The Chestermere Public Library is asking for more support from the city as it looks to its future in the community.
“After a comprehensive Needs Assessment and years of exploration, we’ve reached the conclusion that we can’t continue without significant help,” said Chestermere Public Library Board Director Janelle Sandboe.
She said that the board did not come to the decision to ask for an increase in city funding from $16.89 per capita to $30 per capita lightly.
The Library Board considered all its options before going before council on July 3.
Without an increase in funding, Sandboe said that the Library will be forced to reduce both its hours and the services it provides as the City of Chestermere’s population continues to grow.
“We’ve already had to get creative to make our current budget work,” she said.
Some of the areas they have found savings has been with wages significantly below the average for librarians in the province and by continuing to charge for memberships while current trends are for libraries to provide memberships for free.
The average wage of a Chestermere Public Library Assistant is $16.77 per hour whereas the average wage across the province is between $23 – $26.42 per hour.
Sandboe believes that it is time to start, “paying library staff what they’re worth.”
In the past, Sandboe said that the library has accepted lower funding from the city to help the city with their budgeting.
“The Library and City have had a fantastic relationship over the years and we’ve been willing to accept lower funding to help the City fit all the pieces of their budget together,” she said.
This had led to the Chestermere Public Library receiving about 50 per cent of their funding from the municipality. Sandboe said that most other libraries in Alberta receive, “about 70% of their funding from their municipality.”
In order for the library to grow and continue to meet the needs of residents as the city grows, the library’s funding model needs to be brought back in line with other libraries in the province.
As one of the hubs of the community, Sandboe said it is important to continue to foster a healthy and growing library as the city grows.
“Libraries are incubators,” she said.
“When a child walks into a fun, inviting space, they can’t help but engage.
“It’s exciting to watch children…pulling books off the shelves, looking at pictures, learning about new things, and generally having fun with literacy,” said Sandboe.
Another important service the library provides is to serve as a support network for home businesses, charities, not for profits, and the vulnerable in the community.
“New moms, the elderly, and new residents – all groups whose health and happiness depend on making connections, regardless of their financial resources,” said Sandboe of just one of the ways the library supports the community.
“I truly believe that the importance of the Chestermere Public Library is to nourish this community in a way that only we can,” she said.
If the library’s funding needs are not met, Sandboe said they would not be able to grow and would have to be very creative to avoid cutting back services.
“It would be a real challenge for us,” she said.
In addition to their request for additional municipal support, Sandboe said that the library continues to work hard to secure the maximum amount of funding from all possible sources.
“We’ll continue to ask for the maximum amounts from the Province, public/private grants, partnerships, and community sources,” she said.
If the city does increase their funding of the library, Sandboe said that taxpayers can be assured that the city’s investment will be handled responsibly and invested back into the community.
“We work hard to make every penny stretch.” she said, “We’ve even been recognized by the Department of Municipal Affairs for our perfect reporting and grant requests.”
The Library’s short term goals for the additional funding include: free library memberships, pay increases for staff, and working towards a larger more versatile library.
“We’re also working towards a larger facility that can be a financially sustainable hub for learning in Chestermere,” said Sanboe.
They would like to see a new library include: quiet study areas, an expanded kids zone, rooms for rent, maker spaces, a museum or gallery space, and more physical resources for residents to borrow and use.
Sandboe also said that it really is time for the library to offer free memberships to residents like other libraries in Alberta.
“We sometimes forget to talk about Libraries in the context of basic human rights. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) says that all of us have a right ‘to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers,'” said Sandboe.
She said the this is also supported by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which in her opinion means that, “we have an obligation at the governance level to offer access to information to residents of Chestermere.”
“Libraries worldwide have agreed that offering membership at no cost is an essential piece of this puzzle; cost must not be a barrier,” she said.