Corp Comm Connects

Mississauga library strike hitting families hard
Mississauga families are being hit hard by a library strike when they have come to depend on local public libraries for more and more
July 14, 2016
San Grewal

In an era when local public libraries have evolved into one-stop centres for newcomer services, educational programming, seniors services and employment support, families in Mississauga, where a strike has shut down all 18 public libraries, are being hit hard.

“The closure really limits my options for programming and work space,” says Joyanne Howell, with her son outside the Burnhamthorpe Community Centre on a soupy Thursday afternoon. “Last summer my son was enrolled in the (TD) Summer Reading Club at the Burnhamthorpe Library around the corner. It’s been hard since school ended.”

Howell and her son often walk to the local library, where he also takes part in Lego building sessions, while she finds a quiet spot to work or uses the printer to help manage her home-based business. “Right now, the libraries have so many programs, they’ve become resource hubs for their communities. I really hope this closure ends soon.”

The city’s library director, Rose Vespa, confirmed the cancellation of all programs run from the libraries. “Programming is being cancelled on a week by week basis. To date, we’ve cancelled an average of 150 programs per week. We will provide refunds for paid programming when libraries reopen,” she said.

Striking CUPE Local 1989 members — about 390 library staff in the city — rejected an annual 1.5 per cent salary increase after they received 0.5 per cent increases in 2013 and 2014.

Union president and librarian Laura Kaminker acknowledged that the two-week-old strike is a huge blow to families.

“Our libraries are flooded with parents and students looking for resources to help them as public school libraries have been gutted by budget cuts.”

But she says that as libraries have been forced to take on more and more programming to make up for cuts in other public sectors, workers’ wages aren’t even close to keeping up with inflation.

“The services that we provide to the residents of Mississauga are not measured by the number of books that are checked out; we help newcomers with resumes, we have numerous services for seniors, we have safe spaces and programming for teens to gather and study, we have English language circles and all of our reading programs.

“These are not things you can Google. You need staff.”

Kaminker said last year 11,000 children in Mississauga were enrolled in the summer reading club. She said both sides in the negotiation are continuing a dialogue, but they are no closer to a deal from when the strike began last Monday.

Meanwhile, cancelled programs and services include reading groups, citizenship test preparation, job search support, science workshops and the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math-based) learning program.

Howell, who has had to find other alternatives for her son this summer, is counting on the strike to end soon. She says the few digital library services still being offered online aren’t much of a consolation.

“I’ve used ebooks. I like to check out physical books. But the library is so much more. It really is my community’s hub. I live so close. But, when it’s closed, what can you do. I am hoping (the strike) ends soon.”