Area D Director Brenda Leigh chairs the Vancouver Island Regional Library board. Submitted photo

Strathcona Regional District wants province to boost library funding

Regional district responds to library board request for local government to lobby Victoria

While public libraries are primarily funded locally or regional, some in Vancouver Island’s library system want the province to do more to support their institutions.

During Strathcona Regional District board meetings in May, Area D Director Brenda Leigh, who was also elected as board chair by the Vancouver Island Regional Library this year, has brought forward the issue to the SRD table.

The board unanimously supported a motion to ask the provincial government to add another $20 million to its 2019 budget for libraries across the province and to provide financial support at a sustainable level in subsequent years. It cites years of “stagnant funding,” despite which libraries continue to provide excellent service.

“We haven’t had any significant increase in library funding for 30 years,” Leigh said. “Our costs are escalating just like every other public service.”

When Leigh started serving on the VIRL board, she said the province’s share of the library funding was 26 per cent, but this has fallen to about six per cent, despite increasing costs.

With roughly three per cent increases each year, the amount ends up on local levies, she added.

“The province needs to pick up some portion of that,” Leigh said.

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The motion also states, “libraries in British Columbia provide open and equal public access to vital resources, including the Internet, public computers, digital library tools and in-person service from expert staff to provide opportunities for all British Columbians to access knowledge and information and increase literacy in our communities and present informative programs and material which advance public understanding and reconciliation.”

Andy Adams, Campbell River’s mayor and one of its SRD directors, asked about the logic of asking for a set amount rather than a percentage, as the $20 million could be “eaten up” by larger systems like Vancouver or Kelowna.

“A percentage basis prorated by population of regional districts would be more appropriate,” he said.

Leigh replied that the set figure of $20 million for 2019 was agreed upon by the province’s library association and library trustees association.

“That is what they feel all the libraries in B.C. are needing to continue a sustainable service,” she said.

Beyond the SRD board, the item should be coming to other local governments. The executive of the VIRL, Leigh said, has agreed to a “multi-pronged approach” to approach the BC Library Trustees Association and the Union of BC Municipalities about lobbying the province for more funding for public libraries.

“We’re going to ask all local governments to get behind this motion when it comes to UBCM,” she said.

The annual UBCM convention is scheduled for Sept. 23 to 27 in Vancouver.

Another idea that could show up on the agenda is a push to have libraries moved to another ministry. Leigh said during recent budget deliberations by the province, libraries were not even mentioned. Provincial funding for public libraries now falls under the Ministry of Education.

“We’re rather overshadowed by education,” Leigh said, adding they need to be in a ministry with more focus on libraries.

The ministry issue, however, did not form part of the motion though, she said, as the matter would be left up to the government.

RELATED STORY: New Sayward Library contract awarded

As far as developments in the SRD service area, a VIRL newsletter from March provided updates. For another branch in Campbell River, VIRL staff have been talking with the city about potential sites. For the new Sayward branch, the tenders for the project came in higher than expected, so VIRL worked with consultants to simply the design and re-tender the project. It has since been rewarded to a Campbell River company. Tahsis is also in discussion around potential sites or other options for service in the community.

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