The Toronto Public Library Workers Union (TPLWU) will tomorrow begin conducting a public information picket to warn of the hazards of "staffless libraries," an experimental project now being launched by the Toronto Public Library (TPL) Board at two branches, Todmorden Room in the east end and Swansea Memorial in the west end.
TPL is adding several additional open hours to these branches when they would be otherwise closed under current schedules. During these additional hours, there will be no library staff on-site to assist or come to the aid of patrons.
TPL management intends to conduct the experiment for one year to determine public acceptance before deciding whether to expand the staffless concept to other branches. There are 100 branches in the TPL system, one of the world's largest and busiest.
Access to these staffless branches will be restricted to patrons 18 or older who must pre-register and indemnify TPL before being granted permission to enter them.
Patrons must sign away their legal rights in order to use a staffless library branch
In order to use the library during staffless hours, patrons must agree in writing that the library and the City of Torontowill not be responsible for any damages or injuries that may happen to them while they are in a branch with no staff. The registration form for entry to such branches reads:
"I release the Toronto Public Library Board, the City of Toronto and all their respective employees, officials and representatives from all claims in respect of injury, loss or damage to me, any children accompanying me, or my property, arising due to my attendance at the library branch during extended hours."
The union says that this "We're not liable for anything" clause in the registration agreement is a warning to patrons that they have no rights that they would otherwise have if there were actually staff in that branch. In fact, you have more rights walking outside to the branch than you do by being inside it.
"There is no other city service that requires you to sign away all your rights to hold the City accountable for injury or similar claims," says Brendan Haley, President of the union, "even if the injury happened because of the library's negligence or failure to provide enough security. This is very disturbing and we will advise City Council to look closely at this attempt to deprive patrons of legal rights they would otherwise have."
The initial union information picket will be held between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. tomorrow, Monday, December 3 at two locations: East York Community Centre, 1081-1/2 Pape Ave, (Todmorden Room is adjacent to the Centre), and at the S. Walter Stewart branch, 170 Memorial Park Avenue (the registration site for Todmorden Room).
"This staffless concept is a truly terrible idea for several reasons but the most important is the issue of public safety," says Haley. "If a patron is being harassed during these staffless hours, there will be no one there to come to their aid. Security cameras are to be monitored by a single security guard who will be located at the Toronto Reference Library at Yonge and Bloor. Good luck with the response time."
"To make matters worse, these video cameras will only monitor video, not audio," Haley added. "How are we to monitor verbal abuse and harassment within these branches?"
"It is unbelievably irresponsible, in a city of three million people, to have no staff presence in public spaces used mainly by individuals. And the idea that an access card available to virtually any Toronto resident 18 or older constitutes "security" would be laughable if not so serious."
"The union has not been consulted 'even for a few minutes' on the potential problems with this experiment. Our warnings are falling on the deaf ears of TPL management."
Haley says the union will be reaching out to the public and City Council in various ways throughout the experiment.
"More access to one of the world's great library systems is a very good idea. Doing so without professional, reliable and trained staff to assist and protect patrons and library assets is definitely not a good idea."
MEDIA ACCESS and INTERVIEWS
TPLWU President Brendan Haley will be available for interviews on Monday at the following locations and times:
10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.
East York Community Centre
1081-1/2 Pape Ave
(Todmorden Room is inside the Community Centre)
12:30 p.m. - 2:00 p.m.
S. Walter Stewart Branch
170 Memorial Park Avenue
(Registration site for Todmorden Room)
SOURCE Toronto Public Library Workers Union - CUPE Local 4948
For further information: Brendan Haley, 647.217.8372