Councillors are considering spending an extra $300,000 on books and e-books next year to keep Halifax Public Libraries’ collection from slipping further behind the national average.
Halifax Public Libraries CEO Åsa Kachan presented her proposed 2023-2024 budget to council’s budget committee on Friday.
Overall, the libraries projected budget is down $663,000 or 2.8% from last year to $23.2 million. Kachan said that was the target from the municipality’s finance department, aiming for an 8% increase to the average property tax bill.
The libraries cut almost $100,000 in staffing by keeping positions vacant and cut building maintenance by a little more than $100,000.
“That one concerns me profoundly because it means we are both reduced here on the operating side and on the capital improvement side. The past weekend showed our vulnerability quite clearly,” Kachan said.
During last weekend’s cold snap, Kachan said internal temperatures in the branches were as low as 12 degrees Celsius. At three locations, pipes burst and caused flooding, and the Dartmouth North branch had yet to reopen by Friday.
But Kachan’s big concern, as it has been for a few years, is the libraries’ collection — the number of books, e-books, and audio books it loans out.
“The area where we are not closing the gap is our holdings per capita,” Kachan said.
“This is of grave concern. We have very high usage of materials and we have very high usage of our digital materials.”
Halifax Public Libraries had 1.81 holdings per capita as of 2021-2022, when the national average was 2.1 holdings per capita. For 2022-2023, the figure is projected at 1.77, and for 2023-2024, as budgeted, 1.7.
Shoring up the collection
Kachan put $300,000 for the collection forward as an option over budget for council’s consideration.
“We have $300,000 on the table as a request. I want to be clear that, even if council approves the $300,000, we are slipping,” Kachan said.
“To remain absolutely steady at 1.81, we would need $509,000 this year. If we want to bridge that gap and get us to the national average, which our community deserves, that is a $4-million gap.”
During last year’s budget meetings, council had the same conversation, mostly revolving around electronic resources. It voted to add $300,000 last year, and $100,000 the year before.
“We’ve viewed shoring up or keeping up on our library collection as an extra, and I really implore council to think about this,” Kachan said.
“This is absolutely fundamental and core to our community.”
Coun. Tony Mancini moved to add the $300,000 to council’s budget adjustment list. But he said he’d be moving at council to have the chief administrative officer work with Kachan on a strategy to fix the issue.
“Why is the library coming every year to beg for the collection when the collection is the core of what the library exists for? It doesn’t make any sense to me. I don’t know why it’s set up that way,” Mancini said.
Kachan suggested the way HRM’s finance department accounts for inflation is part of the problem.
“We have funding for the library collection inside the library budget, but that amount of funding has not been adjusted over the years and additional resources have not been invested,” Kachan said.
Chief financial officer Jerry Blackwood defended the target provided to the libraries, and said there’s additional money set aside for wage increases expected from collective bargaining.
The motion passed 12-2, with councillors Trish Purdy and Paul Russell voting no.
Russell argued that because the use of electronic holdings was down and council had increased funding for the collection the past two years, it shouldn’t increase funding again.
Internship cut would save $700,000
Council also voted on Friday to add a cut of $700,000 to its budget adjustment list.
It heard a budget presentation from Human Resources and Corporate Communications, which is up $1.7 million for 2023-2023 to about $13 million.
The department proposed to cut the Bridging the Gap internship program by $700,000. With that internship, started in 2013, HRM hires 14 new graduates for 18 months. The cut would mean skipping a year.
Mayor Mike Savage supported the cut, arguing the job market isn’t what it was in 2013.
“Ten years ago, kids couldn’t get jobs. Now there’s jobs for everybody,” Savage said. “That’s not exactly true, but there’s a lot more jobs than there are people. It’s a war for talent now.”
Savage suggested a program for people with disabilities may be more valuable.
Council will debate the budget adjustment list at the end of March.
Every time we defer hiring of people we just increase the workload on everyone else, leading to loss of quality and higher turnover
Every time we defer building maintenance we contribute to maintenance debt that is going to be payed, with interest, in the future.
This style of thinking has led us to a point where our healthcare system is basically collapsing. It’s why bridges and roads are terrible everywhere. When will the accountants learn this lesson?
Given the difficulty of accessing the peninsula from most of HRM, should anything on the peninsula be considered truly public?
There are many libraries in the HRM public library system which aren’t on the peninsula, although I agree some thought might have been given to locating the central library in Dartmouth, the other major population centre, which doesn’t have the same ready access to academic libraries as those living on the peninsula.
We have tremendous library facilities in HRM. All the university libraries are available to residents. I doubt any other city has the capacity that is available on the peninsula. On a per capita basis we are very well served and the public needs to be made aware that other libraries are open to one and all.