in the future recognition be given of the fact that funding for public libraries is tight.Sauve spoke specifically on the benefit of living in rural communities because of libraries and inter-library loan.“The service kept you connected to other libraries and resources so that you didn’t have to feel isolated living in a rural community. With this budget cut, a void in accessibility will be left,” she said.Sauve concluded by saying that libraries are the cultural and social hub of their communities and that libraries are very concerned that tight budgets will require sacrificing other valuable programs and services in order to support the new costs for an inter-library loan service.Last to speak was Chantelle Leslie-Leach, a board member of the Pembroke Public Library, and the person responsible for organizing the meeting itself. Her impassioned speech was from yet another perspective, the perspective of a local business owner and taxpayer.She shared of how the public library served as a resource to her upon moving to the area without any available jobs in her field of study.“It was the library that I turned to for resources to find other employment. Now that I am settled here, my entire family ranging in ages from one to 98, uses the library,” Leslie-Leach said.Given her experience as an avid user of libraries and a board member for Pembroke Public Library, Leslie-Leach observed the efficiency of libraries.“Libraries are not frivolous,” she stated explaining how other public services are not expected to operate under such skeletal budgets. In closing, she said libraries should be looked upon as “northern stars” in the community, and that harming the soul of rural Ontario was not the way to improve the lives of Ontarians. She implored that government fight for rural Ontarians and reinstate the funding to SOLS and OLS North.After the presentations Yakabuski addressed the group. He thanked the speakers and said that there was clearly a lot of passion [for libraries] in the room. He offered clarity on the funding situation of libraries. He stated that for the most part, they are funded municipally, not provincially. This dates back to the 1996 change in the operation of libraries and other public services, which decided that such things would be municipally owned and funded. He frankly and openly spoke of how, unfortunately, he did not expect there to be any change this year in funding for library services.Before closing, the two main expressions of the attendees were that public libraries in Renfrew County are very much vital and active, and an appeal was made for further advocacy for libraries in both government and public situations.Yakabuski noted that one of the “silver linings” of this unfortunate circumstance, was the powerful public outcry of advocacy for public libraries.