As provincial funding continues to plummet, demand is as strong as ever for a centerpiece of rural BC communities.
Over the past several years libraries have become centers for communities to gather and come together rather than just a place to read books, yet provincial funding continues to drop.
In 1986, the province supplied 21 percent of total revenue to public libraries, as of 2017, that number sits at 5 percent.
In Terrace, these cuts come despite a 31 percent increase in visitorship since 2013 alone, and more than 200 programs offered to local residents.
According to the Terrace Library’s head librarian David Tremblay, the province now represents the smallest financial backer to the library.
“It’s actually the smallest part of our funding, and it’s broken up in to a few different parts and labeled in different ways, so we have to meet their specific strategic plans with that (provincial) money.”
Funding to the Terrace Library specifically comes in the way of a $70,000 grant.
Tremblay also described how supportive funding to libraries in general was also cut by the province.
This means that funding to staff at the library’s provincial branch, an arm of the Ministry of Education, has also been cut, further limiting the support available to local operations.
The drop in funding forces cities and regional districts to shoulder the brunt of the load when it comes to offering financial support to the local libraries and though, as Tremblay explains, the City of Terrace has been good to them, they can only cover so much.
Requests by the library for increases in funding for staffing and programming in the past have been denied by the council, saying that they can only fund the necessities.
“The City of Terrace and the Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine have been good to the library in maintaining the funding in order for the library to operate and meet its needs in terms of fluctuating costs such as energy and that kind of stuff,” Tremblay mentions.
The growing financial concerns among rural municipalities, as populations continue to grow, has led to attempts to rally the province for more money in the past.
Most recently, this came in the form of a petition by the Burns Lake Public Library to put together a task force to evaluate the funding needed to put forward the programs that libraries have become known for.
Burns Lake Library Director Susan Schienbein says that despite staff’s best efforts, it is incredibly difficult to keep pace with the shifting expectations for libraries.
These expectations often come in the form of supplying interactive programs to the community, an additional operating expense.
This forces libraries to filter which programs they can and can’t offer, resulting in a slew of family and child oriented courses, but a lack of adult based programs, according to Tremblay.
In 2017, annual grant money supplied to libraries across BC, to which there were 247 (2017 figures), by the Ministry of Education totaled approximately $14 million.