Current Population Funding for Municipal Public Libraries in Alberta
IT IS THEREFORE RESOLVED THAT the AUMA requests that Alberta’s Department of Municipal Affairs uses current population data in calculating provincial operating grants for municipal public libraries serving populations over 3,000.
WHEREAS provincial operating grants for municipal public libraries serving populations over 3,000 are calculated with a formula using local municipal appropriation and 2016 populations of the municipality and therefore do not provide sufficient financial resources for Alberta’s growing communities;
WHEREAS “Library Board Basics: A Handbook for Library Trustees and Managers”, provided by Alberta Municipal Affairs, explicitly states that libraries do not charge for basic services and therefore have limited in-house revenue -generating opportunities;
WHEREAS “Best Practices for Public Libraries in Alberta”, a provincial document that municipal library boards are encouraged to extensively use in service planning and evaluation, provides unachievable recommended levels of service;
WHEREAS the Libraries Regulation, AR 141/98, Section 13, (2) requires municipal boards to file no less than every five years a copy of its current plan of service with goals and objectives based on growing communities’ input resulting in expressed, recorded, and reported demand for service that is unattainable based on the realities of what libraries are financially able to provide;
WHEREAS the Libraries Act, RSA 2000 cL-11, Section 8 and 9 requires municipal library boards to annually prepare a budget that estimates the amount of money required to operate the forthcoming year and consequently ask municipal councils for ever-increasing funds that boards predict they are not likely to receive due to local multi-sector demands from vast and diverse rapidly increasing populations;
WHEREAS municipal libraries provide Albertans with equal and equitable access to information regardless of economic, social, or geographic circumstance and collaborate with their library system and other municipalities to maximize partnership efficiencies and cost- sharing opportunities;
Public municipal libraries in Alberta are legislated by the Libraries Act and Libraries Regulation that provide mandatory standards for governance and board accountability that are monitored by the provincial government for compliance. The Libraries Act provides for the establishment of autonomous municipal library boards that cooperate through the provincial Public Library Network and resource-sharing agreements to provide access to public library resources province-wide. The Libraries Regulation establishes key provincially-regulated standards for the planning and development of public library service at the local and system levels. The Department of Municipal Affairs provides public library service delivery expectations that, although optional and not monitored for compliance, are recommended and promoted in Best Practices for Public Libraries in Alberta as the guide for quality library service. The Public Library Services Branch supports library boards and managers with trainings and the Board Basics Handbook to ensure that the board concentrates on governance and advocacy, while operations and staff supervision are delegated to the library manager.
The impact of calculating provincial operating grants for municipal public libraries serving populations over 3,000 with a formula using local municipal appropriation and 2016 populations of the municipality is vast:
- Alberta libraries are not able to achieve the minimum level of best practices set by the provincial government;
- Alberta communities are not receiving the programs, services, and resources they identified as local needs in their libraries’ plans of service; and
- Alberta municipal councils are not in the position to fund at the level that meets local demand.
The outcome from these impacts is clear: Albertans are not receiving the free, barrier-free service they need, now more than ever. Therefore, it is fair to state that this issue is common for and would be endorsed by the municipalities serving more than 3,000 people that are included in the 317 out of 351 municipalities that provide access to municipal library service. This resolution should be given high priority because Albertans of all ages across the province are unable to fully benefit from public library resources and exercise their right to access information regardless of economic, social or geographic circumstances due to financial constraints many boards and managers are currently implementing. As both provincial and municipal governments are responsible for maintaining a healthy public library service, it is time for the province to account for increases to populations with which local governments are struggling to keep pace. The unpredictable additional stresses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic are making libraries more relevant than ever before as Albertans face a future of economic and social uncertainty. It is during times like this that public libraries are at their busiest. The needs of our community—like many across the province—are vastly outgrowing available resources, particularly with the skyrocketing demands put on our libraries before, during, and after Alberta’s COVID-19 pandemic relaunch strategy.
This resolution will enable the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association to request that the funding model for provincial public library grants be updated to use current municipal population data. This important, Alberta-wide issue aligns with the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association’s vision and mission because in order to build a thriving community, municipalities need thriving libraries, and this call to action provides visionary leadership and solutions-based advocacy that will result in service excellence.
The Minister’s November 2020 response stated that the province is working hard to maintain funding levels in difficult fiscal times and that “if we were to adjust grants for increasing populations right now, we would have to do so within our existing $30.5-million grant budget, which would see more funds go to larger centres and smaller grants for rural libraries.” The Minister also notes that a review of the Libraries Act, which was paused in 2019 due to the pandemic, will recommence in fall 2021, with a focus on reducing red tape.
Intent not met - further action will be taken.
In the fall of 2021, during Municipal Affairs' stakeholder engagement process for their review of the Libraries Act and Regulation, Ministry staff indicated that funding for libraries was not within the scope of the engagement discussion topics. They also reiterated that the province has no plans to increase the budget for libraries or to base allocation of funding amounts on current municipal populations; allocations will continue to be based on 2016 populations.
Further advocacy efforts will be recommended to the Alberta Municipalities Board by the Safe and Healthy Communities Committee, with input from the Small Communities and Municipal Governance Committees as appropriate.