Recently I discovered that the Whitehorse Public Library has changed its hours – it’s now closing at 6 p.m. on Friday and Sunday, instead of staying open till 9 p.m. The drastic reduction - one-third of the evening hours previously scheduled - was described not as a cutback, but shifting the hours, with an earlier opening on Sunday. Rumour has it that the decision came out of some “foot traffic” counts, which apparently were too low on Friday and Sunday nights for somebody who counts things.
This is a very disappointing turn of events. First of all, if a traffic count calculated that Fridays are not particularly busy, that’s really surprising. Often I’ve seen how active the library is on Friday nights. Sunday nights should be a no-brainer - Sunday night hours are a fundamental part of the library schedule in most towns.
More to the point, foot traffic counts have no place in choosing the hours a library should be open, and that should go without saying. If traffic within any specific time frame was the deciding factor, we’d only have a part-time library, if we had one at all.
While I noted the value of the library as a community hub, it could have stayed in its location on Second Avenue and the waterfront developed more organically. Nevertheless, the rationale behind moving it was to exploit its attraction to a wide sector of the public in order to animate the waterfront - or so we were told, time and time again. The hours should be extended, if anything, in keeping with the intent. Many downtown businesses are doing their part by staying open into the evening.
There’s also the matter of the meeting rooms, which aren’t open yet at the new location, but were steadily booked previously by all kinds of community groups. This affects their availability as well. While it may not technically be a budget cutback - and I don’t know about that - it is a reduction in services.
Ten years ago or so, the Liberal government attempted to save some money by cutting back on library hours, and was quickly set straight by the community. At least it faced the public when it attempted that move. This decision appears to have been made in isolation, and presented as a done deal.
We are very fortunate in the quality of our library - no matter how it’s housed or where it’s located - and the staff remains as wonderful as ever. Buildings just don’t matter as much as the people who bring them to life.
Comments about the change can be submitted to library staff, but I have no idea who is responsible for this decision.