South Dundas - January 22, 2013 - When was the last time your family went to the public
library? It’s a semi-regular occurrence in our household, depending on
the mood of the kids in our family. For many families in small rural
communities, it is a regular habit. The local library is still an
important hub and gathering place of a community.
The rural village of Williamsburg is home to one of three branches of
the Stormont, Dundas & Glengarry County Library system located in the
Township of South Dundas. The other two locations are in the villages
of Iroquois and Morrisburg. The Williamsburg library branch, one of 19
in the system, has a full range of services from books, magazines,
computers with internet access and even offers Wi-Fi access as part of
the Community Access Program. The library is the only place available
to access these services, and do so taking up a mere 1000 square feet
in the Township Office.
The SD&G County Library system announced in the Fall of 2012 a plan to
improve service to the community, by merging the Morris burg and
Williamsburg branches under one roof, in Morrisburg. The library’s
administration has decided that merging the two branches is a good
idea as it would be a modern facility affording better access. Better
access unless you live in Williamsburg, which is 10 kilometres north
The new library, according to press releases, will be 2100 square feet
of space, the current Morrisburg and Williamsburg branches are a
combined 5000 square feet. So the library board has decided that you
can improve service by cutting a branch, and making the new combined
branch much smaller. This move also streamlines the library system’s
branches, consolidating them along County Roads 2 and 43, with nothing
in the 20-25 kilometres between.
Residents in Williamsburg are not happy about the library’s closure
decision. There was no public consultation specifically in the
community by the library board; users from the branch were not
surveyed. The matter was only discussed at the regular library board
meetings, which are open to the public, but there was no announcement
of this being discussed.
“Unfair. It’s kinda inconsiderate,” said Lisa Vreman, resident of
Williamsburg and a frequent user of the Williamsburg library branch
about the lack of consultation from users.
The building in Williamsburg that houses the library has an uncertain
fate due to the planned relocation of South Dundas’ township office to
Morrisburg. Once the $4-million renovation to the old Morrisburg High
School is completed, the Williamsburg property would be surplus.
South Dundas already has many surplus buildings that have not been
disposed of since amalgamation in the late 1990’s, the Williamsburg
office would only add one more building to that pile. So far, township
officials have not publicly announced what will happen to the
“It feels like council wants Morrisburg to be the capital city of
South Dundas,” added Vreman.
Library officials did not cite the circulation numbers as a reason for
the branch closure, nor was it an issue with the building. The only
reason given for this change was that its to improve service. Change
for change sake is never good, especially when many will lose
something that is valuable to them.
The residents have started a Facebook group
(https://www.facebook.com/SaveTheWilliamsburgLibraryBranch) to drum up
awareness of library closure and there are petitions being circulated
in the community. They hope this will be enough to get the library
board to reconsider the closure. But what if the Library is still
closed? According to the SD&G County Library, residents would be able
to order books online through the library’s website, and they would be
delivered in the community on a set schedule. Not an ideal solution at
all. Part of the enjoyment of going to a library is discovering new
books. Hard to do when looking at a computer screen; even harder if
you can’t afford a computer and the library was your only access to
the online world.
As a way to entice the library to stay in Williamsburg, the township
could opt to keep the Williamsburg building as a meeting place and
thus keep the library in its current location. It could even donate
the building to the library when it becomes surplus. If the township
can rebuild a community hall in Dunbar, for a hamlet of 20 homes,
surely they can donate this surplus building. It is not without
precedent for a library to use shuttered municipal assets. In 2004,
Edwardsburgh-Cardinal moved their library in Cardinal to the former
municipal building when land for the old library was needed for a
public works project. There is no good reason this cannot be done. It
only requires the will of township council and the library board to do
so. It also requires the public to apply pressure to make it expedient
for them to listen to their constituents and users.
Consolidating services can make sense in many areas of government
involvement, but closing library branches that are used by the
community is not something that makes sense. Closing library branches
does not improve service, it reduces service and there is no positive
spin that can be put on that.