For 99 per cent of British Columbians, a public library card is free.
But if you live in rural Area E, which includes Balfour, Harrop-Procter and Blewett, a card at the Nelson library will cost you $45. For a family, it’s $90.
This issue came up at city council on Dec. 17 when the Nelson library asked council for a two per cent budget increase.
In other rural areas near Nelson – the Slocan Valley (Area H) or the region from Six Mile to Bonnington (Area F) – your library card is free and supported by taxation, as is the case within the city.
Why the discrepancy?
In 2010, the RDCK held a referendum in Areas E, F, and H, asking residents if they wanted to be taxed for library services. Areas H and F voted yes, while Area E voted no.
Head librarian Tracey Therrien told the Star that her staff often has to explain this to new residents of Area E.
“People automatically think a library membership is free,” she said. “They don’t normally stop and think that this is through their taxes. There is only one per cent of British Columbians without this, and Area E makes up part of that.”
Students in Area E still get free library cards because the library asks Area E for a grant each year for this purpose. Last year’s grant was $8,500.
That’s a small amount compared to what the library gets through taxes from the other two rural areas: $89,000 from Area H and $63,000 from Area F in 2018.
On Dec. 17 the library board presented budget information to city council and asked for a two per cent funding increase for 2019.
The increase would cover inflation, increased use, no increase in provincial funding since 2009, and a negotiated wage increase.
Library staff are unionized city employees. Wages and benefits constitute about 70 per cent of the library’s expenses.
Nelson contributes 67 per cent of the library’s budget of just under $1 million, and the RDCK contributes about 16 per cent. The rest comes from the province, project grants, donations, and operating income.
Therrien presented a list of library stats to council last month, including:
• Visits to the library went up by two per cent from 2015 to 2017, from 138,079 to 141,470.
• Loans of books decreased four per cent but the number of loans from the online library (audio, e-books, databases, online courses) went up by 21 per cent.
• Inter-library loans were up 28 per cent. (Books can be borrowed through the Nelson library from any library in B.C.)
• Use of public computers was up by seven per cent.
• Program attendance was up by 71 per cent.
The most popular programs, Therrien says, are group storytimes for kids and toddlers.
Also popular are literary programs with local authors, instructional sessions about such things as wills and estates, and an increasing number of programs for teens.
Therrien says that a few decades ago, all you needed to set up a library was a building and some books. But now it’s about access to information across many media and activities.
“You can’t just create an instant library in a community now. Each community is so different in its needs and wants.”
The library’s request for a funding increase will be included in city council’s public discussions this month on the 2019 budget.