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WHEREAS provincial operating grants for library systems do not provide sufficient funding capacity for sizeable capital projects such as the repair, expansion or replacement of headquarters facilities; and
WHEREAS legislation for Alberta libraries does not allow library systems to borrow money to acquire real property for the purposes of a building to be used as a headquarters of a library systems or for erecting, repairing, furnishing and equipping a building to be used as the headquarters of a library systems; and
WHEREAS library systems need adequately sized and safe, well-maintained facilities to effectively perform the functions that are defined in the Alberta Libraries Act, including resource sharing and supporting bibliographic and IT network and infrastructure in public libraries; and
WHEREAS library systems exist to ensure Albertans have equitable and seamless access to library resources through a robust public library network supported by the Government of Alberta and comprised of a provincial policy framework and technological infrastructure; and
WHEREAS library systems exist to support quality services and resources in public libraries for all Albertans and to contribute to sustainable communities in Alberta, especially in rural and remote communities; and
WHEREAS library systems are exemplary bridges to collaboration among municipalities and among other Library Systems to ensure that resources are shared and value is augmented; and
WHEREAS public libraries provide a universal and low-cost point of access to information for Albertans of all ages, in all regions of the province, who are pursuing knowledge and information needed for success in education, business, career development, job security and personal projects; and
WHEREAS public libraries and the Public Library Network provide resources to develop a full range of literacy skills for Albertans of all ages, in all regions of the province;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties request that the Government of Alberta develop the necessary legislation, policy and procedures to enable Alberta’s library systems to acquire capital funding to repair, expand or replace their headquarters facilities.
The Alberta Libraries Act provides the legal framework for public library service in Alberta. Library systems, which deliver services and support on a regional level, are also created under the Alberta Libraries Act.
It must be clear that the purpose of this resolution is specifically to enable borrowing powers for the seven Regional Library Systems in Alberta, representing 310 municipalities and 1,433,722 Albertans.
Library systems were established by the Alberta Government, with the first coming into existence over 50 years ago. With the exception of four or five municipalities, all municipalities in Alberta are members of a library system as designated in the Alberta Libraries Act.
Municipal Affairs strongly encourages municipalities to belong to library system to pool resources, to maximize efficiency and purchasing power, and to participate in the Public Library Network. The Public Library Network is a provincial policy framework and a technological infrastructure that facilitates cooperation in efficient, effective and seamless delivery of library resources and services to all Albertans. The network is coordinated and supported by Alberta Municipal Affairs through the Public Library Services Branch. In turn, library systems are the gateway to providing public library series defined in this official Public Library Network policy through support to municipal libraries and provision of service directly to residents.
Regional library system are not-for-profit public library service providers serving multiple municipalities. Municipalities and school authorities can join library systems in compliance with the Act. There are over 300 municipalities that are members of library system and whose residents are direct recipients of public library services that are purchased and managed by the seven regional library system. Every member municipality appoints a trustee who has a seat and a vote on one of the seven library system boards. These seven library systems provide service and support to over 270 public libraries in Alberta.
It is highly unlikely that municipalities would ever withdraw from their library system because that would mean that their residents would no longer have access to the majority of public library series that are delivered through a computer system or via the internet. No municipality has withdrawn from any library system within the last 10 years. Every municipality that has joined a library system signs a library system agreement and then gets official permission to join the library system from the Minister.
Library systems are funded by a combination of municipal levies and provincial library grants. Overall, the funding from provincial grants and municipal levies has not been sufficient and has not kept pace with inflationary trends to provide adequate reserves for substantial repairs, expansion or replacement of headquarters’ facilities. Library systems do not have access to grant funding in the same way that a municipal library has because library systems do not have a relationship with only one municipality. It would take considerable effort and good fortune to get all the municipalities that are members of a library system (which would be required) to agree to support a major grant application. A major grant ask may mean that a local library or organization might have to do without.
As it stands, the Alberta Libraries Act specifies that library systems cannot directly borrow for capital projects, as stated as follows in Section 24 of the Act:
(24) A municipality or a school authority that is a party to an agreement described in section 13 may, with the approval of the Minister, borrow money to acquire real property for the purposes of a building to be used as the headquarters of a library system or for erecting, repairing, furnishing and equipping a building to be used as the headquarters of a library system, and section 10(2) and (3) apply to the borrowing of the money.
The Libraries Regulation within the Alberta Libraries Act does not include language about borrowing money or capital funding. It does state, however, that the library systems must be able to deliver services and resources to its members and have a “provision for expansion of the Library System to all jurisdictions with the prescribed boundaries” (Section 25(1)(k)). The ability of public libraries to provide current relevant library service could be negatively impacted if the regional system headquarters facility has continued restricted access to capital funding.
There is language in the Alberta Libraries Act that refers to municipal libraries (Section 10(1)), and not to library systems. Section 10 under Municipal Libraries states that “When money is required for the purpose of acquiring real property for the purposes of a building to be used as a municipal library or for erecting, repairing, furnishing and equipping a building to be used as a municipal library, the council may, at the request of the municipal board, take all necessary steps to furnish the money requested or the portion of it that the council considers expedient. (2) Money approved by the council under subsection (1) may be borrowed by the council under the authority of a bylaw and on the RSA 2000 Section 10.1 Chapter L-11 LIBRARIES ACT 7.
Any given municipal council may be unable to, or unwilling to, borrow money on behalf of a Library System if the municipality does not have borrowing capacity, or there are other priorities and local needs.
