A province-wide review of library services is being welcomed by library advocates.
They see an opportunity to draw attention to the financial struggles facing libraries, where funding has been flat since 2004.
Sport, Culture and Heritage Minister Rochelle Squires announced a full program and policy review in late November, noting provincial policies have also changed little in 30 years, even as libraries have entered the modern era.
The review will look at issues impacting public libraries with a goal of achieving high-quality service at a reasonable cost to taxpayers, Squires said.
“Libraries can build bridges between communities, inspire young readers and offer the key that unlocks the imagination,” Squires said in a news release.
“We want to ensure the support we provide and the services that are offered are delivered as efficiently and effectively as possible.”
Advocates within the library community say the top priority they’ll raise during the review is how libraries are funded.
Donna Kormilo, chair of the Manitoba Library Trustees Association (MLTA) says budget restraints are what’s on everyone’s mind. The province has not increased its per capita funding of $8.50 to public libraries since 2004. But operating costs such as wages and program expenses have risen yearly, said Kormilo.
“What we’re really hearing is the overwhelming need for changes to the funding, in other words increases that more accurately meet the funding needs of public libraries,” said Kormilo.
“The per capita funding formula hasn’t kept up with respect to wages and technology.”
There’s need for some sort of base grant in addition to per capita funding, she added.
Leaders of rural municipalities which also contribute financially to libraries also say the review is a chance to look at how library services are funded.
New model needed
Ralph Groening, reeve of the RM of Morris, whose council contributes to the operations of the library in Morris, said there needs to be a better way found to pay for libraries. The broader-based Association of Manitoba Municipalities has proposed the province implement a mixed funding model, which would include base funding as well as per capita funding.
Libraries like the small one in Morris operate on a shoestring and struggle to pay for things like new books and especially technology upgrades, Groening said.
“One of the needs that we have, certainly in Morris and it’s similar in other communities, is more demand for Internet technology and access, and that’s generated not insignificant costs,” he said.
The AMM’s other long-standing ask of the province is to introduce a province-wide library card, to allow borrowing books at any library in the province. Saskatchewan and Alberta have province-wide library cards, which means residents there don’t encounter user fees like those currently paid by Manitobans who live in one municipality but use the public library in another. The RM of Morris brought the province-wide card idea to AMM back in 2008.
Groening says he thinks regionalization of more libraries also needs to be explored. South Central Regional Library, with its four branches in Winkler, Morden, Altona and Miami is a good example of how libraries now resource and offer user-free access to residents in multiple municipalities.
“There are more significant challenges for libraries in small centres, the independents, like what we have here in Morris,” he added.
“We’ve looked at what would be involved in becoming part of a larger regional library system. Realistically I think that that may be in the future.”
A spokesperson for the Manitoba Library Association said they’ll also be highlighting the need for appropriate funding for staffing, and keeping collections and programs up to date.
“We definitely do more than books,” said Dee Wallace, advocacy director for the association. “Public libraries have become community hubs these days.”
Libraries are increasingly places where people meet, hosting gatherings and it’s where demand for educational programming for all ages is increasing, she said.
“Ensuring that libraries have the appropriate physical space to be able to do that is important,” she said. “Especially important for current-day public libraries is creating an environment that’s welcoming and barrier free.”
The province has said the review will include stakeholder surveys and forums to gather information. More information on how library service providers can contribute to this effort will be available in the coming weeks.