Commentary

Annotated Transcript of Skelly's Library Budget Comments

The Councillor only formally stated her opposition to an increase in the budget, but her full remarks strongly implied that she thinks the budget is too high and the library services are no longer relevant.

By Ryan McGreal
Published January 25, 2017

Ward 7 Councillor Donna Skelly's comments on library funding at the Friday, January 20, 2016 General Issues Committee meeting incited a strong negative backlash across Hamilton, in large part based on a newspaper article suggesting that Skelly was questioning the library's budget.

Hamilton Public Library, Concession Branch (RTH file photo)
Hamilton Public Library, Concession Branch (RTH file photo)

The article was taken down, a correction was issued, and another story was published reporting Skelly's clarification that she is questioning the proposed $518,000 budget increase, not the total $29,338,000 budget.

So what did Skelly actually say? Aside from very short clips, neither the original article nor its replacement cited more than a tiny sampling of her own words.

It is literally true that Skelly only formally stated her opposition to an increase in the library's budget. However, any reasonable reading of her full statement makes it very clear that she was also strongly implying throughout her remarks that the library budget is already too high and that library services are no longer relevant.

Following is an annotated transcript of Ward 7 Councillor Donna Skelly's full statement. (The audio recording of this exchange is courtesy of Joey Coleman.)

Annotated Transcript

Councillor Donna Skelly: I wanted to ask you about something that's probably sensitive to a degree, um, probably not politically correct1, but I'll go there anyway. Hamilton Public Library is something that, um, has a budget of 23, sorry, $29,338,000.2 They're asking for an increase of $518,000.

The library is near and dear to all of us, but3 libraries have changed so much and the needs of libraries have changed so much in the past 20 years. And, um, I've toured the library, I've been in recently to see their new, um, 3D printer, how they have um, you know, a computer section, and how popular that is.

But I'm concerned that we are - I would be concerned about approving that, first of all4 - but, um, I'm concerned that we're almost coming up with ways to validate the existence of our libraries in their current form5, and the $30 million budget6.

Is - can you speak to that - is there any way, in your opinion, that we could be looking at revisiting some of our institutions and looking at them from, you know, the eye of the 2017 budget7 as opposed to an institution that was established, you know, a hundred years ago8 and, ah, was far different, played a different role in society than it does today?

I understand I'm putting you in the spot but I guess what I'm trying to say is: it's a $30 million budget9, um, and technology has changed, and changed how we use libraries. When we were kids we had to go to the library to do a research project, and I don't think most kids even know how to research the library any more, they're on Google.10

So how relevant,11 I guess, and could we not, could we not say: Look, we can't support a $518,000 increase this year,12 you'll just have to, to live within the $29 million budget.13

Annotations

1. when a right-wing politician says they are about to say something "politically incorrect", that usually means they are about to say something odious.

2. This is the first of four separate times Skelly explicitly references the total library budget (cited at $29 or $30 million) over the course of a little over 300 words. The purpose of this repetition is to signal that the budget is already very high.

3. That classic rhetorical dodge, "The library is near and dear to all of us, but..."

4. Skelly is saying she would be concerned about approving the funding for the popular 3D printer. She is signalling that she thinks the budget is already too high.

5. This statement is designed to undermine the steps that have been taken to ensure the library remains relevant, while simultaneously undermining the idea that the library is still relevant.

6. This is the second of four separate times that Skelly explicitly references the total library budget.

7. It is very difficult to read this as anything other than a suggestion that it is time to revisit the size of the library budget.

8. Skelly reminds us that public libraries have been around a long time to plant the idea that they are obsolete.

9. This is the third of four separate times that Skelly explicitly references the total library budget.

10. It is impossible to read this as anything other than a suggestion that libraries are no longer relevant for students doing research.

11. Here Skelly is literally and explicitly asking whether libraries are still "relevant".

12. After spending her entire speech clearly signaling that the library budget is too high and library services are no longer relevant, she ends up landing on an explicit position that she is opposed to increasing the budget further. This serves as plausible deniability to fend off criticism that she wants to reduce the library budget.

13. This is the last of four separate times that Skelly explicitly references the total library budget.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By fmurray (registered) | Posted January 25, 2017 at 11:16:44

Thank you for writing this, Ryan and publishing a transcript of her whole speech.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted January 25, 2017 at 11:28:10

By the way, here's a transcript of the rest of the exchange on Joey Coleman's audio recording:


City Manager Chris Murray: So, through Madam Deputy Mayor, the, um, it's interesting, it's an interesting question that you ask, and I've got to tell you that the former librarian, Robertson [he is likely referring to Ken Roberts, who was chief librarian until 2012] I think from a technology standpoint, was probably one of the most progressive, not just here in Hamilton, I would think you might argue across the country, in terms of evolving the service from a very much labour-based to one that embraced technology.

