Calgary

Alberta government puts funding on hold for public libraries

A provincial government spokesperson confirmed to CBC News in an emailed statement that libraries will receive 50 per cent of their allotted funding later this month.

Small libraries will likely be the hardest hit

Visitors read, study and work at Calgary's Central Library on Nov. 2, 2018. Library funding in Alberta is on hold until the provincial budget is released in fall. (Sarah Rieger/CBC)

Alberta's government is putting public library funding on hold. 

A provincial government spokesperson confirmed to CBC News in an emailed statement that libraries will still receive half the regular funding for the year by the end of August.

But it's unclear whether the remaining 50 per cent will come when the budget is finalized in late October.

In 2015, the NDP also withheld some funding, providing 75 per cent to libraries through the interim supply bill tabled in June, with the remainder distributed in early September. 

While provincial dollars only make up a small portion of funding for large libraries, a freeze — and added uncertainty this late in the fiscal year — could be a big hit for smaller centres.

"I think it would impact us greatly if they withhold any of the money at all," says Gloria McGowan, manager of the Thelma Fanning Memorial Library in Nanton. "It's going to hurt our bottom line."

Nanton has had a public library for more than a century, and it offers book clubs, summer reading programs, author readings and as well as internet access for the small town. The library is part of a network of 33 in southwest Alberta, that give residents of the area shared access to all of the libraries' collections. 

"We service not only the town, but the outlying districts … but our library is quite important in this town because there aren't any other entertainment-type venues."

Provincial funds cover 50-70% of Nanton library's costs

McGowan said provincial funding covers between 50 to 70 per cent of their operating costs and she worries how many services will have to be cut if funding isn't renewed.

"I don't think that the new government really understands the importance of libraries. We are a source of information and learning. It's like an educational institution. I don't think those services should be cut back when there are cutbacks to be made," she said. 

Most smaller public libraries in Alberta do not have contingency funds.- Pam Medland, Airdrie Public Library

Pam Medland, director of the Airdrie Public Library, says her game plan is to stay optimistic and assume that until she hears otherwise, the library will receive an amount equal to last year's $343,000.

But even that amount may not be in step with the growing city's needs.

"We're also concerned, because we are just completing our 2020 budget. And again, we're unclear of what amount we should be using reflect the provincial contribution," Medland said.

"Most smaller public libraries in Alberta do not have contingency funds."

Mary Kapusta is the director of communications at the Calgary Public Library. (Tahirih Foroozan/CBC)

Calgary Public Library spokesperson Mary Kapusta says provincial funding amounts to just about 10 per cent of the operating budget. 

But she wants to reiterate that as times get tough libraries become more important than ever.

"We see the impact of the sustained downturn at all of our locations every day. The library is a place where people receive critical resources and support," she said.

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