Downtown Kelowna branch of the Okanagan Regional Library. (File photo)

COVID-19 minimizes Okanagan Regional Library budget increase

Library adapts to pandemic fiscal disruptions

The Okanagan Regional Library (ORL) is financially weathering the economic storm caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ORL board has received a recommendation from the board finance committee to include a .75 per cent funding increase for its 2021 budget, which works out to an actual decrease in the per capita cost to operate the ORL’s library system, the 16th largest in Canada with branches extending from Osoyoos across the southern Interior to Golden.

“In the past, we would typically look for a rate of inflation increase in our budget but our library board recognizes that people are feeling challenged right now so we needed to work to reduce our budget spending to what are seen as critical needs,” said Don Nettleton, chief executive officer of the ORL.

“We really are trying right now just to maintain what we have.”

Nettleton said the impact of COVID-19 has been felt by the ORL financially. The savings produced by library branch closures in March through to mid-May are balanced against the loss of revenue for that period and unexpected cost increase for cleaning and sanitation supplies and janitorial services, and additional costs for maintaining virtual services.

Since mid-May, the ORL has moved from virtual services to curbside pickup, and now the browse and borrow service model.

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This model allows people to enter the library and browse the physical book collection and check them out via self-checkout stations.

Nettleton said in a typical year, the ORL will see a service circulation of about 2.3 million in circulation, but this year it will drop to about 1.8 million.

“Still the biggest part of that circulation figure is people taking out books, but the virtual services we offer continue to show growth, up to 50 per cent each year,” he said.

Nettleton said the ORL’s reopening steps have posed an internal challenge because of the volume and different needs of the various branches.

“Every site and branch had to have a risk assessment done, and our own procedures and policies had to be figured out as the needs of our downtown Kelowna branch and smaller branches in other communities were different.

“The geography was another challenge as moving books and materials around to different branches is a big part of what we do. That all stopped with the branch closures so it was a huge effort on the part of our staff to get that going again.”

With virtual services, Nettleton said some makerspaces such as the Westside Learning Centre will be reopened by the end of September. Similar facilities also exist in Kelowna and Golden.

Makerspaces are a place to find audio and video recording, 3D printing, coding, robotics, electronics and material cutting services offered by ORL.

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