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Niagara Falls Public Library

Open Letter to Niagara Falls Community

Dear valued members of the Niagara Falls community,

We extend our sincere gratitude for the positive engagement during the Niagara Falls Public Library Board’s council presentation of our 2024 Forecast Operating Budget on Tuesday, January 16. The Niagara Falls Public Library Board appreciates the opportunity to foster open and constructive dialogue with our Council Members and our community at large.

After the Niagara Falls City Council meeting on Tuesday, January 23, at which library representatives were not present, we heard from concerned citizens, neighbours, and local business owners regarding the Victoria Avenue Library location operating as a shelter for unhoused community members. We hope this open letter provides context and clarification and communicates to you, all members of the public, with transparency and understanding.

The Niagara Falls Public Library Board is a separate entity from the City of Niagara Falls, as well as being a non-profit registered charity. The Library Board proudly owns both the Victoria Avenue Library and Chippawa Library buildings. While the Board remains open to discussions about the future of our buildings, any potential sale or reallocation of services would require careful consideration by the Library Board and would have to fulfil our mandate as a public library.

Libraries, as public spaces, are open to all and serve the entire community but the Library is not a shelter, and our staff, while dedicated, are not trained social workers. Operating a shelter would go beyond our mandate and scope of work. While accessible and welcoming to all residents, including those at risk, libraries are not the right place to address serious mental health, opioid or addiction issues. These are complex challenges that require expertise from trained professional staff and social workers. We work closely with community partners who are trained in this area to connect customers with the services and resources they need that we are not able to provide. This helps reaffirm the perception of our library as a safe, accessible, and welcoming space. In addition, we routinely review our policies and procedures to maintain this delicate balance.

In response to changes in our neighbourhood, which are similar to the challenges faced by other urban libraries, we have invested in staff training, increased security measures (including working with the NRPS CORE unit), and engaged in partnerships with the City for after-hours security. The City Council and City Staff have been supportive, offering assistance when needed. As a result, the Victoria Avenue location has seen significant improvements over the last several months, with fewer individuals loitering around the building, or misusing or vandalizing library property.

It is essential to highlight that Victoria Avenue is our largest location and acts as our headquarters for administration, special collections, and school and visiting library services, in addition to housing our IT infrastructure. This location is an essential community hub that holds, among other things, materials to be borrowed or read while in the building, computers for public use, and study and meeting spaces. Our Victoria Avenue location, which is celebrating 50 years of community service in 2024, is considered by many to be the heart of Niagara Falls, providing essential, accessible public services that are available to everyone seven days a week.

In 2023, we recorded 250,730 in-person visits system-wide, with Victoria Avenue welcoming 138,518 of those visitors. That’s more than 2,600 people a week visiting this location for knowledge, culture, connection and belonging, or to warm up in the winter and cool down in the summer.

Last year, the Canadian Urban Institute published a report on urban libraries that confirmed what we at the Library already know. Libraries have always been, and will continue to be, anchors in the community that help create stronger downtowns and connected neighbourhoods. Not only that, but libraries are critical infrastructure and deliver an outstanding return on investment. The report indicates that libraries, out of all publicly funded programs or services, are repeatedly cited as having the highest return on investment, stating, “For every $1 invested in Canada’s urban libraries, $6 is generated in community economic impact, a return of over 600%.”

The Victoria Avenue location is a cornerstone of our community and the library is committed to serving all members, regardless of their background. We acknowledge the challenges in serving marginalized individuals and firmly believe everyone deserves access to library services. Prioritizing coordinated services and encouraging government investment in mental health, addiction, and public safety are proactive steps to ensure Niagara Falls remains a healthy, connected, vibrant city.

Thank you for your ongoing support and understanding.


Niagara Falls Public Library Board

OVERDUE: The Case for Canada’s Public Libraries: https://canurb.org/publications/overdue/