And in fact, over the years, I think it made a number of cuts in the rank and file, at the same time improving the amount of access that was occurring, uh, beyond the actual physical library. So, I think they've been well on a path.

I'm not here to defend their budget - my God, I have a hard enough time defending ours. So notwithstanding that, you do have board members here that sit with you, that I think probably have a pretty in-depth understanding of the evolution of the library service.

But I'm only saying this because, uh, we, we, we looked at the librarian as a key contributor to the evolution of some of our own services internally from a technology standpoint, so I think he was very much a leader in that field, and our present [chief] librarian [Paul Takala] is just continuing with that path.

Not to defend his budget - I'm not here to do that - but just in terms of libraries and their evolution. The other thing I'll add to it: they're becoming more and more community centres as well, not just places for books. But I think Councillor [Maria] Pearson probably knows more. [Pearson is on the Library Board]

Councillor Maria Pearson: I certainly appreciate the comments and concerns being raised. Uh, as a member and sitting on the Library Board now since 2003, since I was elected, and also on the Wentworth Board in the Stoney Creek days.

Um, we will be having the presentation from the library. I can tell you in no uncertain terms that the Library Board has been the most efficient and the most frugal board that I have ever sat on.

Um, recognizing that there's 22 libraries - and I'm taking some of their presentation, I don't want to do that - 22 libraries, two Bookmobiles. And certainly understanding technology, but the library also has to keep abreast of that technology because that's what patrons are asking for. So that's where a lot of costs come in as well.

It's not a matter of saying, Well, you know what, they can get this at home on their computers. They're still patrons that need technology at the library. Um, just as a thought that the Hamilton Public Library currently has, every week, over 70, close to 76,000 visitors. Every week. Um, there's computer sessions, et cetera.

I don't want to give away their, their presentations but they also do upgrades, and there have been a number of facilities, as we all know, and I, I would say, in the Wentworth Library days, which were the outlying communities, they were also very, very frugal, and a lot of the facilities were not upgraded.

Now that they've come under one umbrella, it's been a number of years of working towards upgrading and creating efficiencies, safety, et cetera, in the current library facilities that are out there in the 22 plus facilities.

So, I don't want to go into much more of this, but I can tell you without a doubt they were higher than their, than their, um, requests coming forward in the presentations next week, and every year we work very hard in dwindling down so that we come into, ah, if not below, at least the ask as far as Council around this table.

Councillor Judi Partridge: The numbers at the library are, are doubling, they're just increasing like crazy. And I will speak specifically for Waterdown, which is a new library: it has doubled in terms of membership, and in large part it is because of the computer and the technology that is there. And it is mostly students and mostly seniors.

So, um, I would suggest we could wait 'til the presentation when the Board comes in, but every year I can tell you in the last six years I've been here, the Library Board receives lots of accolades around this table for continually keeping their budget in line and making incredible changes, and, ah, you know, not going out of control with the increases.

Skelly: Thank you, Councillors, um, and I appreciate it and I will be looking forward to the Library, uh, represent, ah, their, ah, presentation. I still do have concerns that we're asking for a half a million dollar increase, and, um, as I said, I don't want - I'll wait for the presentation.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2017-01-25 14:00:34

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By fmurray (registered) | Posted January 25, 2017 at 13:16:02 in reply to Comment 120608

Hurray for Pearson and Partridge.

BTW, the requested increase is 1.8%. Quite reasonable, in my opinion.

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted January 25, 2017 at 11:49:28

Thank you so much for this. The Spec showed how little they matter to Hamilton by posting the correction along with Dresch's humiliating apologia.

Alternative facts, fake news, call it whatever you want, but it's properly known as political propaganda, and it's a social science that hasn't needed to progress much past its zenith in the 1940s.

The difference is, for perhaps the first time in history, citizens have the tools to record and play-back the pre-spun, pre-twisted reality for everyone to see and hear.

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By Connie (registered) | Posted January 25, 2017 at 12:44:07

Someone who speaks 'off the cuff' without even reading materials provided to councillors, let alone online or library research, is not likely to comprehend or value library services.

Public libraries (along with good public education) are a key element of our democratic ideals, to provide equal opportunity for all in accessing knowledge, where family resources may not be available.

Middle class councillors may need to look beyond their own experience and perspective to comprehend the experiences and needs of others.

Comment edited by Connie on 2017-01-25 12:44:55

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