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By Stuart Woods
September 26, 2008
7:04 PM

Filed under News

Booksellers, wholesalers vying for Ontario school library funding

The Ontario government has finally gotten around to disbursing some of the $80-million it promised earlier this year for the purchase of books for school libraries, but some booksellers are complaining that the tendering process is proving unnecessarily burdensome.

In order to qualify as a supplier for the initial release of $30-million, vendors must meet the requirements spelled out in a 56-page public tender. Though most school library wholesalers appear to be on track to meet the Oct. 3 application deadline, Canadian Booksellers Association executive director Susan Dayus says that several of her members – some of whom depend on revenue from local school libraries – might not be ready in time.

“It worked pretty well up to now just going through your local school and working with them,” says Dayus. “To have to go through this tendering process – it’s what you use for [handing out] paving contracts.”

According to Jeff Roher, a spokesperson for Minister of Education Kathleen Wynne, the aim is to ensure that the government’s substantial investment is spent appropriately. “We want to make sure that there’s value for money and that the books are in the places that best serve the kids,” he says. Roher adds that the complete list of qualified vendors should be released by the end of November. (Schools can order from any vendor that makes the list.)

For most wholesalers, the tendering process is just business as usual. “A fairly high percentage of our contracts with public libraries involves a process like this,” says Library Services Centre CEO Michael Monahan, who estimates that completing the application will take roughly 100 labour-hours and the input of multiple staffers.

For many booksellers, however, this is their first time dealing with school librarians through an institutional framework, and not all of them have the manpower to put in 100 labour-hours. “It’s not an easy process,” says Mabel’s Fables owner Eleanor LeFave, “but of course many of us [independent booksellers] are bound and determined to be a part of it,” she says.

Still, despite the burden it places on retailers and wholesalers alike, the money is a welcome infusion in the educational sector. And as LeFave acknowledges, the large amount of funding does call for special measures. “It makes sense that we have to jump through a few hoops,” she says. “As a taxpayer, I would hope that it’s not easy for just anyone to decide that they are a perfectly suited [supplier].”

The $30-million is set to be handed out in two parts – $15-million in 2008-2009, and the rest in 2009-2010. The remaining $50-million will come through soon, says Roher, but the government is holding off on allocating it for now. “We’ll have more specifics, once we’ve done the evaluation, as to when we’ll make the announcement for the further [spending],” he says.

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