Nova Scotia

Halifax libraries face temporary layoffs amid COVID-19 fuelled city budget cuts

Halifax Public Libraries is considering new ways to offer services as it faces a $1.1-million budget cut from the city.

Cuts also mean deferral of new Bedford Library by 1 year

Asa Kachan, chief librarian of Halifax Public Libraries, says all layoffs would be temporary, as she believes libraries will play a key role when the province reopens. (CBC)

Halifax Public Libraries is considering new ways to offer services as it faces a $1.1-million budget cut from the city.

Halifax Regional Municipality is slashing spending to deal with a massive shortfall created by COVID-19.

Åsa Kachan, chief librarian and CEO, said the cuts will be significant and will likely include short-term layoffs while libraries across the city remain closed.

"These are unprecedented times," she said. "We will be challenged, but we believe profoundly that the library has an important role and will continue to have an important role."

That isn't the only loss of money they're facing. With branches closed, the libraries are no longer collecting parking tolls, rental money or late fees.

Halifax Public Libraries is looking at ways to offer outdoor programming while they figure out how to safely open the branches again. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Kachan said they also plan to save money by cancelling all travel to training and conferences, and deferring planned upgrades to computers. Reduced use of office supplies while the facilities are closed will also lead to savings.

She emphasized the layoffs in particular are a temporary solution.

"We are not looking at permanent layoffs of any of our staff," she said.

"In fact, we think they are an extraordinary team and they know their communities well and our ability to help the community recover really depends on us having those familiar faces available as soon as we're able to provide more in-person service."

Bedford library delayed

Halifax Public Libraries is also facing the loss of $250,000 in capital funding for a new Bedford library. Kachan said those funds will be deferred for a year and the project is still a priority.

"We can't begin to design our Bedford library until we figure out where it's going to be located," she said. "So if we looked across the next coming months about what we might be able to achieve, we did not anticipate we would have the land in place to begin the design process."

The cuts come as Kachan and her team try to come up with new ways to reach the community when the province starts to open up.

How libraries will operate once province opens up

She said she's been working with libraries across the country to come up with innovative ideas as it's unlikely that shared public spaces will reopen immediately.

"That might take the shape of curbside pickup or more home deliveries," Kachan said of the possibilities.

"It could be programming in outdoor spaces instead of in a library meeting room. We could find different ways to get our collection out to the community. These are new times."

Kachan said they'll lean heavily on public health for guidance on how to "carefully and thoughtfully" open up their branches.

"When a community has been under strain the way ours has been, people need their library more, not less," she said. "That's what spurs us on."