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Two Toronto public libraries plan extended hours without staff

The library workers' union has voiced serious concerns over the year-long pilot project that will start in fall 2017.

Self-service check-out is one feature of a planned library pilot program for extended hours without staff.

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Self-service check-out is one feature of a planned library pilot program for extended hours without staff.

The Toronto Public Library plans to keep two branches open late without any staff, an idea that’s alarmed the library workers’ union.

The library will extend services — such as hold pick-ups, book borrowing, book returns and access to computers — at both the Swansea Memorial and Todmorden Room locations in fall 2017, said Moe Hosseini-Ara, director of branch operations and customer experience.

Hosseini-Ara likens the pilot program, which will run for one year, to a fitness centre open 24 hours without staff. People would be able to swipe in with their library cards.

“This is not to replace staff; this is just to expand hours,” he said.

Both locations have the shortest hours of any of the 100 library branches in the city.

They are located inside community centres, which would be open and staffed, he added, and librarians at other branches would be a phone call away. Security cameras would also be present.

Maureen O’Reilly, president of the Toronto Public Libraries Union, said she has serious concerns about the idea and doesn’t believe a library can really be a library without staff.

“This is no more than a cost-saving exercise where politicians and senior staff refuse to advocate strongly on behalf of the service,” she said.

She’s also worried about the safety of patrons without library staff around.

According to stats provided by the Toronto Public Library, violent incidents at the city’s library branches have been rising, from 105 in 2014 to 145 in 2016.

“We’re not saying our libraries are unsafe but we do operate in a large urban centre, and the reality is there’s going to be challenges,” said O’Reilly. “We need eyes and ears of library workers to respond to that.”

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