Grey studies county library 0
Grey County has begun writing the first chapter for a possible countywide library system.
On Tuesday, county council approved a study into how such a system could work and how much it might cost.
The study is to be completed before the next budget is approved in the spring.
Grey is the only one of its neighbours without a countywide library system. There are several library buildings in Grey County, including in Owen Sound, Meaford, Thornbury, Durham, Hanover, Markdale, Kimberley, Flesherton and Dundalk, as well as in some smaller hamlets like Neustadt and Elmwood.
Municipalities have their own library use agreements.
For county finance chairman and West Grey Mayor Kevin Eccles, who is spearheading the process, the biggest issue is access.
He thinks any Grey County resident should be able to walk into a library at the other end of the county and use its services.
"My biggest thing is to be able to get Joe Smith or Mary Jones access to a library wherever in Grey County, if they're a Grey County resident."
Eccles said it's as close as Grey has come in the last 10 years to reaching a countywide agreement, and there are different models to choose from. "There's all kinds of them out there. Let's find one that works and would fit best for Grey County."
Meaford is eagerly awaiting the next step in the process. The municipality needs a new library, which is expected to cost $3 to 4 million, and has so far failed to get federal and provincial help.
Mayor Francis Richardson told county council he's "delighted" a countywide system is "finally getting moved a little further ahead."
Eccles said in some countywide library models, the county is responsible for housing libraries and the costs associated with that.
Chatsworth Mayor Bob Pringle said his municipality pays about $150,000 annually for its three library agreements.
He called it a "soft service" that's "always a hard sell at budget time."
He wondered if a countywide system would save money, suggesting there might be a need for only one chief librarian instead of one at each library.
Owen Sound Mayor Deb Haswell isn't sure how a countywide system might impact the Owen Sound library. She's in favour of the study, but cautioned there may be funding differences from the province for countywide systems versus individual libraries.
She said she will be talking to Owen Sound's chief librarian about possible implications for Owen Sound. She noted libraries all over North America right now are changing because of the digital era.
"It is an information age that we're in, so libraries are increasingly important and free access to libraries will continue to be important."
Eccles acknowledged that some communities might fear their library would close under a larger umbrella.
"But taxpayers have to recognize, do we keep spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a library that's only open 10 hours a week, or do we spend $50,000 on a library that's open 40 hours a week," he said. "It may not be a kilometre away, it might be four kilometres away, but we certainly spend an awful lot of money upgrading county roads and whatnot to be able to get from one place to another."
However, Eccles said it is far too soon to talk about closing libraries, and it might not even come up as an option.
"There's no sense in trying to jump over a river we never need to cross."