WHEREAS libraries are an important service in rural communities and play a key role in community development; and
WHEREAS rural libraries are distinctly different in size, scope, and service level from libraries in large urban centres; and
WHEREAS the Libraries Act provides the legal framework for public library service in Alberta; and
WHEREAS the current version of the Libraries Act was adopted in 2007; and
WHEREAS section 14(1) of the Libraries Regulation requires a municipal board of any municipality with a population of 10,000 or more to employ a professional librarian that is a graduate of a postgraduate library program; and
WHEREAS the Libraries Regulation does not take into consideration population density, distance between service points or number of service points within a municipality; and
WHEREAS the Public Library Grants Program uses the 2016 Alberta Municipal Affairs population lists which do not include the results from the 2016 federal census, and, therefore, 49 rural municipalities receive funding based on their 2011 federal census numbers; and
WHEREAS regional library boards and systems are concerned about the restrictions placed on them by the Libraries Act, Libraries Regulation, and current library funding mechanisms;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Rural Municipalities of Alberta request that the Government of Alberta review the the Libraries Act and Libraries Regulation through a comprehensive public consultation process;
FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that the review include a focus on amending population density and service point indicators related to requirements for hiring professional librarians;
FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that RMA requests that the Government of Alberta update population lists to the most recent census information to ensure proper funding is provided to rural library boards.
Libraries play an important role in community development. They serve as a meeting place for people to learn and socialize. Libraries provide a variety of services that are often hard to access in rural and remote areas. These include internet access, literacy education, access to physical and digital books, as well as programing for hard to reach demographics such a new mothers or seniors. Libraries are community hubs and are a critical service to support community development. In rural Alberta, libraries are also a service point for the Alberta Supernet. This allows patron access to reliable high-speed internet that can help bridge the digital divide. These services and the others provided by libraries are important to rural communities. However, rural communities also face unique challenges when trying to optimize their library services.
Alberta’s library system is operated by municipalities based on requirements in the Libraries Act and Libraries Regulation. This resolution requests a review of the Act and Regulation to ensure they properly address the challenges faced by rural libraries. The resolution also specifically calls for changes to two current components of the library system that are problematic for library boards; one within the Act itself and one outside the scope of the Act but still crucial to the sustainability of rural libraries. These are explained below:
Professional Librarian Requirements
Rural libraries are often smaller and provide services to fewer patrons over a greater distance. Furthermore, rural municipalities may have multiple service points that are often open shorter hours and have fewer staff members than their urban counterparts. The requirement in the Libraries Regulation that municipalities with a population above 10,000 must hire a professional librarian adds further stress to already limited rural libraries. In some cases, the cost of hiring a professional librarian would take the entire library board budget. This cost could also lead to the closure of rural service points and a reduction in the library services in an area. This can also have unintended impacts for library boards with dispersed populations and few large urban members.
An example of this challenge can be seen in the Northern Lights Library System (NLLS), which is the only one of Alberta’s seven library systems with no large urban centres. For every 25,000 persons it serves, NLLS must employ one professional librarian. Therefore, for the 174,000 persons within the NLLS geographic area, NLLS is required to hire seven professional librarians.
If a library system has a member library with a population over 10,000 then that municipality is required to hire a professional librarian. As a result, the library system can deduct that population from the overall system population; therefore, reducing the overall requirement of hiring a professional librarian at the system level.
For Instance, Marigold Library System, with a population of just over 300,000, have several municipalities that are required to directly hire professional librarians. These local libraries hiring professional librarians eliminate over 200,000 persons from the system population. Therefore, with a population reduced to 100,000, the Marigold Library System, according to current legislation, is only required to hire five professional librarians at the system level.
Northern Lights Library system on the other hand only has one member municipality with a population over 10,000. The City of Cold Lake has a population of just under 15,000, which reduces the NLLS total population to 159,000. This reduces the required number of professional librarians to six for the system
NLLS currently has eight professional librarians serving in libraries hired by their municipalities; just because the population served is lower than the 10,000 should not negate the fact that these people have been trained at a master’s degree level and they are not being recognized for it due to a change in the interpretation of the Library Regulation.
Numerous system directors and system board members have expressed that at one time all professional librarians hired at the municipal level were taken off from the system population count, no matter how many persons lived in that municipality.
The requirement for NLLS to employ at least six professional librarians (master’s degree a requirement) has significant impact on budget, operations and service, including the following:
Current Population Lists
Another challenge facing rural library boards is inaccurate funding from the Public Library Grants Program. This has occurred because Alberta Municipal Affairs has not updated their population lists since 2016. According to the 2016 Municipal Affairs Population List 49 rural municipalities and one specialized municipality have population numbers from the 2011 federal census. Therefore, these municipalities are receiving per capita funding based on numbers that are eight years old. This adds another challenge to rural library boards as they are not receiving accurate funding to support their rural library.
While this issue would be outside the scope of the Act and Regulation, it is still a crucial advocacy priority to ensure rural libraries are properly funded and can operate sustainably.
RMA has no active resolutions directly related to this issue.
Budget 2019 is good news for library boards across Alberta, as the government has maintained funding in an environment of fiscal restraint.
Operating grants are maintained at the same amount as last fiscal year. This includes grants for Indigenous populations on-reserve and settlement. Over $30 million will go directly to municipal and regional library boards throughout Alberta this year.
Alberta Municipal Affairs is also maintaining levels of support for public library network services such as:
– SuperNet connectivity (over $2 million a year);
– interlibrary loan delivery and software (approx. $1 million a year);
– e-content and e-books – particularly the Read Alberta E-books Project with the Book Publishers of Alberta; and
– services for print-disabled readers.
As part of the government-wide effort to reduce red tape, Municipal Affairs has been holding feedback sessions at libraries across Alberta and has an open online survey. The ministry will consider this resolution along with the other feedback in terms of how to make grant applications easier (while still maintaining levels of library service).
The Government of Alberta response indicates that funding for library operating grants has remained steady at $30 million in budget 2019, as has other related funding. Funding also remained stable in budget 2020. While this stability is appreciated, the response does not address any of the requests within resolution 12-19F, including a public review of the Libraries Act and Libraries Regulation, a greater focus on population density related to professional librarian hiring requirements, and updating of population lists to determine proper funding is provided to rural library boards.
In June 2021, Alberta Municipal Affairs introduced a plan for a targeted red tape reduction-focused review of the Libraries Act, with a focus in four specific areas, including the current requirement that library boards serving a population above 10,000 hire at least one professional librarian. The specific consultation on this issue is expected to take place in fall 2021.
RMA assigns this resolution a status of Intent Not Met and will revisit this resolution based on the outcome of the Libraries Act review.