Cobourg Library – MOU wanted

At the committee of the whole Council meeting next Monday, the Cobourg Library will be in the spotlight.  In budget deliberations, Library CEO Tammy Robinson asked for “a Memorandum of Understanding with the Town of Cobourg in regards to facilities” and on Monday, Councillor Adam Bureau will ask for this to be prepared.  He asks for clear direction on roles and responsibilities between the Cobourg Public Library Board and the Town of Cobourg to help with “budget requests, deliberations and approvals for the Cobourg Public Library”.  The amount of money Cobourg contributes to the Library’s budget is significant and Provincial cutbacks have made budgeting difficult for the Library with an increasing amount required to keep it going.  The Library is shared with Hamilton Township (both services and revenue) and it has a million dollar payroll so it’s a significant employer.

Cobourg Library
Cobourg Library

The grant amount requested from Cobourg for 2020 was $899,700;  for 2019, this amount was $871,505.  Part of the increase was because the Provincial Government has reduced subsidies by $50K/year and another $30K/year is expected. Hamilton Township provides $304,579.  A summary of the full budget is below.

As well as providing books, the Library provides a number of community services and programs for children, adults and seniors.  In fact the budget for book purchase is only $55k or 4.2% of the total expenses.  By far the largest cost is payroll at $1.03M.

The motion put by Adam asks that discussions include himself plus Ian Davey (Interim CAO), Brent Larmer (Municipal Clerk), Tammy Robinson (Library CEO) and Kevin Caldwell (Library Board Chair).  He asks that the MOU be finalized by June 1, 2020 then brought to the Library Board for approval then presented to Council for final approval.

Library Budget – summary
From January 2020 report to board. Selected details.

  Town of Cobourg $899,700  
Cobourg Archives Rent $6,000  
Hamilton Township-General $304,579  
  Provincial Grants – Cobourg $27,939  
Provincial Grants – Hamilton $19,180  
Government Pay Assistance $3,061  
  Fines $18,000  
Memberships $3,500  
Replacement Cards $700  
Book Sales $4,500  
Meeting Room Rental $12,000  
Promotional Material $500  
Photocopier $7,000  
TOTAL REVENUE   $1,307,409
  Total Salaries, Wages, Vacation $852,148  
OMERS – Hourly Staff $64,371  
Health Benefits Unionized Staff $38,000  
WSIB – Hourly Staff $75,000  
  Other staff expenses $11,500  
  Total Books & Materials $55,000  
Programming $7,000  
  Office Supplies $8,000  
Internet Connectivity $45,000  
Advertising & Promotional $4,000  
Gores Landing Rent $4,200  
Other Administration $32,400  
  Total Utilities $50,600  
Other Maintenance $60,190  
TOTAL EXPENSE   $1,307,409

Stay tuned to see if Council agrees to an MOU.


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Deborah O'Connor
24 February 2020 6:13 pm

Our library, which offers services in our smaller communities too, is just as important as our fire hall and its brave staff. For low income families it’s a lifeline to expand their knowlege and interests; a warm, friendly space to meet new friends and get guidance from the knowledgeable and patient librarians. You affluent newbies possess not a clue about the lives the rest of us live and the daily struggles we face. Please; a little patience and empathy would go a long way.

Reply to  Deborah O'Connor
24 February 2020 9:52 pm


15 February 2020 4:51 pm

It would be interesting to see the budget for any organization providing extensive internet Ken as a comparative cost factor. Computer costs – purchase, software, virus protection and internet provider. The costs mount and old computers have to have memory added another expense. Software is not cheap. I was advised by one tech many people don’t know how to turn off their WIFI to privacy to avoid it being pirated. He said go in any Tim Hortons and you will be able to steal someone’s WIFI. Seniors could work in Walmart or any place even Town Hall for free as a volunteer – under that logic just think how much cheaper everything would be which it would need to be as there would be many more unemployed people. Fiction for learning – have you read Farenheit 451 – I thought the concepts presented were very thought provoking as in many other fiction works.

