Venerable Atwater Library
issues a call to arms
City of Westmount’s annual supporting grant slashed by more than 30%
By Richard Conrad
Friends and supporters of the Atwater Library are being urged to take up arms – figuratively speaking – in the wake of Westmount City Council’s recent decision to drastically reduce the charitable organization’s annual supporting grant. This blow exacerbates the unprecedented strain on our finances resulting from the prolonged COVID pandemic, which has left many grass-roots organizations bereft of revenues and struggling to simply cover operating costs.
Our Atwater Library Board members and management team were understandably taken aback to learn in early April that our annual supporting grant has been slashed by more than 30%, from $37,500 in 2020 to just $25,560 for 2021 (with no consultation or forewarning). That’s down sharply from a recent peak of $39,000 in 2018.
… this Council has also discontinued the practice of the previous administration of awarding special grants to offset significant hikes in our property taxes… and hefty construction permit fees…
To add insult to injury, this Council has also discontinued the practice of the previous administration of awarding special grants to offset significant hikes in our property taxes ($14,300 in 2021 compared to $8,300 in 2015 – a 72% increase) and hefty construction permit fees stemming from the on-going conservation and upgrading of our century-old headquarters, which is perched on Westmount’s eastern flank at the intersection of Atwater Avenue and Tupper Street.
In light of developments, it’s understandable that our team might be feeling a trifle underappreciated – dare I say unloved – these days. However, lest one leaves the mistaken impression that this turn of events finds us dispirited and in dire straits, I hasten to add this is not the case.
Our current financial situation could be described as healthy but lean. With the help of a small army of dedicated volunteers, we manage on a relatively modest budget, which this year amounts to less than $600,000. Moreover, during the first year of the pandemic, when digital literacy became crucial, we succeeded in helping countless seniors use their devices and delivered over 100 educational events online – running the gamut from information sessions on personal finances and estate planning to creative-arts activities, poetry readings, book discussions, musical performances and lectures.
Changing with the times
No organization can survive and thrive as long as the Atwater Library has without demonstrating a remarkable degree of resilience, along with the foresight and willingness to change in step with the times – attributes that have become embedded in our DNA since we began life way back in 1828 as the Montreal Mechanics’ Institution.
‘… during the first year of the pandemic, when digital literacy became crucial, we succeeded in helping countless seniors use their devices and delivered over 100 educational events online…’
While we are proud of our deep roots in the community and the fact that we operate one of the oldest subscription library services in Canada, today’s Atwater Library and Computer Centre, as we are officially known, is very much focused on the future. Although we do still loan out books, along with eBooks and DVDs, this represents a relatively minor element of the array of activities and services on offer — the majority of which, it should be noted, are complementary to resources provided by the municipal Westmount Library.
Digital literacy figures prominently in our programming. We offer courses and workshops in computer basics along with sophisticated and creative applications – delivered offsite at the premises of partner seniors groups and community centres, and at on our own well-equipped facility. Indeed, it should be noted that the recent cuts in funding from the City could well cause collateral damage by inhibiting our capacity to deliver programming to other Westmount-based organizations, such as the Contactivity Centre and Manoir Westmount, which benefit from our innovative digital literacy and financial literacy coaching and training initiatives.
We also host close to 100 free educational and cultural events each year, including a lecture series, author readings, film screenings and musical performances. In addition, many people with dementia along with their relatives and caregivers gather at our monthly Alzheimer Café, which we co-host with the Alzheimer Society of Montreal. Altogether, we attract some 100,000 user visits a year.
‘… the recent cuts in funding from the City could well cause collateral damage by inhibiting our capacity to deliver programming to other Westmount-based organizations, such as the Contactivity Centre and Manoir Westmount…’
In normal – that is non-COVID – times, our doors are open to everyone, from students to seniors to community organizations, from the members of the Quebec Writers’ Federation (which calls our building home) to the refugee claimants housed next door in the Y Residence on Tupper Street, who come in large numbers to use the computer centre.
Even though our doors have, for the most part, been closed to members of the public for many months, we have been busily working away behind the scenes to complete the execution of a 10-year, $5-million restoration and upgrading of our building, financed primarily by grants from the Government of Canada and the proceeds from a capital campaign chaired by stalwart supporters Richard Pound and David Angus. One of the highlights of this initiative is the installation of a state-of-the-art elevator that, for the first time in a century, will afford easy access for the handicapped to the upper reaches of our building, including the popular auditorium.
Look forward to welcoming you back
We are very much looking forward to throwing our handsome front doors open again as soon as we are rid of this COVID menace, enabling us to meet and mingle with our valued members, friends and benefactors – and to welcome newcomers whom we are certain will appreciate the atmosphere of a painstakingly restored historic venue that fairly oozes a love of books and the arts, while embracing the very latest in 21st Century digital technology.
Meanwhile, we want to enlist your help in seeking a level of financial support from the City of Westmount commensurate with the tremendous contribution that that our organization makes to the social, cultural and educational fabric of the community – and takes into account the on-going impact of the COVID pandemic. Please write, telephone, text, tweet or email your District Councillor and Mayor Christine Smith, expressing your support for the Atwater Library and urging them to provide some additional funding.
Here’s a link for their names and coordinates: westmount.org/en/city-council
Richard Conrad, a Westmount resident and member of the Atwater Library Board, is a self-described “recovering journalist”, who worked as a reporter and editor at the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star and Montreal Gazette before turning his hand to consulting in the field of corporate communications.