By Sue Tiffin
Library patrons in Algonquin Highlands have been without library options in the township, with the Dorset book depot being closed since March this year due to mould at the facility it’s housed in, and the Stanhope library being closed to the public for renovations since August 2020.
Chris Stephenson, who started in September as the new CEO of Haliburton County Public Library, spoke to finding a location for the Dorset book depot during an Oct. 13 library board meeting.
“It’s definitely something that is on our horizon because every region that is paying taxes into the system deserves library system services, so I’m going to be reaching out to that area for an inquiry about the most convenient places that can pose as a drop-in depot,” he told the board. “Basically we need to find another depot location.”
The book depot is located in the Dorset Recreation Centre. In March, an environmental consultant completed a mould assessment of the rec centre, identifying mould growth on gypsum wall finishes and on plywood wall finishes in the basement washrooms, change rooms and utility rooms.
“At the time, the consultant identified the mould as being a result of water infiltration through the foundation and a pipe leak in the ceiling,” reads a staff report from the public works department to Algonquin Highlands council on July 15.
Further mould was found in the basement of the building in May and July.
Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt sits on the library board as a township representative.
“The challenge is that Dorset is a very small place and only half of it is in Algonquin Highlands, and other locations could be a challenge,” she said. “I think it is important for that service to resume if it can. Finding a facility among the other two that are there will be a challenge. The museum – it wouldn’t have much room, and then, anyway, it’s not as if Dorset is a place that has nine municipal facilities … It’s very, very limited, but it would definitely be great to get something organized if and where possible.”
Moffatt noted some buildings in the town are closed, though there are some independent businesses.
“Is there ever an opportunity, or have we ever experienced doing something like this, where, books could be managed at an independent business or is that just clouding the waters too much,” asked Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts.
“I can certainly look into that,” said Stephenson.
Sally Howson, chair of the library board, said that there were nearby options, though outside of the county.
“I think we really need to promote that we have a reciprocal agreement with the Lake of Bays library [Dwight and Baysville branches], and anyone with a Halliburton County card can use that library, and maybe people don’t realize that,” said Howson. “I’m not sure if we can maybe do a bit of a campaign on that as well, because Dwight’s relatively close.”
Board member Curry Humphreys said that before discussing what wouldn’t work, she thought it was important to give Stephenson the opportunity to investigate solutions.
“I’ve said this before and I’ll continue to say this, it is not acceptable for us as Haliburton County to say that you can go to Muskoka to get your library books,” she said. “We have to find some sort of solution that is going to address those book people in the north-end of Algonquin Highlands, and there’s quite a few of us. So let’s not find reasons that it’s not going to work, let’s start by saying what is available and then if we’ve exhausted those solutions, or possibilities, then we can look at a second tier. But I want to start with an open mind, that there are possibilities of things we can do.”
“We hear you loud and clear, we’re working on a positive side, and we are going to look for solutions, but we do have a reciprocal agreement, that is something we do have,” said Howson.
Moffatt said the conversation was not intended to “put up roadblocks” and agreed that “there are opportunities and we’ll look at them,” noting that Stephenson’s contact would be Algonquin Highlands CAO Angie Bird and that’s where he should start, “otherwise it’s just speculation.”
“But there are very realistic municipal limitations in a town that small, but certainly the conversation remains open,” she said. “It would be unfortunate if you thought that any of the comments were deliberately intended to be any kind of roadblock of public access.”
Stephenson said he is committed to doing branch tours before the end of October, and said that while not ideal, there might be short-term solutions including a library book vending machine.
Board member and Highlands East Deputy Mayor Cec Ryall noted the relationships Canada Post and LCBO have made regarding depot locations, and said, “I think we have to give Chris a chance, giving Chris an opportunity to investigate options.”
Board member David O’Brien asked when the renovation work at Stanhope, which began in August 2021, is expected to be finished. The branch has been closed pending accessibility upgrade renovations since August last year, and is currently not open to the public, nor to library staff.
“If it’s around the corner, it’s not too big of an issue,” he said. “If it’s six months out, that is a big issue.”
Moffatt agreed it was important to have the Stanhope library operating in part to offer closer service than Minden to those without service in Dorset.
“Dorset library users are not around the corner from Stanhope, and certainly not from Minden which leads us back to your point about reciprocal agreements at least for now until we get something sorted out,” said Liz Danielsen, who is Algonquin Highlands deputy mayor as well as county warden.
Haliburton County has seven branches of libraries throughout the county, and one depot.