15 February 2020 3:03 pm

In reading the comments of various articles it appears there are some who wish cheap services without thought to what is being given up. I worked in many settings using a wide variety of computers. There is nothing wrong with the quality of computers at the library and I see many people using them. Funny, in an earlier column with many of the same people I was voted down when the question of a bulk raise came about for the non union Town Hall staff yet so many who commented saying the raise should go forth state the library and unionized staff are too expensive. Perhaps we are only hearing from people that do not enjoy reading.

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Observer
15 February 2020 3:34 pm

I suspect that you may be referring to some of my comments so to clarify:

There is nothing wrong with the computers at the library. My point was that a similar vintage machine costs less than $200. Is spending over $1M each year a reasonably cost for providing them?

Personnel are the vast majority of the cost of our library. Couldn’t volunteer seniors do much of the same work without charge?

Books and other materials cost only about 5% of the library budget (Does “other materials” include the movies and video games?). When you consider that many of the book purchases are for popular fiction of limited longevity, it seems that providing educational opportunities is being mostly ignored in favour of subsidized entertainment. Even if that were the objective we do not appear to be getting value for our money.

Reply to  Ken Strauss
17 February 2020 11:52 am

NO! Ken Strauss. Volunteer seniors could NOT do MUCH of the same work. It takes a minimum of 6 years to educate and train a librarian (to use a venerable, but somewhat outdated – today – word to describe only part of what library staff and information and program specialists of various kinds do) – and that doesn’t count further OTJ training and upgrading…

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Jaye
17 February 2020 2:51 pm

Jaye, thank you for providing a good laugh!

Cobourg has numerous retirees who were engineers, researchers, authors, teachers and even librarians in a previous life. To suggest that it would require “a minimum of 6 years to educate and train” these retired professionals in the intricacies of checking out and shelving library material, assisting with computer or microfilm or copier usage and most of the other duties performed by library staff is patently absurd.

Reply to  Ken Strauss
17 February 2020 7:51 pm

volunteers are just that volunteers they come and go at their own convenience for instance how many volunteers does the hospital have in their organization and yet on the weekends how many volunteers do we see. volunteers is a very bad idea

15 February 2020 2:11 pm

So much missing understanding concerning libraries
Cobourg must provide library services just like Hamilton Township must provide library services. Hamilton Township pays Cobourg to provide the service
It is a provincial act they must follow
Do not like it , write to King Dougie have him change it

Fun how some people want waste private business space and money to provide access that the library’s are provided

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Mark
15 February 2020 3:07 pm

Interesting link and thanks, Mark! Perhaps I missed it but there does not appear to be any minimum spending stipulated or even a definition of required services specified. What am I missing?

15 February 2020 11:15 am

Perhaps we should reduce paid staff (union employees) and get a few more volunteers working at our library.
What about a small charge for take home books?
What about a small charge (hourly) for computer access?
Other Admin at $32,000….need some detail here.

John Draper
Reply to  cornbread
15 February 2020 11:43 am

There is more detail on the budget at the link included at the bottom of the post – page 19 of the Agenda for Feb 19 includes more detail – the budget in the post is a summary.

15 February 2020 9:46 am
Cobourg civicweb portal, November 20, 2019, meeting agenda and minutes for the Library Board gives a year to date snap shot of budget numbers including more detail. Also, information on the Library Strategic Plan. And, year end reports if you visit the December meeting tab.

15 February 2020 8:55 am

I think we really need the Cobourg Library and I realize that there is a cost for everything but $1,041,019 for staff salaries & expenses ?????? Perhaps the Library Board should expand on that line item,

15 February 2020 8:55 am

The first austerity cuts demanded by taxfighters and others is always to the Arts & Culture sector. Why is this?

