Ottawa Library Board Meeting – A New Perspective

Caroline Vandriel, a MLIS student from the University of Western Ontario on co-op in Ottawa, attended last week's Ottawa Public Library Board and shared these comments.

When asked by my supervisor to attend the Ottawa Library Board meeting held on June 28 at City Hall and take copious notes, I had to struggle to keep my eyes from rolling backward into my head. My experience with board meetings in the past were either drones in suits, in dusky, cigarette stale rooms, mumbling endlessly through endless agendas, or else vituperative, mud-slinging fests that achieved nothing aside from negative recognition of a variety of frustrated speakers. My experience in the Honeywell Room changed that. The name of the room itself should have clued me in to the fact that human decency in deliberation does still exist in some parts of the planet.

The meeting was conducted professionally. Reports had been reviewed in advance, so that there was little need for presentations. Members were prepared and madam chairperson breezed through the agenda. Yet I was not made to feel that decisions were made lightly or points were overlooked. Obviously a lot of time and preparation went into the meeting, and the results were thought-provoking comments and discussion.

While there was an air of formality, personalities were not suppressed; there was a sense of congeniality, that the members actually liked and respected each other. I became aware that perhaps my cynicism was misguided, and my respect and faith in the humanity of others was renewed. I enjoyed the meeting. Perhaps this shows that I’m growing up, at last, or maybe that I was in the presence of an admirable group of individuals who could put aside their own personalities for the sake of something they all believed in: libraries.

Plus, they had very yummy cookies!


Meeting Highlights:

Building Report

Due to an in camera session, the consultant did not arrive until after the report was presented and approved in principle. He spoke for three minutes at the end of the meeting to update the board on where the planning process was. Archives and library were at the same place in the process. They were looking at 17 physical components for the library and 6 for the archives. Ideal site selection criteria had been developed with the emphasis on ideal, realising that not all criteria could not be met. The next step was to begin a functional modeling exercise with Plexiglas models of the components to design floor levels and adjacencies, to show efficiencies and synergy of collocation of components. Once this exercise was complete, the optimal site criteria would be revisited, sites would be listed and recommended, before going back to detailed planning. The consultant commended the board for its efficiency and organization.

In the main portion of the report, an archivist, Mr. Reed, spoke as an individual, rather than representing the archives. He complimented the centralization of some items, but not downtown. He commented on the need for the library system to reflect the urban sprawl of Ottawa. He then talked of the collocation of items in the library. If there can be a children’s hospital, why not a children’s library? Why should fiction and non-fiction be housed together? He did not say that they shouldn’t, just that the report had not given sufficient reasoning as to why they should. He asked the board to avoid certain assumptions, and at least document the consideration of variations in collocation. A board member defended collocation for families with different needs, and Mr. Reed was thanked for his thoughts and contribution.

Trustee Sweet than spoke of how they realised that it was impossible to meet all of the optimum site criteria, and expected compromise and change along the process.

The report was approved in principle, and commended by Jan Harder as being “Excellent work!”


The discussion on the bookmobile took up most of the time of the meeting. Councillor DeRoche spoke on the success of the bookmobile and how it was on target. Growing wards would required a bookmobile stop; South Nepean was mentioned. The Ruthie Dickinson branch was limited in serving the growing area. South Gloucester was well served, its circulation having doubled; its circumstances similar to those of South Nepean. Greensboro was well served with its new branch, which led to changes being made in the bookmobile stops. DeRoche stated that the library board’s policies created expectations in the community, and that there was hope for a branch in South Nepean.

Jan Harper remarked on the bookmobile stop which served in the park between the Farley Mowat school and a catholic school.

Richard Stark (OPL Manager of Access, Outreach and Volunteer Services) then spoke on the report, how it made recommendations to close four stops due to drops in circulation below acceptable levels. There had been requests for new locations in Longfields and Davidson Heights, where sites were being looked into (preferable sites where electricity could be tapped into to spare the use of the generator). The changes were suggested to begin September 4.

Jan Harder corrected some geographical information in the report, and questions were raised regarding other aspects of the report. There was some concern expressed that the report had been circulated before it was received by the board, as the board had received complaints from two councilmen. This raised further questions that if there were complaints, the process should be slowed to allow for other complaints to be registered for community discussion. One trustee was particularly adamant regarding this point. Questions concerning school requests, communications plan, and the bilingual presentation of the report were also raised and dealt with. Trustee Bellemare continued to ask about the marketing plan and communicating with the communities involved. He also wanted to know if research had been done into why circulation had dropped rather than assumptions made. He also raised the issue of seniors needed the bookmobile in the areas where service was being discontinued, but Chair Harder argued that the statistics of usage indicated sufficient reason for the drop and that seniors could be better and more cheaply served by the in-home service available to house-bound individuals.

Another point was raised regarding criteria for choosing a site. Mr. Stark reviewed this for the board and the trustee who raised the issue was advised to make an official request for a stop.

There was a motion to accept, seconded, with one dissent.


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