Although the number of people using the library has dropped by 59 per cent due to the effects of the pandemic, the city-owned institution is asking for bump of five per cent more in its budget.
The library’s annual budget ask has gone up to just over $1 million to $1,044,175 for the coming year, but it is a minimal amount to cover the growing digital collection, said the Nelson Public Library chief librarian, Tracey Therrien, in her presentation to city council.
The pandemic and a reduction of library hours moved more people online to look for a book and that trend will continue to grow, she said.
“We’ve adjusted our budget to reflect this … but people expect a robust digital and physical collection,” Therrien said. “This is difficult because digital content often cost three to five times more than a physical item.”
People are still coming to libraries but they are just using them differently, she explained.
“It’s not just about checking books out anymore, it’s about the dynamic and how that has changed by adding a relational side to all of our processes,” Therrien said.
“The library is no longer being defined by how many books are on its shelves, but by how it is being used … It’s now about being a living space for our users.”
The city contributes the bulk of the budget’s operating grants — with 2022 looking to be in the range of $618,618 out of $960,575 net operating grants. Other contributors include the regional district ($170,306 projected), the city dam contribution ($34,000), city building contribution ($50,000) and the provincial government at $87,650.
The library’s budget will be given final approval in the city budget deliberations early next year.
The pandemic highlighted that those without access to technology were being left behind, as students and workers switched to online learning and working.
If people didn’t have access to a computer or the internet it was difficult to participate in society, said Therrien.
In rural communities in B.C. around 38 per cent of people do not have access to high-speed internet, she explained.
“So, in Nelson, we witnessed families in cars parked outside the library building using library Wi-Fi to connect to the internet,” Therrien said. “So by offering Chromebook laptops and offering Wi-Fi we are just helping to bridge that digital divide.”
In comparing the numbers from 2019 to 2021 the only category that has risen in the last three years is online library usage — including ebooks, audio, online learning — to the tune of 54 per cent.
The pandemic created an opportunity for people to discover the online library resource, said Therrien.
“It was also an opportunity to discover other online library resources, such as our subject guides, developed and curated by library staff,” she said.
Each topic links to authoritative information, either by library subscription or free information.
By contrast, the number of people using the facility has dropped by 59 per cent, partially due to the fact the number of hours the facility is open to the public has decreased by 26 per cent.
However, Therrien noted that the number of visits increase as the library’s hours increase.
The drop in visits has not corresponded with a dramatic drop in the number of items borrowed, which has only slipped by 16 per cent in the last three years.
However, memberships has dipped slightly by six per cent — while events have dropped by 30 per cent — with two thirds of the memberships being held by city residents. Area F members (16 per cent) make up the second largest group, with Area H (11 per cent) and Area E (seven per cent) comprising the remainder.
Full capacity of seating has not been re-instated at the library due to COVID-19 restrictions.