Before borrowing, a library system such as Marigold would ensure that a special per capita levy of a modest amount would be accepted by its members over a set number of years. This added revenue would be used to pay back the loan.
Other options for funding have been investigated and found to be unsuitable, including Alberta Capital Management Agency loans. AGCL has indicated that library systems do not qualify for casinos even if they have a Friends Organization. Grants typically need matching funds. It is unlikely that library systems would have the ability to save sufficient funds to match a grant, if it were available, in amounts exceeding one million dollars. For example, Marigold Library System has saved $1.6 million dollars over ten years in a capital reserve that is intended for a major expansion or replacement of it 60-year-old building. This facility, once an armory, undersized and has aging and inadequate facility infrastructure. Marigold is now serving a population that has increased 2 ½ times in 10 years, making it the third largest library system in Alberta after Calgary and Edmonton (based on resident population). Library system services such as on-site technology training and IT network support are compromised by the limited size of the present facility.
With populations that have fluctuated throughout Alberta’s municipalities, (some populations growing rapidly while others are declining), and provincial funding that has not kept up with population growth or service diversification on a regular basis, it is difficult to engage in any long term financial planning. Not only does this threaten the sustainability of library systems and endanger the provision of and access to valuable programs and services available to all Albertans, it makes it virtually impossible to build capital assets and capacity to meet the service delivery expectations of the province or of Albertans who use these services.
Leaders of the Library Systems have appealed to the provincial government for capital funding in writing and in person for more than five years. Library System Chairs have also requested a list of ways to raise capital funds. A spokesperson representing the Chairs of the seven Library Systems made a request to the Minister of Municipal Affairs on January 13, 2016 for the Province to provide capital funding for headquarter repair, expansion or relocation so that library systems can continue to serve and support the robust Public Library Network throughout the province of Alberta.
It was requested that the Minister report back on how and from whom the seven Library Systems can acquire sufficient capital funding through eligible grants and by borrowing money. Also requested was that the Alberta Libraries Act be reviewed and that more immediate funding solutions be provided before urgent infrastructure deficits faced by several library systems becomes an impediment to delivering the expected service outcomes of the Province and the respective Agreements with member municipalities.
At the January 13, 2016 meeting, the Minister of Municipal Affairs acknowledged that library system operating grants are not sufficient for library systems to save funds for capital projects. Minister Larivee recommended submitting the capital requests to Alberta Infrastructure. The Public Library Services Branch has been doing this for five years. Regional library systems are listed as Unfunded Capital Projects as of April 14, 2016, in Alberta’s Fiscal Plan: Capital Plan; however, there are many provincial projects that are deemed more urgent and fund-worthy. The indeterminate timeline for funding could be years away.
Public libraries in Alberta are thriving. Cardholder numbers and library use is increasing in both traditional and emerging library service areas. Access to public libraries is increasingly being seen by Albertans as an essential service. This is particularly evident during any economic decline when Albertans depend on public libraries for access to technology, affordable information and recreation, literacy training, job searching and career development resources, exam invigilation, social interaction and much more.
Public libraries in every community are valued by residents as the gathering place for their community. In small, rural and remote communities, the public library is an important symbol of that community’s viability and sustainability. Library systems consolidate services and resources to ensure that all public libraries in large and small communities have the best value and the best opportunities to thrive. Library systems provide the means to ensure that the Public Library Network remains strong and that public libraries throughout Alberta are providing relevant, vital and cost effective public library services to Albertans.
14-14F: Provincial Funding for Municipal Public Libraries and Regional Library Systems
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties request the Government of Alberta to review its funding formula for public libraries and regional library systems and develop a consistent approach and longer term plan to allow for increased funding that reflects current census information regarding populations in Alberta and multi-year planning, to ensure consistent delivery of library services for all Albertans in all regions.
DEVELOPMENTS: The Government of Alberta’s recent response to resolution 11-16S indicates an increase to library funding in the previous budget year as well as a smaller increase in the 2016/17 budget that is targeted to improve library services to on-reserve and on-settlement Indigenous populations at public libraries. While this contribution is appreciated, its specific nature may not address broader operating challenges faced by rural libraries and regional library systems. However, the AAMDC is pleased that Municipal Affairs has formed a working group with key stakeholders to address challenges faced by rural libraries and regional library networks.
Although it is unclear if these funding increases will be accompanied by a multi-year plan for the further development of Alberta’s public libraries, the AAMDC is encouraged by this increase in funding, and thus deems this resolution as Accepted in Part. The AAMDC will continue to monitor this resolution to ensure rural municipalities are adequately served by Alberta’s public library network.
11-16S: Provincial Funding for Municipal Public Libraries and Regional Library Systems
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties request the Government of Alberta increase its funding for public libraries and regional library systems.
DEVELOPMENTS: The Government of Alberta response indicates an increase to library funding in the previous budget year as well as a smaller increase in the 2016/17 budget that is targeted to improve library services to on-reserve and on-settlement Indigenous populations at public libraries. While this contribution is appreciated, its specific nature may not address broader operating challenges faced by rural libraries and regional library systems. However, the AAMDC is pleased that Municipal Affairs has formed a working group with key stakeholders to address challenges faced by rural libraries and regional library networks.
Due to recent and future funding increases that partly address the concerns outlined in the resolution, as well as Municipal Affairs’ commitment to collaborating to improve rural library service, this resolution is assigned a status of Accepted in Principle, and will be reviewed based on the outcome of the working group and next year’s provincial budget.