Ken Strauss
Reply to  ben
15 February 2020 10:36 am

Ben, the library currently spends almost as much for “Internet Connectivity” as for “Books & Materials”. Do we need to spend over $1 million annually for an internet cafe? It appears that technocrats have mostly prevailed without help from tax fighters. With union salaries austerity is a forlorn cause.

15 February 2020 8:53 am

The first cut in government services demanded by the ‘Philistines” and Visigoths” is always to the arts and Culture sector. Now why is this?

Reply to  ben
15 February 2020 2:57 pm

If you think about the larger pot ‘Education’, of which Arts/Culture are subsets, you can see that the larger pot is under stress and so must all of the subsets of Education. Why?? Maybe Arts and Culture are viewed as non-money makers; and/or tend to be individualistic in their output or growth/value; and/or the emergence of new technologies/providers (e.g. YouTube). In my opinion the more the distance between peoples/knowledge the worse off we will be as a society. This would be difficult to prove given the time needed to verify the output. Simply put if you want to learn go to a library/school; if you want a quick fix go the NET. Another way to put it, supposing you were hiring for your business would you prefer a graduated individual (think resource & output) sourced from a qualified school or a resource sourced & educated online. There is no guarantee of course but I know what my choice would be. Due diligence is required from all of our Town leaders, get the answers, make decisions. After that I hope the result is the keeping of the library and its resources.

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Gerinator
15 February 2020 3:44 pm

Gerinator, the value of an online education versus a library/school education is worthy of discussion. However, based on our library’s spending on “books and other material” versus internet access, the library is mostly serving as a very expensive internet portal.

Reply to  Ken Strauss
16 February 2020 12:17 pm

Ken to me it appears that one cost is for new expense – Books and Materials (@55K$) and the other cost is for recurring expense – Internet Connectivity (@45K$) and so for me not an apples-to-apples comparison see Though I’m curious about Technical Support is as it represents +66% of the 45K$. Further are salary/hourly the traditional split between management & union? If so maybe there is a disproportionate split of heads between the two categories given salary represents 47% of total payroll? So I agree that efficiencies (to quote King Dougie) can be sought, I don’t think categorizing the Library as an “expensive internet portal” is fair.

15 February 2020 8:39 am

It would be helpful to understand how many visitors does the library serve annually? How many staff make up the $1m in salary?

What if the Cobourg Library leveraged technology. The New York Public Library has a service called ASK-NYPL, where a patron may call, text, or email questions to librarians and other staff about other library services, or get help with research. Although this service is designed for quick questions only, it does help busy people who don’t have time to come to the library and access the resources they need. More in-depth research assistance is available for a fee.

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Steve
15 February 2020 10:21 am

Do you mean a service rather like Google with more in-depth assistance for a fee?

Reply to  Ken Strauss
15 February 2020 7:57 pm

Most people may in fact just google for information and god knows what you might get, Ask the Librarian via a text, or email may yield a better starting point, leads to a more credible body of research to a question, the person seeks answers too. it creates engagement and an experience that could change how people view the local Library.

Ken Strauss
14 February 2020 9:49 pm

When I was a teen, over 50 years ago, I spent hundreds of hours at my local library. Then all knowledge was in books and I couldn’t afford to buy those that I wanted. New books were mostly hardcover and expensive. There was only one, poorly stocked, used bookstore in town. Using the public library was my solution!

As Wally noted, anyone with a cell phone can go to McDonalds and access the world’s knowledge for free. For a few hundred dollars you can have a computer at home that is better than those at the library. With a modicum of technical knowledge you can download material to your cell phone and read with a decent sized screen at home.

Spending $850K annually (over $100 for every Cobourg family) is an unreasonable expense; the money could be much better used elsewhere!

Wally Keeler
14 February 2020 1:27 pm

The article asserts, “the Library provides a number of community services and programs for children, adults and seniors.

