First Nations Public Libraries in Ontario

  • First Nations communities require public libraries just as much as any other community.
  • Public libraries often serve as an accessible gathering place and information sharing resource for many First Nations communities, where they exist.
  • There is broad recognition and support for the concept of continuing education at the community level as well as increased accessibility to all educational outlets, including public libraries
  • There are 133 First Nations communities in Ontario. Of these, only 39 have public libraries. Pre-pandemic, there were 46.

Funding First Nations Public Libraries in Ontario

  • The traditional source of tax revenue for non-native public libraries does not exist for public libraries in First Nations communities.
  • Provincial funding for these libraries is administered by the Ministry of Tourism, Culture, and Sport through the Public Library Operating Grant (PLOG) and the First Nation Salary Supplement Grant (FNSS). These funds provide on average $15,000/year to each of these existing libraries.
  • Federal funding for these libraries is taken from funds that are allocated for on-reserve education. Funding levels for on-reserve education are more than 30% lower than off-reserve, leaving little left to establish new libraries.
  • Band Councils are therefore tasked with providing essential support such as rent, hydro, internet, fax and telephone service.

Challenges Faced by First Nations Public Libraries in Ontario

  • First Nations public libraries are either governed by their Band Council or their education department. The location of the library in the school system can make it difficult to establish a public library identity in the community.
  • A significant number of First Nations people don’t own or have access to a computer or the internet. Many cannot afford to buy books for themselves or their families.
  • Ontario’s First Nations students under the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada system face an 80% failure rate
  • Students who participated in provincial standardized testing in 2013-2014 showed an average literacy score of 21% for boys and 32% for girls.
  • In terms of overall literacy, these numbers place Ontario First Nations students behind 205 other countries — at levels slightly higher than Sub-Saharan Africa.