Loading articles...

Staff-less public library pilot project raising concerns about safety

Last Updated Mar 18, 2017 at 11:03 pm EDT

Millions of people walk into Toronto public libraries each year. The majority have a safe, educational experience.

But recent disturbing, and at times, violent incidents at multiple libraries in the city has the union sounding the alarm for increased security.

However, CityNews has learned a staff-less public library pilot project is coming to Toronto and that has raised even more questions and concerns.

“We have huge concerns, not only for the delivery of the library services, but obviously the major concern is safety,” said Maureen O’Reilly, the president of the Toronto Public Libraries Union.

This past week, a nine year old boy at Parkdale library was approached by a man and asked several inappropriate questions. Police arrested Ryan McFarlane, 38, and charged him with failing to comply with probation.

Back on February 1st, a man was stabbed inside the Toronto Reference Library.

On February 28th, a woman who was eight months pregnant and another man were both assaulted inside Fairview Public Library.

The union says since 2015, violent incidents in the library have risen by 29 per cent.

In that same length of time, librarian staffing levels have dropped 20 per cent and hundreds of thousands of dollars have been slashed from the security budget.

And the staff-less pilot project that is scheduled for two Toronto libraries this year will serve to bring those numbers even lower.

Under the pilot project, people will be able to enter the library using a swipe card system, likely tied to a library card. Once inside, O’Reilly says, it will be an “empty building” equipped only with security cameras.

O’Reilley says a library without security and without librarians isn’t a library.

“Technology can’t replace staff on the ground with their eyes and ears,” she says. “Having security cameras is not going to be acceptable.”

The two Toronto libraries scheduled for the staff-less pilot project are Swansea Memorial Public Library in Bloor West Village and the other is Todmorden Public Library on Pape Avenue in the east end.