They had budgeted for cutbacks and braced for bad news. So when the Prince George Public Library got the announcement last week of increased government funding, it was a welcome surprise.
A $196,271 grant from the Ministry of Community, Aboriginal and Women’s Services will be used for on-line cataloguing, upgrading systems, technical improvements and new, upgraded discovery stations. The amount is up from last year’s grant of $188,185.
Chief Librarian Allan Wilson said Monday that by the end of April several new stations are expected to be “unveiled” and available for use by the public. The new stations, being phased in eight at a time, will include internet and word processing capabilities.
“We were expecting a reduction and we budgeted for cutbacks. But when it [funds] came in it was actually up from last year, so we are pleased. We can certainly use it here in the North.”
Historically, libraries in British Columbia have been “among the worst funded in Canada,” Wilson said. And yet, the Prince George Public Library is in the top ten most used libraries for its size [serving populations of 100,000] in Canada.
“It is an historical anomaly,” he said. He hopes that trend will change.
Meanwhile, enhancements to the library, which include strengthening collections and improving technology, will be done over time. Most of the grant moneys will be used to replace old systems with new.
Still, the library relies on the city for most of its operating, Wilson said. “We get about $2.7 million [per year] from them. We get about $98,000 from the region and about double that from the province. “That comes to about 98 per cent of total funds, said Wilson, with the other two per cent made up of donations and fund raising.
The grant for Prince George is part of $9 million in provincial funding given out for operating costs and library acquisitions (an increase of $400,000 from last year). In making the funding announcement, Murray Coell, Minister of Community, Aboriginal and Women’s Services said, “We are committed to sustaining the role of public libraries throughout the province. Public libraries are a resource for all local communities to help improve the day-to-day lives of individuals, benefiting young and old alike, and building a stronger British Columbia.”
Strong and reliable funding is part of the province’s focus towards improved literacy and giving British Columbians “the tools to pursue their goals and achieve their dreams no matter where they live in the province,” he said.
Funding is distributed on a per capita basis to help purchase library materials, including books and audio-visual materials or to cover general operating expenses. Libraries can also use these grants to purchase public access computers and internet access.
According to the ministry, there are 69 public library facilities operating 234 branches that together circulated 50 million items in B.C. last year.