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Nelson Public Library says new facility needed in order to meet demand

Tracey Therrien has also requested a budget increase from the city
The Nelson Public Library’s chief librarian has told city council a budget increase and bigger facility are needed. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

by Timothy Schafer

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Nelson Daily

The community is asking for more from its library but, ultimately the answer to that request is for a new facility, says the city’s chief librarian.

Tracey Therrien said the results of what the community told the Nelson Public Library — through surveys and focus groups — was that people wanted more, including online services and increased hours.

People have asked for more space, more books, programs, workshops, courses and clubs, as well as greater outreach and promotions with more focus on timely topics, she said. But to get more, there has to be a major change at the library, Therrien noted.

“Our existing space and funding cannot take the library into the future, and so we look forward to future conversations on how to make this happen,” she told city council recently during a pre-budget presentation.

“The community recognizes that we have outgrown our current physical space and also indicated that residents want a larger space to accommodate community gatherings, events, training and the library’s growing collection.”

The results were similar to what the community asked for in a survey in 2016, Therrien added.

“The challenge now is how to resource appropriately to meet the community expectations and future trends,” she said.

In addition to continuing advocacy for increased library support at all levels of government, the work moving forward will be for creating the gathering place within the proposed library facility, Therrien said.

“We continue to hold the vision for the new facility and strongly support the city moving forward with the new library housing project,” she said. “With this value-added build we can meet the balance between the traditional library services, loaning items, and the expectations of expanding services.”

By the numbers

The library is asking for a four per cent greater contribution from the city, partly to offset an expected six per cent drop in income and a three per cent rise in salaries and benefits ($24,780).

“Increase (ask) from the city primarily equals the wage increase,” said Therrien.

Currently, the city contributes $668,618 to the library’s budget — with the Regional District of Central Kootenay adding in $170,306 — and the library’s new ask would be an increase of $26,168, moving the municipal portion to $694,787.

The library is also asking for an increase from the RDCK, calling for a five per cent jump ($8,515) to $178,821.

The final decisions on the library ask will be made in the coming weeks as both the city and the regional district draft and table their new budgets.

Back in business

The library’s usage is returning to pre-COVID-19 times. Memberships are starting to outpace 2019 although visits remain lower than 2019, but in 2022 the numbers are steadily increasing.

Membership has risen to 10,627 with 233,504 items borrowed last year on 127,050 visits.

However, for some time now the way people have been using libraries has been evolving, said Therrien.

“No longer is it a place for transactions, where people come to borrow a book, but more interaction activities,” she said.

Libraries are places to meet somebody, learn something, share ideas through a program or event, Therrien explained, and people are staying longer and using it as a “third” space.

Third spaces are “those spaces where people spend time between home — a first space — and work, a second place,” she said. “They are locations where we exchange ideas, and we are entertained and build relationships. And our statistics reflect that relationship.”

People are also discovering the library through its online collection, but the challenge for libraries is balancing the demand with budget, Therrien pointed out. Ebooks are often three to five times more expensive for libraries to budget.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated the Nelson library led the province in items borrowed and visits per capita.