On June 9th, the Ottawa community pressed the board for a public downtown library

Concerned residents and community groups filled the Ottawa city council chambers on June 9th as the Ottawa Public Library Board made key decisions on a new central library branch.

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Their combined voices and pressure sent a powerful message to the board and city council: Ottawa residents want a new library that’s in the downtown core, fully public, and that’s located and designed to meet community – not corporate – needs.

Presentations included CUPE 503 and community group Bookmark the Core, as well as four individuals and Ottawa councillor Tobi Nussbaum. All speakers raised many concerns about flaws and bias in the private consultant’s report outlining possible locations and how to build the library, including:

  1. the potential privatization of a new library through a public-private partnership (P3); 2. the lack of sustained and meaningful community consultation on the location and financing of a new library; 3. there is no plan for creative design of what will be an Ottawa landmark; 4. the voices of current library users are missing from the discussion; and 5. the report’s flawed assessment criteria ruled out central and public locations.

In the end the board passed a motion from board member and Ottawa city councillor Catherine McKenney, clarifying that all options – including a fully public library – are on the table as the board takes the next steps in exploring where the library is built and how it’s financed.

McKenney’s amendment clarifies that work done to date, which was heavily weighted toward a P3 or other private sector partnership, does not commit the board to a particular location or funding model, and doesn’t give the private sector decision-making power.

The public presentations were universally critical of what appeared to be the “preferred” site, at 557 Wellingon Street. Board chair Tim Tierney repeatedly emphasized that no final decisions had been made about where the library would be, or whether it would be public or private.

The decision was made that a survey of current library users, whose voices and needs have been missing from the process so far, need to be heard before a location can be chosen. The motion to survey library users came from board member and city councillor Marianne Wilkinson.

Together, these are important first steps in keeping our new central library public and downtown. But our work is just beginning. It is clear CUPE 503 and other concerned groups and individuals will keep up the pressure. We will be watching and participating in every step of this process. Together, we can build a public central library that serves our community and that we can be proud of for decades to come.