Trudee Romanek's deputation to Council on January 31 was cut off before she could finish – we invited her to submit it here so the public could read all she had to say.
Submitted by Trudee Romanek
Good evening, Mayor Nuttall and Council. I am here in response to an amendment last week to the 2024 Business Plan and Budget that would remove $78,000 from the budget of the Barrie Public Library Board.
My history as a BPL patron goes back more than fifty years, to treasured Saturday mornings in the Carnegie Building, hanging on Miss Brown’s every word during storytime. Flash forward to the 1990s when I took my own three young children to the new library once a week to discover and read tons of books, especially those recommended by wise librarians like Jane Salmon. They absolutely LOVED those trips downtown, and all three became avid readers. No surprise when they all joined their school team for Battle of the Books, a book-based trivia tournament encouraging reading, organized by the library. Back then, the final competition took place in these very chambers, something that proved to our kids that, to Barrie City Council, books and libraries mattered.
Tonight, I want to make sure they STILL matter to you; because the library is also integral to my livelihood. I’m the author of more than a dozen traditionally published fiction and non-fiction books for kids and young adults. A number of those have won awards or been translated into Dutch, simple and complex Chinese characters, Indonesian, Arabic, and Korean. I wrote them while living here in Barrie, primarily accessing research material either at our library itself or through its interlibrary loan program, which allows me to order resources from far-flung cities. Other writers depend on the library too.
These days I’m also a playwright. I wrote the play Bobbie that Theatre by the Bay produced last year and for which council kindly declared August 23 Bobbie Rosenfeld Day. I can’t tell you how many dozens of times I accessed the library’s newspaper archives in creating that play. Theatre by the Bay’s mandate is to explore our city’s past—impossible to do without local resources. The company’s 2023 thriller Icemen depended on local historical research, as did their virtual-reality walking tour Ghost Watchers in 2020 which received the Mayor’s Innovation Award for Creative Collaboration. And as artistic director Iain Moggach reminded me, Theatre by the Bay also runs its Barrie Theatre Lab within the library. During the Lab’s five years there, we’ve workshopped more than one hundred new plays by writers of all demographics.
I’m currently working on a play about Charlie O’Connor, a former Barrie shoe salesman whose Berczy-street shop and rapid-fire speech were familiar to everyone, but whose complex, tragic history is still unknown to most. My life is consumed by and entwined in Barrie’s history. My relatives have lived here since 1844. I’m related to Emma King, after whom the school was named, and the manager of the Barrie Opera House was my great-great-uncle. By helping me learn the real stories behind the rumours, the library allows me to link Barrie’s past truth to its present, and future. It lets me recognize this city’s unsung heroes.
Recently, in speaking with Mary Harris of the Barrie Historical Archive, I was sad to learn that almost the entire “local history” section of the downtown library has been donated to the Simcoe County Archives, including her beloved, and invaluable Vernon Directories.
Now, the archive is a wonderful facility responsible for the historical holdings of the entire county, but it’s situated more than 5 km beyond our northern-most transit stop. This means Barrie’s history is no longer accessible to all its citizens. When pressed, library staff told me these aging and irreplaceable materials had been donated due to the library’s inability to properly store and adequately preserve them. And to me, that suggests tightened purse strings and shrinking budgets.
I outline these things to remind us all that maintaining a healthy library collection is a costly process that involves much more than renewing magazine subscriptions and purchasing some books. It requires maintaining and caring for existing holdings, funding interlibrary loan services, training staff to be knowledgeable about the collection, and much more.
On Monday I spoke to writer friends in Toronto, a city whose library system is still in complete disarray due to a major computer hacking problem. Theirs is a cautionary reminder not to take our treasure trove of knowledge for granted. It warns us not to force the library board to choose to fund one essential program at the expense of another that’s equally essential. Because in this world of so many transient things, the permanence of a library’s holdings keeps a city grounded in its history and learning from its past.
So I urge you to approve the library’s full original budget request.
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