1. community services for children — what are they? Cost?
2. community services for adults — what are they? Cost?
3. community services for seniors — what are they? Cost?
4. programs for children — what are they? Cost?
5. programs for seniors — what are they? Cost?
6. programs for seniors — what are they? Cost?

John Draper
Reply to  Wally Keeler
14 February 2020 1:36 pm

Wally, the line item for programs is relatively small ($7K). The implication is that these programs are done by staff members. That is, the cost of programs is not broken out but is included in salaries and benefit costs for employees.

Wally Keeler
Reply to  John Draper
14 February 2020 1:56 pm

But what are they? What programs? What community services?
The list provided above mentions only two items under Library Services:
$55K for books and $7K for programs, totalling $62K.
If those are the only services that it provides as a library, then why is the total expense in excess of $1.3 million?

Reply to  Wally Keeler
14 February 2020 2:45 pm

I think you would have to asked for a line-by-line break down. This is the reporting that accounts flow into. If you read the website you will see a variety of programmes offered for both children, seniors and adults. There are many things the library provides besides books. The full accounting should be a public record available for your perusal.

Wally Keeler
Reply to  Observer
14 February 2020 3:22 pm

The Town spends $1.3 million on the Library — what does the Town get in return?

Reply to  Wally Keeler
14 February 2020 3:59 pm

Short answer: the Town gets the world. We, the citizens of Cobourg, get public access to culture and knowledge in ways that do not discriminate based on ability or income. As well as being a community meeting place, this can also mean access to information requiring technology such as computers which can be important to job seekers and also to students who do not have computer/internet access at home. (that means more than 500 students Board wide for one of the local school boards). The public library is a portal to the universe for research, searching with expert help. For example, for me the Cobourg Public Library, through inter-library loan, was able to get an old hard-to-find reference book from the National Library in Ottawa. And, on programs, the local library has a newsletter with a program schedule. But Wally, you must already know all this and the value of public libraries to community. Did I miss your point?

Reply to  MiriamM
14 February 2020 4:37 pm

A very good reply Miriam. On a personal level I am so appreciative to be able to access such a wide variety of materials. Anything from books on how to refinish that table to so many authors. Just when I finish one series and think I will never find such an author again I find another that I enjoy just as much plus all the other venues offered. I can’t believe Wally is really serious.

Wally Keeler
Reply to  Observer
14 February 2020 4:45 pm

All that you got, Observer, I can get via instructional videos on YouTube from my laptop at home or at a wifi restaurant. I have no need for the Library for that. Btw, what are “plus all the other venues offered?”

Reply to  Wally Keeler
16 February 2020 8:38 am

What I find remarkable is the amount of local history available at the library: school year books from the ’50s and ’60s, local newspapers on microfilm and lots of books on local matters – stuff available nowhere else, albeit a tiny area of the whole facility.

Wally Keeler
Reply to  MiriamM
14 February 2020 4:41 pm

You got the point — that is what I was asking. Some good points also.

get public access to culture and knowledge in ways that do not discriminate based on ability or income

I get that via tv/radio/internet.

“students who do not have computer/internet access at home. (that means more than 500 students Board wide for one of the local school boards).

500 students without internet or computer? If they have a cell phone they have access to the internet at home or in Victoria Park.

Reply to  Wally Keeler
14 February 2020 6:54 pm

I enjoy having access to books of poetry at our library that I can’t get on line. They even have a few books of local poets.
There’s something about having a book in your lap that just can’t compare to reading on my cell phone or laptop.

Reply to  Wally Keeler
14 February 2020 4:44 pm

In fairness to you Wally any public institution should be open to public scrutiny to ensure there is no double reporting of expense. The library is a great service in Cobourg – one I enjoy very much. However myself I learned to distrust government funded agencies to some degree. As in one comment session questions were raised regarding amalgamation yet examples we see of “cost saving” amalgamation in another major city have been anything but. Perhaps you should seek a more thorough breakdown of expense and let us know your findings.