Friends of the Morewood Library mobilize; Board not budging

Pictured are founding members of the Friends of the Morewood Library Debbie Courneyea (standing, left), Carisa Findlay (second from left) and Laurie Rae (right). Also shown are some other users of the Morewood branch, sisters Julie (left) and Tanya Rae (right) — Laurie's daughters — along with Carisa's son, Jack Findlay, 7, and family friend Mave Gernon, 8. Jack and Mave respectively hold a letter and a public petition opposing the branch's planned closure. Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

Nelson Zandbergen
Nation Valley News

MOREWOOD — Three Morewood women have mobilized this week in an effort to reverse the SD&G Library Board’s recently announced decision to close the hamlet’s library branch in early September.

Debbie Courneyea, Laurie Rae and Carisa Findlay are taking some inspiration from the example of Williamsburg, where the board’s intent to end a branch presence in that community was stymied by a community uprising a few years ago.

The trio have formed a new Friends of a the Morewood Library group and circulated a petition at Morewood’s Lucky Dollar Store on Aug. 10. It had already accumulated three pages of names when Nation Valley News spoke to the women later that day.

I like my library because - I like the activities - I can walk there - I meet friends there Please save the Morewood Library Jack F. So says 7-year-old Jack Findlay in his letter about the Morewood library. Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

I like my library because
– I like the activities
– I can walk there
– I meet friends there
Please save the Morewood Library
Jack F.
So says 7-year-old Jack, son of Carisa Findlay, in his letter about the Morewood library.
Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

Courneyea observed that Morewood has already lost its elementary school. “Now they [the SD&G Library Board] want to close our library,” she said.

“It’s the only activity in town for kids, and it’s the only accessible program we have,” she pointed out. “They keep saying, go to Winchester, go to Chesterville, but it’s not always that easy.”

Case in point was Rae and her adult daughters with disabilities, Julie and Tanya, regular visitors to the branch for nearly 30 years, since childhood.

Because they’re in wheelchairs, even the local corner store is off limits to the duo. But they could always go the Morewood Library, at ground level on the side of the hamlet’s fire station, their mother says.

“We continue to bring them over. They both have library cards, and it’s accessible,” said Rae, adding her daughters were “devastated” at the news of the impending closure.

Findlay said her 7-year-old son Jack, set to enter Grade 3 in September, has benefited from the reading program operated by the branch’s popular librarian, Ruth Gilroy. He and and his 18-month-old sister are regular fixtures at the branch. The younger tot is especially eager to strap into her car seat knowing the trip will take her to see Gilroy, according to Findlay.

“We come every week to the library,” declared 8-year-old Mave Gernon of Morewood, a friend of the Findlay family. The girl and her two siblings rely on the branch because they are homeschooled, Carisa Findlay pointed out.

The Friends of the Morewood Library grew out of a weekly Wednesday coffee klatch at the branch. The founders suggest the board should have offered options to outright closure, including reduced hours or a call for community volunteers to assist with branch operations. “They haven’t reached out to us,” said Courneyea.

On July 29, the board announced the Sept. 3 closure of the Morewood, St. Andrews and Dalkeith branches.

The move followed the board’s restoration of previously reduced hours at the same outlets earlier this year. That retreat “gave us hope that everything was going to stay,” said Rae, who criticized the board for announcing the upcoming closures “with one day’s notice over a long weekend.”

Courneyea said the board has been unable to furnish the group an estimate of what it costs to run the Morewood branch.

“Let’s talk about some options. But until you can put a dollar value on it, don’t talk about closure,” she said.

SD&G Library Board Chair Bill McGimpsey told Nation Valley News the board won’t be meeting again until after the closures take place. “No meetings are scheduled until Sept. 8, and by then the branches will be closed,” said the Deputy Mayor of North Stormont Township.

McGimpsey explained the decision comes down to “allocating resources to where they are best used” in the counties’ library system, after 12 years of discussion.

“I believe the board is quite resolved in this,” he said, acknowledging the recent resignation of Vice Chair Barbara Lehtiniemi in protest over the closures. The board has since advertised for her replacement.

McGimpsey said the SD&G Library system would find alternative means of offering a popular two-hours-per week summer reading program in the communities that won’t have their own branches next summer.

And in St. Andrews West, the system will still supply books to the nearby school in that community, he said, just as it drops off books to seniors’ homes. That particular branch “is not accessible at all” to people with disabilities, he added.

McGimpsey also disputed assertions the board was supposed to hold a town hall meeting before the closures. In April, there was a suggestion of a meet-and-greet type of event “to let people see what the Library’s about,” he said, not an open mic podium-style event to “berate, yell and scream” at the board. “We tried that once before, and it was terrible,” he recalled.

Residents of the affected three branches do drive to other neighbouring communities to avail themselves of recreational facilities like splash pads, amenities like Tim Hortons, and to attend township council meetings, he also noted.

“There’s nothing I can say that will appease the folks that are upset,” said McGimpsey.

The closures will leave the SD&G Library with 16 branches, down from the current 19.

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