Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Peace Library System is in a strong position coming out of 2020.
“All in all, it was a very unusual year, but it showed libraries can continue to offer services in the middle of a global pandemic to a population that is stuck at home or in their cars — taking services to where the people are and delivering it in new and innovative ways, while abiding by public health orders,” Louisa Robison, Chief Executive Officer of the Peace Library System (PLS), told Grande Prairie’s Community Services Committee on Tuesday
“It was a year-long experiment that turned out to be a big success, and it will continue to impact how libraries deliver our services into the future.”
Demand for digital content, which is expected to remain strong, does provide some challenges for both PLS and its members.
“(Digital content) is an on-going concern because digital content is mostly billed in US dollars, so that exchange is always a concern of ours, and is really not entirely predictable, so that cost is always kind of up in the air until we get the final bill. And (digital content costs) continue to rise on average five per cent a year. When that goes up, every year that buying power goes down a little bit.”
Robison said adding money provincially for libraries has not gone up and is not expected to for the next few years.
“It is a concern, and we are always reviewing the e-content that we have to what is being used and what isn’t being used, what we can cut, and what we can put more money into,” Robison said. “It is kind of a balancing act all the way through, trying to figure out where the best place to spend that money is,”
Councillor Wade Pilat asked how the libraries in smaller neighbouring communities are making out.
“The usage of smaller libraries is very high, and with the pandemic, it has even gotten higher,” Robison said. “There is a lot of programming going on — kind of a take and do rather than a come to the library and do this they will put together kits that people can take home and do there. There is a lot of drive-through programming. The usage and public perception of the libraries are actually quite good. It is unfortunate the funding from the province to the municipalities goes down, libraries are often one of the first things on the chopping block.”
Robison told the committee how the library system benefits the libraries in the 38 municipalities and one Métis settlement it operates in.
“Peace Library System basically helps libraries in four key areas,” Robison explained. “We build their library collections with up-to-date materials, we help with library technology, we help to get more resources for patrons than are held in just a local library, and we also help with training and program support for people who run those libraries. We also assist libraries with marketing and working on initiatives to reach out to Indigenous communities.”
The library system CEO added that each community contributes $6.37 per capita while the respective libraries contribute an additional $2.75 per capita.
In 2020, the city contributed more than $440,000.
“The revenue collected from the City of Grande Prairie totalled 14.9 per cent of the total revenue for the Peace Library System, but circulation for patrons of the Grande Prairie Public Library accounts for 49 per cent of all circulation in the Peace system,” Robison said.
Money from last year increased PLS’s delivery capacity by allowing the organization to hire a new driver and purchase a delivery van. PLS also set up an app with three other library systems so clients could access library services from a phone, a benefit during the pandemic. They also updated e-content , put on workshops and an online regional library conference and allowed PLS to hire an Indigenous outreach worker.