As the chair of the Nelson Public Library board, I am sometimes asked me, “Why did you get involved with the library?”
When I was asked to consider joining the board, I thought this was a great way to contribute to my greater community and to continue the connections that I had fostered while working in Community Education at Selkirk College.
But my mind also drifted back to my Dad dropping me off at our neighbourhood library in East Vancouver as a kid, the joy of bringing books home, and even standing on my tippy-toes to search the card catalogue (a thing of the past now).
As a teen in rural Langley, I remember waiting for the Book Mobile (maybe another thing of the past?) to come by with the next copy of my favourite mystery or romance novel.
As a newcomer to a town in northern B.C., the small library was a place I met other young moms, some who have become long-time friends. At that time, I was blissfully oblivious to the advocacy behind the scene that brought those services to me.
October is Library Month. We have much to acknowledge in terms of the vast array of programs and services that our amazing staff create. And our users don’t disappoint. Our physical collection circulation increased from June to August by 154 per cent from 2020. At the same time, our digital collection circulation increased 33 per cent from 2020.
One participant of the summer’s Library Bingo exclaimed, “I’m taking library bingo really seriously. I’ve never read so many diverse books and different books in my life!”
In a summer of intense heat and smoke from wildfires, our library facility and online programs were a welcome refuge. It does take a community to make a library – especially during a pandemic.
Library Month is also a time to highlight the fact that public libraries are in need of increased funding. We are grateful to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs for the annual grants public libraries receive that supplement local funding. Over the past decade, the portion of a library’s funding that comes from the province has declined from seven per cent in 2009 to 4.6 per cent in 2019. Meanwhile, the municipal portion has risen from 72 to 80 per cent.
Stagnant provincial funding shifts costs to municipalities, which is doubly hard in a time when the demands on municipal services continue to increase. That’s why BC Public Library Partners are asking the provincial government for $22 million for public libraries in 2022, and we also ask that the increase be tied to inflation.
We are fortunate in Nelson and area to have supportive municipal leaders, and a supportive MLA who is willing to meet, listen to our concerns, ask questions, and take them forward to municipal affairs minister Josie Osborne.
In a recent press release marking October 2021 as Library Month, Osborne stated, “the pandemic has highlighted the vital role libraries have in keeping people connected with their loved ones and communities.” When our city counsellor Keith Page, the city rep on our board, posed a question to the premier at the recent Union of B.C. Municipalities convention, Premier John Horgan responded that he’d follow up – we have his attention. Our board will be holding them to account.
Now in my fifth year term of a library trustee as the RDCK Area F representative and the chair of the board, my perspective of libraries has deepened. While I still experience the joy of finding a new mystery author (I am going through all the local Kootenay authors currently), I have a deeper understanding of the role our communities play in creating the space so many cherish.
When I am asked why I am involved with the library, I say to provide purposeful leadership where I can advocate for the one community space that everyone has equal access to information. So, if you are asked to consider joining the Friends of the Library or the board, don’t brush it off – we all have something to contribute to grow our library.
Anni Holtby is the board chair of the Nelson Public Library.